Is It Better to be Liked or Loved?

“instead of having one hundred percent of the people finding your mission acceptable or mildly commendable, you are better off having a high percentage of people disliking you and your message (even intensely), combined with a low percentage of extremely loyal and enthusiastic supporters.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile (2012)

IMG_2485-002In The Prince (1532), Machiavelli famously maintains that it’s better to be feared than loved. I’m pretty sure my wise old mentor had this in mind when he told me, the night before my first job talk: “Remember, John, don’t make waves! When it comes to hiring committees, it’s better to be liked than loved.” Of course I ignored my mentor’s advice. Because I’m dumb. Because being careful and cautious has never come naturally to me. Regardless, I paid for my arrogance: took me quite a while to find a job. But I did, eventually, and I’ve since sat on numerous hiring committees—and seen the truth of my mentor’s words on countless occasions. Nobody on the hiring committee gets their first choice. Not even their second choice. The person who gets the job is, more often than not, the one who was everyone’s third, forth, or fifth choice: the person who everyone liked but nobody loved.

The same is not true in other domains—such as politics, religion, literature, activism, and moral reform—wherein zealous minorities have proven far more effective than tepid majorities. In these domains, it’s better to be loved than liked. The political impotence of the environmental movement is a case in point. Despite widespread support, it has been remarkably ineffective in North America, in part, because the people who care about the environment invariably care about something else more—such as racism, feminism, abortion, free speech, pornography, terrorism, religion, or Wall Street. Environmentalism is everyone’s third, forth, or fifth choice. It’s the cause that everyone likes but nobody loves.

To be liked, you have to be a Big Mac. To be loved, you have to be a souvlaki pita from Alto’s on Avenue du Parc—a messy souvlaki pita, with extra tsatziki, diced garlic, and hot sauce. Environmentalists have spent the last two decades trying to be Big Macs. They need to start acting like really good souvlaki.

If you strive to be liked by all you’re sure to be loved by none.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

4 thoughts on “Is It Better to be Liked or Loved?

  1. of course!! This is obvious. Jobs are not about making things better or being a catalyst for change… they are about doing work. Zealots don’t want to do work – they want change!!


    1. I can teach you howto swim in one lesson. I used to teach children in Singapore but when their grandmothers fled Hong Kong in the early 90’s, they became these anxious, over controlling nannies.So I had to teach them first before I
      could teach their grandchildren. So here goes. Find a children’spool shallow moving deeper but not deeper than your waist. Put on flippers and lie on the water using your arms and hands to walk on the water underneath you. Do that into slightly deeper water. Then try to put your head/face in the water and hold it down as far as you can. This is very hard as it keeps popping up again. You will find you cannot. Then you can move deeper and keep doing this until you have the confidence to move gradually into deeper water. You will swim before you know you are swimming.


      1. With babies you start in a pool with just a few inches of water.Hang out with them as they gradually test, going out farther and farther. They will teach themselves. You are just there for their security and your own anxiety.


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