“Good-humor is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature that we take her no more seriously than she takes us” (Ernest Renan).
LIKABLENESS MAY NOT BE THE FIRST CRITERION FOR GREAT CHARACTER, BUT OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY WOULD PROBABLY BE HAPPY TO SEE US GIVE IT MORE PRIORITY THAN WE DO. It’s okay to work on being respected, and in fact that ought to be our main quest. But there’s no reason we can’t add to our respectability a little likability. A little more warmth and fuzziness probably wouldn’t hinder the seriousness of our mission. It might even help it.
Likable people are “attractive” in the literal sense: they attract others to them. Likableness draws other people toward us; it makes it easy for them to be open and available for friendship.
Although likableness is a positive trait, we should be careful not to be insincerely likable. There is a proverb from the Congo which says, “The teeth are smiling, but is the heart?” To whatever extent we are “attractive,” the attraction needs to be to qualities that are genuinely there. And not only that, we should avoid placing too high a value on being liked. There will be times when we’re tempted to compromise our convictions in order to be liked. At such times, we need to have the courage to be disliked, if that’s what integrity requires.
There is an interesting thing about likability, however, and it is this: likable people tend to find other people likable. It was Will Rogers who said, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” and that is no coincidence. People who are as likable as he was will always find a lot to like in other people. Being likable makes the world more likable.
Some individuals are born with a more naturally likable disposition than others. If that’s your case, be grateful for the advantage it gives you. But if being good-natured is not one of your inborn traits, don’t despair. There are choices we can make that will move us in the direction of attractiveness. We can cultivate the quality of being likable. Regardless of our heredity and our circumstances, we can choose to be more easygoing and pleasant today than we were yesterday.
“Few are qualified to shine in company, but it is in most men’s power to be agreeable” (Jonathan Swift).