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A Psychological Problem

Liking and not liking people is logical a condition whose causes refuse to be analyzed. It is a result that is, seemingly, independent of the usual processes, and like the fragrance of the rose is to be perceived and enjoyed, but not reduced to exact analysis. You do not like people because they are, specifically, rich or poor, great or obscure, brilliant or dull, learned or ignorant, but for some reason that goes deeper than each or all of these. Nor, indeed, do you always, nor by any means, care most for the people who are kindest to you, and least for those who are less thoughtful. For liking, regard, friendship—whatever form or degree the feeling may assume—is independent of gratitude. It is very possible to feel a deep sense of obligation, a very strong and sincere gratitude, quite independent of and apart from a strong personal liking.

There are persons—we all know them—who do us good and not evil in all visible and ostensible ways; who are always agreeable so far as outward manner and words go and to whom we are and should be grateful; yet whom we hold in a curiously instinctive distrust. It is a distrust, or even a dislike, that we will not confess to ourselves; that we do not, as a matter of conscience or intelligence, admit that we feel, but all the same it is there, and neither reason nor philosophy can wholly eradicate it.

Perhaps the real quality for which we most deeply care in people is responsiveness, and this is an affair of temperament. It is also a matter of mutual relation. A may be responsive to B, while he is not in the least so to C, and while B and C are by no means responsive to each other. It seems to be a spiritual relation, predetermined and foreordained, and quite beyond the influence or the compulsion of mortal existence. It is or it is not, and, apparently, you have yourself nothing to do with the matter one way or the other.

Of course there is plenty of getting on in the social world that has no possible relation to the inner springs of feeling. Social contact is for the most part superficial, and governed by laws of ceremonial etiquette. Only the barbarian is rude to persons he does not like. A high degree of civilization, while it is not, necessarily, synonymous with Christian feeling, simulates its code. Courtesy is not Christianity, but is its imitation. While the latter enjoins that one love his neighbor as himself, the former enjoins only that one shall appear to love his neighbor as himself. Nor is courtesy to be despised, even if it exist only as veneer. True courtesy implies a great many very real virtues of self-restraint, gentle consideration, and patience, even if it does not imply love. And that is the quality beyond our power to compel. We are under obligation to give entire courtesy always to our neighbor, but to give him love is beyond any power unless it gives itself. We do not love people because they are good to us, or because they give us things or do us favors, or because they are beautiful or rich or famous or learned, because they possess this, that, or the other, but because—we cannot tell why—

Thought is deeper than all speech;
Feeling deeper than all thought.
—Christopher Pearse Cranch

And it is feeling that governs the genuine liking—the eternal, predetermined, foreordained friendship.

You may realize that in conversation you find the chief entertainment and the highest social enjoyment; and still there is So-and-so, whom you never remember hearing say anything out of the ordinary line, yet whose presence is perpetual joy. He may remark that it rained yesterday and that the sun shines today, and yet the commonplaceness entertains you more than would the brilliant conversational pyrotechnics of another. In fact you care nothing for what he says—it is what he is. If he said nothing, he would enchant the hours for you all the same. So that, although conversation is to you the greatest of joys, it is not, evidently, the supreme attraction in this rare relation of deep and genuine liking

Nor do presence and familiarity dull its glamour, nor absence and time efface the spell. It is the rapture of life that is new every morning and fresh every evening. It is that glory of light that never was on sea or land. It is the ecstasy of recognition, and is due wholly and solely to intuitive insight.

Psychical science has quite conclusively established the truth of our complex personality, and it designates one of these selves as the higher self. This higher self is to our apparent self, as daily manifested on its lower plane of life, as is the ideal to the actual. In plant growth every leaf and bud is seen to have an ideal towards which it tends. In humanity each individual has this ideal self, even though sometimes so overlaid and overshadowed with the material and the unworthy, with the transient and the trivial, as to fail of being discernible. What does Browning say in 'A Toccato of Galuppi'?

The soul, surely, is immortal—where a soul can be discerned.

It is not invariably the case that a soul can be discerned.

This point aside, however, it is more than a question if this swift recognition, this intuitive, rapturous liking that we all instantly feel for some people, and that no aggregation of good qualities will yet inspire us with for others—it is more than a question if this is not the intuitive recognition of the higher self of the individual. What you love in your friend is not himself, as ordinarily seen or estimated, but his higher self, that few see, or that you alone discern. It is to his higher self that you are responsive, and it is that which in some mysterious manner is responsive to you. What he is to the world, or the world to him, you do not care. It is what he is to you that is of importance.

It is possible, nay, it is easy, to feel very kindly towards one whose presence in the sense of companionship is distasteful and hard to endure. It is not specifically because he is rich or poor, or great or unknown, good or bad, fashionable or unfashionable, learned or simple. For the fact of liking transcends all these things, and defies exact analysis. Dr. Fell's theory is what we all come back to at last. You may love a person out of that higher state of being we call the Christian life; but you can only like him for reasons of temperamental adaptability. The friend one likes and cares for in the sense of companionship, who can never come too often nor stay too long, with whom presence is always a joy and solitude a sympathy—such friends as these are ours purely by right of temperamental accord. One's friendships in the sense of one's personal enjoyments are matters of sympathy, of tastes, of mutual experiences, of culture, of habits, and general scope of life—a whole world, indeed, into which only the initiate can enter, and whose atmosphere can neither be translated nor communicated to those who are not in it and of it. They belong to the sphere of life which is found and not made. 'That man is my friend whom I encounter on the line of my own march,' says Emerson; 'to whom I do not decline and who does not decline to me, but, native of the same atmosphere, holds always the same place.'

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Lilian Whiting

  • Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
  • Author and journalist
  • Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget

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