Michael, my best friend and neighbor growing up, and I spent quite a few summers hanging out. Whether with our Legos on the stairs at his house or with our baseball bats and tennis balls having a home run derby in my grandpa’s backyard, we had a lot of fun times. Yet there was something Michael did early on in our friendship, something I was reminded of while reading Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. I know it was something he did because I was way too selfish to even think of it: he implemented a rule that we would always trade off in our activities. We took turns in doing what the other wanted to do.
Once Michael and his family moved away, this rule had soon been forgotten. I did try to keep it going, but be it different friends or the teenage inclination to be independent (or at least attempt to be), it simply died away. I still did things that others wanted to do, but not nearly as often and without the conscious realization that it was someone else’s idea and not my own.
What Sheldon Vanauken points out in his description of his love for his wife (or as they described their love, “The Shining Barrier”) is something behind the rule Michael had implemented: the art and discipline of liking what someone else likes. Sheldon says, “Our thesis that if one of us liked something there must be something to like about it which the other could find was proved again and again,” by their constant practice of doing things together (38).
In very few words, Sheldon describes the remedy to the selfish nature: discerning precisely why the other likes something different – maybe even contrary – to what one likes. An example might be me liking the Oregon State Beavers – or at least trying to. Honestly, it wouldn’t be so difficult… until they played the Ducks. Then I’d be really hard-pressed to see what Beaver fans see when going against the Ducks. And yet, if I somehow manage to marry a Beaver believer, this is something I know I will want to do; I know that I’ll want to see what she sees so that I may know her better.
It changes the way I see things I do like, but also the things I do not like. Instead of demonizing it or mentally writing it out as irrelevant or beneath me, I’m now compelled to attempt to see the other side – to see what’s likable about it. Even after sifting over it and trying to see what someone else sees, I still might not like it. But at the very least, I’ll have a deeper understanding of what might be likable about it.
Thinking in this way makes it much easier to hang out with other people. It makes it much easier to, as Jesus says we should, love my neighbor as myself and treat them they way I want to be treated. Spending time to invest in the things others like to do is investing in them as people. For example, if a friend really loves going to concerts, it’d be investing in them to join them in going to a concert; not only would I be spending time hanging out with them, but I’d be learning what they like on a more experiential level. I’d see first hand what it is about concerts that gets them excited. And heck, maybe I’d start to enjoy it, too?
Learning to like what someone else likes isn’t reserved for married couples or couples in general; it’s a practical means of growing closer to a friend. One of the things Michael liked to do that I didn’t was go fishing – particularly with his dad. But there was at least one day where we all went fishing together. I recall spending most of the time on the playground nearby, but what I remember most clearly is seeing Michael sitting next to his dad, Eddie, as he taught Michael how to fish. For a kid without a father, getting to see those awesome moments of another’s life is an experience you can’t buy. I wouldn’t have seen that, though, if I did what I wanted to do and stayed home.
Honestly, much is risked in doing something that you’ve never done before. You’re vulnerable, out of your comfort zone, and at a bit of a loss on how to do whatever it is you’re about to do (like me and fishing). It requires humility and admitting that you don’t know something. But consider the alternative: if you stick to your guns and do your own thing, you’ll wind up entirely and completely alone and not in a good way. When God looked upon Adam in Genesis 2, He said it wasn’t good that he was alone. Sure, He then created a wife for Adam, but the ultimate truth is that it isn’t good for any of us to live our lives alone. We’ll have moments to ourselves and oftentimes find ourselves alone (I’m alone in my apartment as I write this), but we’ll still have people we care about and people who care about us. We’ll have close friends and family that will make us feel as though we weren’t alone even when we actually are.
Finally, I don’t think one ought to the things that someone else likes just to receive wisdom, knowledge, and experience. One ought to do what others like because one likes them and wants to show it. I went fishing with Michael and his dad not only because of the rule, but also because I liked hanging out with Michael. Despite all that was going on in my life at the time, hanging out with Michael and his family was one of the best parts of my childhood.
Love others as you want to be loved. If you like something, chances are they like something. Find out what it is and why it is they love it. In so doing not only will you love them as you want to be loved, but as God has already loved you.