People pleasing can be messy business

Published 12:46 am Sunday, December 30, 2007

My father-in-law was a blacksmith for 17 years and then ran a used furniture business for 17 more years. He told me that there are three things you can never do. First, you can’t get horned to death by a muley headed cow. Second, you can’t straddle a mud puddle with a wheelbarrow. And third, you can’t please everybody all the time.

It is natural for us to want to please and think that everyone is our friend, but in real life, it just “ain’t” so.

I’ve tried to please individuals and bosses and workers and large groups and small groups and businesses and churches. I’ve tried to do exactly what I thought they wanted me to do, but a few still wanted something different. I’ve even used their exact words, only to discover that their words had a completely different meaning. And I’ve tried to stay completely out of the way to let folks solve their own problems, and I still got the blame for not doing anything. As you can see, this people pleasing business can get to be quite a mess.

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In addition to these minor problems, long term people pleasing can lead to co-dependency. The person or group you are trying to please will soon control your life to the point that you have no life of your own. Sometimes what we believe to be a personal responsibility is simply a group’s laziness and attempt to get someone else to do what they are unwilling to do. Being the pleaser of the group, the load is always dumped on you. I will have to admit, a little people pleasing along the way is fine. We all like to be treated special from time to time and we need to do the same for others. Even genuine family needs sometimes require our long term care. A home with mutual and shared caretaking is a healthy environment. But when groups or individuals demand long term support from others to meet their needs when they have healthy alternatives is selfish and abusive. And for those who have tried to please, you know that whatever you do, never really satisfies the demands of the dependent individual.

In addition to being tied in knots over not being able please everyone, you may also find yourself in the position of an enabler. Alcohol, gambling, physical and emotional abuse usually go on much longer than necessary, because the people pleaser continues to help support the dependent’s habits with money and lies. The enabler gives the problem drinker or gambler more money to cover their debts while in fact buying their next drink and paying for their next trip to the gambling boat. The battered housewife takes part of the blame, covers up her bruises and lies to the police only to allow the senseless abuse to continue. Enablers have a desperate desire to please which eventually leads to their own physical, financial and emotional demise. The desire to please can be a part of a special and loving marriage or group relationship, but if abused, can become the nightmare of unhappiness we all wish to avoid.

Paw-in-law was right. Today, there are still three things you can never do. So, what is the answer to our problem? First, keep the cows fed and don’t aggravate them. And a little petting goes a long way with cows, dogs, cats and people. Second, just go around or through the mud puddle and roll on. And don’t let the selfish needs of others keep you in the mud hole. Bring the bottom up and don’t become an enabler. You deserve a life of your own. And third, do your best to please God first, and help people when you can. We must admit that it is impossible to fix everyone’s problems, as hard as we may try. Everyone is responsible to God for their own actions and they will be held personally accountable. Don’t let others transfer blame or responsibility to you for their failures.

Galatians 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

Rev. Dale LITTLE is the president of the Adams County Baptist Union.