You’ve most likely met someone who says that they “hate people,” “don’t like people,” “think people are stupid,” or some variant of that. Humans are social creatures, so how is it possible that some people “hate” all others? Do these people really mean what they say?
A week ago I was sitting outside the Westin San Antonio on the River Walk after a conference with three engaging folks. Someone mentioned that they did not like people, and we all agreed that generally, we did not like most people. An awkward silence ensued – if none of us liked “people,” what were we doing sitting around with people? Were we not enjoying the discussion and the company? I quickly made a point to say something to the effect of, “I don’t like most people, I should say that. Because I am enjoying sitting here with you all.” Everyone agreed, and we moved on with the conversation.
This discussion got me thinking though – of the four people in the discussion, all of us were educated and worked in areas that required working with others. I teach college and interact with students, other faculty, and staff all day long, not to mention the fact that I am married (to a person) and have friends (who are people). I realized that the statement “I don’t generally like other people” means something other than what the words represent (otherwise, what am I doing?).
After years of introspection, observation, and education in psychology, I have come to a conclusion. It’s not that we (myself included in this group) don’t like most other people. Instead, people who state this have very high expectations for other people. Realistic or not, these expectations guide their interactions with others. As you can imagine, most people (the ones we don’t like) don’t measure up to these high expectations.
What is it then that we are expecting? In all honesty, we are expecting a miracle – we want others to understand us, to recognize our moods and interact with us accordingly, to know what we believe to be appropriate for certain situations (and behave accordingly), to know what we’re interested in and discuss it intelligently with us (because we are knowledgeable about it, or at least believe we are), and to think about things in the same way that we do. With all these expectations, I literally cannot understand how it is that someone with these views DOES find people that they “like.” Thinking about myself (and others) in this way, I wonder, “How the hell do I have friends? How did I get married for God’s sake?” I think the answer to this comes in the development of these expectations.
As we grow up, our personalities are influenced by both genetics and our environment. We find certain likes and dislikes, or maybe we’re taught them; either way, we have them. We interact with others, and those interactions can be positive, negative, or somewhere in between (or different for each interaction). We got off into the world and inspect others based on what we have learned is “right.” We’re told by society and our parents that we’re supposed to have friends and people that like us (and vice versa). For the group of “people haters,” it is possible that their experiences with others were more negative than positive – they started off with high hopes for others (that were learned through childhood and adolescence), but found most others soundly “lacking” in meeting their expectations. They began to form a “schema” or mental representation that others do not meet their standards. This view isn’t conscious, we’re not aware that we have high standards and that others aren’t reaching them. But we’re aware that “something’s not right.” That something translates into a view that “I cannot expect others to meet my expectations,” which could then translate into “I don’t like most people.”