Taylor: The perils of trying to please

I’d rather not be accepted than accepted for something I’m not. It’s simply too hard to live a lie.

I was probably eight years old when someone realized I needed glasses. In those days, teachers wrote what students needed to know on the blackboard. I could barely see the board from the back of the class. Even from the front, I had to squint to read the writing.

In one sense, short-sightedness became a blessing. Because I sat at the front, I was also under the teacher’s eye, so I never developed a habit of misbehaving, or of not paying attention.

But the optometrist had trouble fitting me with the right prescription. As I peered through his machine at letters on a chart, he’d flip from one lens to another and ask, “Is that better?”

I always said, “Yes, I think so.”

After all, I reasoned, he’s the expert. If he’s trying to help me see better, then clearly, anything he does must be better.

I wanted to please. To belong. To be accepted. I didn’t want to imply that he might have made things worse. So I said, “Yes, I think so.” Even if the letters were growing more blurry with each change.

Eventually, he gave up asking me questions, and fitted me with something that was certainly better than nothing.

But ingrained habits are hard to break. Those of us who hunger and thirst after acceptance tend to say what we think people want to hear. In government and Mafia circles, we’re called Yes-men. First you find out what the Godfather wants. Then you say “Yes.” Or at least, “I think so.”Think of Nixon’s Haldeman and Ehrlichman as examples.

At one point in my career as a journalist, I was sent to Hanover, Ontario, a city supposed to have more churches per capita than any other place in Canada. I introduced myself to the pastor of a small but fervently evangelical church, so small they met in a converted garage.

“Welcome,” he said, seizing my outstretched hand in both of his. “Have you given your life to Jesus?”

There were a number of possible responses.

I could have picked a date at random, and said, “Yes, December 12, 1953, at 9:27 p.m.”

I could have said, “Yes, many times, including this morning.”

I could have said, “None of your business. My job is to write about you, not to defend my own religious perspectives.”

I could even have said, “I don’t believe that crap!”—and forfeited the interview.

But I said–you guessed it–“Yes, I think so.” It took me another half hour to extricate my hand from his clutch, so that we could start the interview.

I still don’t want to offend unnecessarily, but I think I’m finally getting over my social insecurities. I’d rather not be accepted than accepted for something I’m not. It’s simply too hard to live a lie.

Like the message Moses got in the desert, I am what I am. The words came straight from God, the book of Exodus says, so I must take them seriously. If God is what God is, then surely God doesn’t want me to pretend to be something I’m not.

In religion as in business, honesty is the best policy.

At least, I think so.


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