The Four Classes of Folks in our Lives: Love, Like, Neutral, and Dislike

(No Place for Hate)

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In his second book, Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart, Dr. Friedman and Diane Ulmer wrote: “You will find very few people with whom you will wish to become intimate.  In the meantime, you will encounter scores of people who do not interest you and dozens whom you will immediately dislike.” This quote is contained in Chapter Eleven, “Alleviating Your Free-Floating Hostility,” under the subheading: “Viewing people through the lenses of compassion, forgiveness and understanding.” 


In layman’s language, the good doctor is saying, “You won’t meet that many people you will really like, so have good preparation in place so you don’t get pissed off at the ones you don’t like, because they are out there.”   This might sound like someone being grumpy or pessimistic, but the reverse is true.  I don’t think I was the first, nor will I be the last person who wanted to like everyone so that everyone would like me.  That drive states an underlying belief: it is possible to get other people to like us, to feel warmly toward us and vice versa.  It’s not. 


There are four categories of relationships and everyone we meet and know falls into one of them: Love, Like, Neutral and Dislike.  These categories are fluid as individuals often transition from one to another.  This is fortunate since the vast majority of our friends, past and future begin in the neutral category; that of strangers.  And then there are the people we love well enough to marry or to have as close friends only to discover later after the divorce or separation that he or she has moved to the dislike category.


However temporarily it may be, all human beings exist in one of these four categories until we either “upgrade” or “downgrade” them.  The thesis of this post is that it is important to consciously know who fits where.  This has nothing to do with prejudice per se.  It is an important exercise because it can tell us where to put our energies in life.  Lots of folks have most of their life energy wrapped up with folks who are in the right half of the table, while the people who exist in the left half often feel starved for attention, recognition and affection. 


The left half of the chart involves the emotional world where we can enjoy the benefits of warmth, caring, affection and attachment.  It is through the individuals who inhabit these two columns that we are able to experience life, both troubles and happiness.  We are able to share our inmost selves and can invite them to do the same. 


The right half of the chart involves the practical world and is populated for the most part by people we have not chosen.  These are most often surface relationships, but can be consuming of our emotional attention if we do not have good boundaries.  It is possible to gain gratitude, respect, recognition and approval from the people who inhabit the practical world side of the chart; but not affection.  One does not earn affection, especially from people who might very well not like you.  You could make someone rich, but in his heart that person might loathe you. 


You will notice that the word “Share” occurs in the first three columns of “Range of involvement,” but not in the “Dislike” column.  In lecturing about this, I will often leave this space blank, inviting guesses as to what belongs there.  Often people will say, “Ignore,” or “Tell them you don’t like them,” or “Be rude.”  The problem with these responses is that they all represent deep sharing about how one feels, the very thing that should be reserved for the people in the left two columns.  Also, there is the possibility that your dislike could possibly be very hurtful, even devastating to another person. 


There are lots of us who believe that if we dislike someone, we must be able to justify the feeling or prove the other person to be inherently dislikeable.  This is to basically misunderstand something that Emerson noticed in his essay, “Solitude and Society,” wherein he talks about what it really means to have “society,” that is heart-felt connection to another person.  He writes, “I cannot go to the homes of my nearest relatives because I do not wish to feel alone.  Society is by chemical affinity and not else.” 


One only has to listen to the words of Sancho Panza singing his pliant to Dulcinea, “I Like Him,” to understand that affection is not an entirely logical process.  Disliking is also not a logical or quantitative process.  Affection is a bit more mysterious than that and needs to be one of the great quests of our lives. We need to watch for, in the words of John Burroughs in his poem, “Waiting,” “The friends I seek are seeking me.”


In looking at this chart years ago, one of my colleagues said, “You need to balance the other end with ‘hate,’ the opposite of love.  I disagreed then and do now.  Hate is not a feeling.  It is a mental state that brooks no other attitudes toward an individual or group.  It allows for no transition, no amelioration of its conclusions and is toxic.  In the grasp of hate there is no empathy, no compassion, and no forgiveness.  It is and has always been the singular great evil.


Ed Koch, the former late mayor of New York City said years ago, “If you agree with me on seven of ten of my proposals, vote for me.  If you agree with all ten, see a therapist! If you find yourself hating even one person, seek the help you need to rid yourself of this burden.  Martin Luther King noted that, ‘Even if you could kill the object of your hate, it would not kill your hate.’” It is, after all, not on the above chart of human relationships.  It is not one of the categories.

John McNeelComment