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Chineze Eziamaka: The Likeability Argument

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It is not your job to be likeable, it is your job to be yourself. Someone will like you anyway’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

For some weeks now, the above quote has been trending. Hillary Clinton used this quote in her new book ‘What Happened’. It’s been all over the internet, especially the Nigerian internet space (permit me to refer to it like that). Hashtags on Twitter, Instagram. There has been a lot of discussion around people basically being themselves in a world that actively encourages you to be fake (Whatever fake means to you).

My younger brother, who still struggles with his manners, kept using the hashtag all of last week. I know that this statement sadly will be used to explain away ill manners.

It caught my attention first because I love Adichie’s work. In my head she is my very strong willed big sister, that person I’ll be afraid to tell when I let my husband get away with too much nonsense. She openly admits to feminism.

I am still finding my way; sometimes I am sure I am a feminist, other times I am halfway there. I am proud that Clinton used her words.

The second reason the quote came to my notice is the way it kept getting repeated even in instances and examples it shouldn’t appear in. It reveals that all of us are trying to find our way out of conformity. However I don’t think Adichie or Clinton had some of us in mind when they used those words.

To be likeable is to be pleasant, friendly, easy to like, engaging, warm, convivial.
Deep down all of us love being liked. I remember a friend calling a brutish boss one night, and telling him she really admired his leadership style. Her life became noticeably more bearable after that call.

Deep down being likeable isn’t our real problem, the issue is developing a dependence on likeability. This is where we are all pretty much headed.

What does it mean to be likeable?
It’s simply what most of us both ordinary folks and popular/famous people alike do every day; we wake up, dress up and go about our normal business.

Strangely, also being unlikeable is not too complicated, at least for most of us. I think most of us can be unpleasant without thinking too much about the consequences when there is need for it. There are times when we have to set certain people straight, or come out of uncomfortable situations.

Now the hard part in my opinion is being ‘yourself’. Being yourself is not always possible, it sounds like really simple advice. I have heard it a million times in different situations; when you are meeting the in-laws for the first time, your best friends and family give you this advice ‘ Nne just be yourself, don’t look too desperate etc. When you are meeting an important person or attending an important interview, you tell yourself to be ‘yourself’, friends tell you ‘don’t let the nerves get you, it’s easier if you be yourself’… but when we examine the existing realities, we know that people don’t act the same in front of everyone.

Chanting the mantra of being unbothered with your likeability status may now be the perfect excuse to avoid making an effort to continuously improve especially on some vour unpleasant personality traits. Most of us will hide behind our focus on ‘being ourselves’ disregarding the idea that that ‘self’ may need some fixing sometimes.

I think Adichie’s sentiment as popular as it is becoming, is not for the weak. It’s definitely not for everyone, because being yourself is not usually the magical solution to all of life’s problems. Before we take this quote to heart you should ask yourself ‘who am I?’
This person that is sarcastic, and you proudly take on may just have been a character that rose out of the ashes of painful experiences from the past and we proudly say ‘this is who I am’ .

This may not be your true self, but what I’ll call a learned self.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Chineze lives in Lagos with her husband and 3 young children. She is excited to connect on twitter @ChinezeAnuli, Instagram @chinezeaina and Medium https://medium.com/@chinezeeziamakaaina

12 Comments

  1. Weezy

    September 26, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Interesting perspective. I think it is very difficult for a poor or struggling person to not try to be likeable, frankly. You need other people’s good will to survive, and that good will only lasts when you are likable

  2. Mz_Danielz

    September 26, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    Can you be sure if people really like you? I’ll give 2 scenarios;

    1. An obnoxious female with a horrible tongue, that talks to everyone anyhow but somehow has earned the chief mean girl position. Pretending to like her is social survival but the day one person puts her in her place, others will follow.

    2. A well behaved female who is ambitious but approachable, e.g Chimamanda people may find it easier to express dislike for her, but deep down , they do like her.

