Can You Be Defined By What You Don’t Like?

I think most people tend to define themselves by listing things that they like. But can you be defined in the opposite way, by listing things that you don’t like?

It is conventional wisdom in politics that you cannot win an election by being against things. You need to tell voters what you are for in order to secure their vote.

Is the same thing true in life? Does it make a difference if you define yourself positively (what you like) rather than negatively (what you don’t)? Does life behave like photography, where everything is captured in a  photographic negative, but then that develops into a full picture?

Might there be a psychological toll associated with being consistently opposed to ideas, concepts, and even material things? Can you be defined by what you don’t like?

Related questions: Why do we like what we like? What music do you dislike that everyone else likes? When should you not follow the law?

2 thoughts on “Can You Be Defined By What You Don’t Like?”

  1. I can be defined by myself or others through who or what I like or love in addition to who or what I don’t. In the case of others understanding me, this can happen independently of my intentional input or not. All I can do is try to put my best self forward. In deciding to focus my energy in this way, I will likely see myself in a positive sense. This will also increase the odds of others doing the same.

    I must say, however, that there are things good not to like, and it is okay being partially defined by them. For instance, I hate poverty. I have spent my career fighting it, primarily related to homelessness and lack of affordable housing. But I also hate how we stigmatize and treat people living in poverty, claiming it’s all their fault. I don’t mind people understanding my aversion to believing such things.

    However, there is a better way, a more hopeful way, I’d prefer people to see me. I believe we can end poverty, at least the depths of which we allow it now. For example, many people, including community and political leaders, find it acceptable that some people will spend most of their lives living on the streets. This is wrong for reasons I will not get into in this answer. Some of the same people also believe it is the choice of those living on the streets or those with extremely low incomes to live their lives in such ways. Little attention is given to how economic, transportation, community development, or physical and mental healthcare systems, for example, restrict the options of those living in poverty.

    I prefer people to see me — define me — in this more positive sense: I believe we can build the political will to change our future; we can end homelessness; we can end poverty (at least as it is understood today). Or, branching out to other interests of mine, we can develop a healthier, less exploitative, and extractive food system. We can mitigate climate change. We can build a better physical and mental healthcare system.

    The past three paragraphs may have seemed a divergence from the original question. I don’t believe this is the case. I, or others, can define me. In fact, I and they will. While not everything will get construed the way I want it, I do have a role in believing and projecting how I want to be seen. Others can understand me in a negative sense. But I hope I have the energy and focus not to let that be the case.

  2. It seems to me to be more mentally healthy to think about your self-image in terms of what you like and what you are, rather than what you don’t like, and what you aren’t.

    With that said, I also think that both are necessary for an accurate description of who you are.

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