One summer afternoon, at the close of a wonderful youth conference, a young man approached me and asked, “What can I do to make people like me?” The tears in his eyes were evidence that he often felt alone and friendless. I’ve thought a lot about his question, not only for him, but for any young person who has a hard time fitting in.
Not all of us can be the homecoming queen, the class president, or the starting quarterback. These honors seem to come with a set of friends as standard equipment. Society makes a big deal out of those positions, leaving the rest of us, in the world’s view, in the “average” category. However, if you’re reading this article right now, you’ve already shown that you’re anything but average.
One of the hard lessons to learn in life is that there are some things you can control and some things you can’t. If you want a short recipe for being frustrated and miserable, this is it: focus on things you can’t control. While you may not be able to “make” someone like you, it is possible to make yourself more “likable.” The way to do that is to focus on what you can control. Here are three things you can do, even when you feel like there isn’t a friend in sight. You can be curious, you can be clean, and you can be Christlike.
Our world is drowning in a sea of self-centeredness. You can make yourself quite unique right away by leaving this ocean of selfishness and choosing to be curious about other people. Some well-meaning teenagers spoil the chances for successful friendships by talking too much about their own interests and activities. They may even act loud or obnoxious in an effort to convince others that they feel good about themselves. Usually, the result is just the opposite. It reminds me of a verse in Proverbs: “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Prov. 29:11).
Instead, calm down and be quiet. Be a listener. Ask questions. Be interested in others, and more people will be interested in you. Someone once said, “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.”
People who are curious spend a lot of time observing. Watch the people in your school that you most respect. (Not the most popular, but the most respected.) What do they do? How do they take care of themselves? How do they treat others? Perhaps you could try to adopt some of these qualities as your own. If you do, you will eventually become and attract that type of person. Remember, the goal is not just to have more friends but to have friends of high standards. Elder Robert D. Hales once said, “A true friend makes it easier for us to live the gospel by being around him” (Ensign, May 1990, 40). Look for friends who make you want to be better, and be that kind of friend too.
We often use the word clean in a gospel context to mean purity. In this case, we are using it to mean physically clean as well. This is another thing you can easily do. I remember one young man from my school days who would have avoided a considerable amount of teasing if he had simply washed his hair regularly. This was something he could easily control! But he didn’t. Most of us can shower and practice basic hygiene by using deodorant, brushing our teeth, and combing our hair. We can be sure our clothes are clean and fresh. You should always strive to be clean.
President Spencer W. Kimball suggested we take a close look at ourselves:
“You might take a careful inventory of your habits, your speech, your appearance, your weight, … and your eccentricities. … Take each item and analyze it. What do you like in others? What personality traits please you in others? Are your dresses too short, too long, too revealing, too old-fashioned? Does your weight drive off possible suitors? Do you laugh raucously? Are you too selfish? Are you interested only in your own interests or do you project yourself into the lives of others? … What do you do to make yourself desirable? Do you overdo or underdo? Too much makeup or too little? Scrupulously clean both physically and morally? … What are your eccentricities, if any? I think nearly all people have some. If so, then go to work. Classify them, weigh them, corral them, and eliminate one at a time” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 295).
In driver’s education classes, students are constantly warned about “blind spots”—places where other cars may be hiding that you can’t see, even with your rearview and side mirrors! It might be a good idea for each of us to find an adult we trust and ask for help in identifying our personal “blind spots.” It could be your parents, your bishop, or your Young Men or Young Women adviser. Simply ask, “If you ever notice anything that I’m doing that might make it harder for me to make friends, would you please tell me about it?” It might take some humility, but it might also help you see some things that will help you. I value the people who will love me enough to be honest with me about the faults I can’t see and with kindness and sensitivity let me know how I could work on them to become a better person.
Regardless of how others treat you, you can always treat others with kindness and dignity (see For the Strength of Youth, 9). Of course, compromising your standards to make friends or to be accepted by another group should never be an option. This will cause you to lose self-respect and the respect of others. Be alone temporarily if you have to, but be Christlike. Remember the words of the prophet Enoch, after the Lord called him to be a prophet:
“Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31).
Enoch was worthy of his calling even though he was not accepted by the people. If gaining friends ever means abandoning your standards, then it’s definitely not what you want. Sister Ardeth Kapp said, “Never before in the history of the Church has there been such a need for young women who are willing to sacrifice popularity if necessary, suffer loneliness if required, even be rejected if needed, to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Ensign, Nov. 1988, 94).
Being Christlike guarantees that you’ll have the most important friend of all: the Savior. He knows what it’s like to be misunderstood, lonely, and rejected. And that means he knows how to help us when we feel that way. Alma tells us that Jesus suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so that he would know how to take care of us in our infirmities (see Alma 7:11–12). President Ezra Taft Benson gave us a list of the benefits of turning our lives over to God (look closely at the ninth item):
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life (see Matt. 10:39)” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 20, emphasis added).
Jesus was the most selfless person who ever lived on the earth. And if we’re going to be Christlike, we’ll need to adopt that trait too. Once you’ve worked on being curious, clean, and Christlike, then forget about yourself and think of others and their needs. Somewhere out there, you’ll find yourself—and you might just find a few friends as well.