    I agree that we should be our best selves all the time, if you are loud mouthed, cantekerous, rude, insecure, loose, you are not the ‘self’ God intended you to be

  3. Kike

    September 26, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    This was spot on, particularly the last sentence on learned experience. This is something I’ve been pondering upon all day, I’ve been stubbornly ‘being myself’ and can see that it grates some people up the wrong way and causes friction I’ve refused to acknowledge this observation under the guise of being myself. Yes be yourself but we are co-sharers on this planet so sometimes adjustments are needed to live peaceably with others.

    Also isn’t this what our parents did when we were younger? Correct behaviour and attitude they saw was detrimental to our future well-being. This doesn’t stop when we become adults.

  4. anonymous woman

    September 26, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    likeability is not about being mean or not. The context it is being used in is as a feminist term where women reject having to appear pleasant or nice at their own disadvantage to make men and society comfortable. Eg when Folorunso Alakija has to tell us she washes her husband’s pant to appease the fact that she’s a rich woman so people won’t accuse her of being ‘not submissive.’ Basically, so people would like and accept her. Every article about a Nigerian businesswoman includes a large panel about how she manages her home so people won’t dislike her for not putting her husband first, whereas the private lives of businessmen are largely invisible in their interviews. They’d rather ask the man about his love for polo, art or expensive watches. How a woman who is being pestered by a man has to let him down nicely, though a man wouldn’t be expected to do the same if a woman was harassing him. How a lot of people’s problem with Deziani was her beautiful but frowning face and refusal to appear likeable (in addition to her money things, not justifying that). Little microagressions like women in Nigerian offices serving tea at meetings although they’d rather not. How women choose their words carefully in arguments with friends or colleagues so as not to seem aggressive. Even many women who have feminist ideologies say they aren’t feminist so people won’t judge them as unlikeable or mean. Or the fact that many people’s problem with feminism is not that their issues aren’t valid (they clearly are), but that women are aggressive and don’t try to be ‘likeable’ when putting their points across. The fact that extreme feminism is not women killing men because they are men, but women refusing to put their points across ‘nicely’, even when they are victims or have been offended. Likeability is Nigerians always yapping about women who are victims in their marriages but keep quiet as opposed to the ‘evil ones’ that dare to expose their ordeals on social media. You don’t see people say ‘this man said his wife must cook for him and he was being so aggressive about it’, but people say ‘this woman said she must not be a cook but why is her tone so aggressive.’ As always, likeability, like many other things, would be an excuse for people to misunderstand and bash feminism, but as a woman, it is one of the hardest things to unlearn in the quest for freedom from patriarchy. Especially as a Nigerian woman where getting and pleasing a husband are the first and second mandate girls are given when they are born.

    • Bisi

      September 27, 2017 at 10:10 am

      You are correct about how the quote may not be about being mean. The writer only pointed out that people may be using it wrongly. A lot of things are subject to interpretation.

    • Ro

      September 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      That point of females serving tea in a meeting is something I don’t do. Even meetings with my oga, if they want tea I call the clerk, whose job it is to do that, my ogas too know this, when the clerk is not around, they would rather call a colleague who works partly with us or bone than wait on me to serve them.. When we hold larger meetings I disassociate myself from the part of serving food, I would rather take minutes,
      I would rather be known and acknowledged for my brains and accomplishments than as someone who is good at serving.

  5. Chloe

    September 26, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    Spot on. Being yourself is not so easy,it takes continuous and steady improvement.

    • ozyy

      September 27, 2017 at 9:54 am

      It is an iterative process as we keep changing to become a better version of ourselves. Besides our situations, experiences and lives are in motion, These factors greatly shape our being.

  6. Iphy

    September 26, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Quite on point… it is pertinent that we build a strong and consistent emotional intelligence in our interactions with people daily, to get by… and trust me, this has nothing to do with ‘being your self’, rather everything to do with being an ‘improved self’…

  7. molarah

    September 27, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Solid! and insightful. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Anonymous

    September 27, 2017 at 11:49 am

    It’s my absolute conviction that no matter how nice, loveable, adorable, cute, handsome, beautiful and all the niceties we may be, not everyone will like us.

    Therefore just be who God has created and called you to be and the right people will love you for being just that.

    • Chineze Eziamaka

      December 5, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      TRUE

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