if i can please you

Lazy inventory-taking and categorisation is often thrown about carelessly in conversation by people who don’t know what they’re talking about or what the label they’re using so easily might actually mean. “People-pleasing” is one such phrase often abused. Though its accurate form (as defined by social psychologists) is a valid issue describing only one aspect of co-dependency, the use of the phrase “I am a people-pleaser” or “He was people-pleasing” raises certain issues and objections. The first one is; what does it actually mean? The second one is; what is your true motive in affixing this label? Surely we all want to please other people to a certain extent within reason, to be “pleasing” and to be liked? It helps win us friends and supporters, and thereby ensures our social standing, professional advancement, and sense of community. In essence, therefore, it could also be described as a self-interested and somewhat manipulative strategy. If I can please you, you will like me and do things for me.

I will grant that this is not healthy if we injure ourselves in the process, nor do I suggest that it doesn’t exist as a clinical condition. Psychologists define it as a circumstance in which “a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition.” But the lazy assumption by apologists is that this is always true. If a conveniently nearby pathological manipulator on whom we can pin all our problems isn’t immediately identifiable then one is hastily created. If we look at it more inquiringly we are often forced to admit that our motives to begin with were less than as honest, selfless, or innocent as we first insisted, even before we cast around for a suitable manipulator. Often enough you will hear people justify their own selfish and manipulative behavior with this most soothing of convenient excuses.


4 thoughts on “if i can please you

  1. Note that self-interest is not necessarily a negative characteristic. Indeed, Sam Harris in his book, “The Moral Landscape” makes out a scientific case for the basis of human morality in self interest. It’s also a philosophical argument. Roughly speaking – and I’m not in the situation where I can check my copy right now – I believe that he argues that self interest governs altruistic behaviour: it is in our self interest that we treat others as you would have them treat you. I suppose that the corollary is that pathological control and manipulation is essentially antithetical to the sharing of a common good and against everyone’s self-interest, including the perpetrator. What it is is selfish behavior that is destructive of social harmony – i.e., that selfish behaviour undermines everyone’s ultimate self interest including the unethical person who behaves in the manner Nicholas described….

    1. yes he did, and i do not disagree with that thesis, as i stated in the last few sentences of my first paragraph. the corollary is an interesting one, given that the common good or even the consequences and implications of our actions are things that we either don’t see clearly or even take into consideration.

    1. thank you, @MoreSelfAware. originality or courage, for their own ends, was not something i had thought about. The willingness to speak honestly, simply and clearly are i believe paramount in discussing these difficult issues. we may disagree with someone, but at least we’ll understand each other.


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