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Behaving to Please Others

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Reza varjavand
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All too often we say something that we do not really mean, or we make an exaggerated statement or a claim. Some believe that such behavior is one of the unintelligible consequences of capitalism that promotes consumerism. Two of the principles that a market economy is based upon are self-interest and profit seeking. Business firms want to make as much profit as possible, consumers want to buy more of everything, and investors wish to achieve maximum return on their investments. Salesmanship, with its entailed misrepresentation and exaggeration, thus becomes the only effective method to achieve these objectives. Self-interest and profit seeking are constantly being fueled by heavy advertising and omnipresent marketing promotions. In an attempt to make more profit by selling more products, businesspeople have resorted to using every possible persuasive tactic, sometimes even deceptively, to accomplish their goal. As a result, the infiltration of monetary forces into every aspect of our lives, even where they don't belong, has created a mentality of relentless pursuit of material and personal gain that is overtaking our society.

Consequently, in life in general, we need to become discerning, selective consumers of what is being sold. The art of selling requires likeability, which becomes a sought-after commodity under capitalism. Just like politicians, businesspeople and others wish to become popular and sell themselves, especially in this age of social media, so as to attain fame, status, and possible monetary gain. People are under the illusion that publicity brings them success, although it rarely does. Therefore, they resort to all sorts of gambits to muster as many supportive friends, fans, and "likes" as possible. To succeed in doing this, they have no choice but to become accommodating, affirming, and subservient and in the process, develop a "yes" personality. They fear that saying "no", rejecting the opinions of others, or challenging opinions they do not agree with will diminish their popularity. Similar to a risk-aversion strategy for financial investors, rejection aversion becomes an effective strategy for publicity-seeking people and eventually, a way of life. They tend to avoid confrontation and deep discussion at any price. Why bother as long as things are going well for me? They avoid saying "no" because they want to please everyone, just like politicians do. They need to have as many supportive fans/votes as possible. To this end, even hypocrisy is no longer challenged. Since publicity-seeking individuals do not reject anything, they, therefore, no longer cling to good old-fashioned values in their lives, or have no reasonable metrics with which to assess things. If they avoid rejecting things, they can accept everything. In short, avoidance of rejection implies acceptance.

However, in reality, our life is defined in terms of what we accept and what we reject, what we defend and what we oppose, and the values we choose to guide our life and the metrics with which we assess these values. If we choose to not clearly define who we are and what we stand for, life will be merely pleasure driven and whimsical, that is, preoccupied with one's own feelings, interests, and indulgences. These shallow, self-serving signs are easily spotted by those looking to support people and issues of substance and, as a result, withhold their "likes" or votes. Rejection aversion strategies have a way of backfiring by igniting the very rejection we are trying so hard to avoid. What are your thoughts?

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Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
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