Disagreeing with Lincoln

No, this is not about the Oscars. It is about this statement, attributed to Honest Abe:

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.”lincoln

I want to know what the Internetz think about this. When I first heard it, I was strongly inclined to agree. I can think of many times over the years where getting to know somebody provided the missing piece of the puzzle. Once I understood that person, I was able to see past my initial dislike. The Will Rogers part of me wants to believe Lincoln is right.

However (and you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), the more I think about it, the more I can remember people I liked better when I didn’t know them very well. Because we were barely acquaintances, I was able to give them the benefit of the doubt. But the more I learned of them, the less likeable they became. Is this the Dr. House in me asserting himself? How can I reconcile this position with my understanding of the gospel?

Please tell me what you think in the comments below.  Are you a Will Rogers or a Dr. House? It isn’t everyday you get to disagree with The Sage of Sangamon county, so please give your reasons.


  1. Good questions. All I can say is that I really hope there is some sort of difference between “liking” someone and “loving” them as Jesus commanded us to do. Because if not, I’m so screwed.

  2. I can love someone without liking them- thank heavens, because that’s all that’s going to save my butt.

  3. Kierkegaard talks about what a strange divine command it is to love someone. How can love be commanded? Isn’t it all lovey and nice and desirable already? The main theme of his Works of Love is that Christian love is not preferential love. Christian love is hard-won and dirty and sweaty and sometimes miserable.It doesn’t preclude knowing someone thoroughly but it’s not dependent on it either.

    What’s confusing about this, though, is that we often act as if we love someone or must love someone *in spite* of themselves, in spite of who they are. Strange that we call this love though, right? What kind of love is that? “I love you though I have to put up with you.” Is that really love? Maybe love, real love, eternal love in the end, is some kind of grace that allows you opportunities to see far enough into someone that you can come to like them, or in other words turn duty into genuine preference, a real actual wanting-to-be-with-them. But maybe this takes eons with some people. I don’t know. In any case, I don’t think it sounds right to say I truly love them but cannot stand them. And maybe it’s the striving for that that will count as some kind of placeholder for true love in the meantime.

  4. I suppose, for me, Lincoln’s statement does not mean that once he gets to know that man, his attitude will change. Rather, getting to know someone is just one method to search out if the dislike is rooted in misinformation. Sometimes, additional information will help, but sometimes, it will only make it worse. The point is, the process of getting to know someone is a better expression of giving someone the “benefit of the doubt” than making untrue, charitable assumptions about someone we have never reached out to.

  5. I’m not very good at loving people, but I’m deeply mistrustful of the idea that it’s possible to love someone without liking her. Heaven save me from the love of those who don’t like me. Such love is generally abstract, doctrinally pure, disdainful, and indistinguishable from contempt.

  6. The trick is to hate everyone as much as possible from the start so you’re guaranteed to like them at least a little bit more once you get to know them. That’s what Abraham Lincoln did, anyway.

  7. 5. ZD Eve
    Believe me, it’s very easy to love someone and not like them at all. Probably not as common as liking someone but not loving them. But I think this dynamic plays out in many, many families. I’d bet more people than not have someone in their life who they care about, they want that person’s happiness and will often go far out of their way for that person, and in spite of that they can barely stand to be in that person’s presence,.Many kids feel that way about their parents and vice-versa. Familiarity can be the cause of much irritation, even informed familiarity in which you understand and forgive another for their shortcomings, but you simply cannot abide their company. And like many issues in life, that’s not necessarily a problem to be solved or a defect to address. It’s just the way we human beings are, and we have to be okay with not always liking the people we love.

  8. I have a theory in life that people are either like oranges or like peaches. Some people are like oranges where you have to get past the tough and slightly bitter exterior to really enjoy them–they take some work, but it’s worth it. Other are like peaches–all soft and sweet on the outside, but there’s kind of a nasty hard pit in the middle. I guess you work at the oranges, beware the pits in peaches, and hope that you can act like some sort of other fruit that doesn’t have a bitter downside.

  9. Don’t dislike people. That is not an option for us.

    We are trying to qualify for an existence with God. But God has many values that are very unlike ours, and many of His values we would describe as worthy of hate. So we are told that the way we regard our neighbors is seen as the way we regard God.

    Dislike has many components. We get to choose the emotional component. We can still use judgment about appropriate, non-emotional, responses to particular situations.

    My experience is that much more is expected of us than we realize.

  10. There are a lot of people I have disliked at first – and didn’t want to get to now them. Once I’ve gotten to know them, I have liked a lot of them and still disliked some of them – but after I’ve gotten to know them, the liking or disliking has been my decision to own. Therefore, when I’ve chosen to interact or not interact with them, I have been acting as an agent unto myself and taken accountability for it.

    Love, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to do with liking for me. Love is about doing, not feeling – so I can love people no matter how I feel about them. The question for me isn’t whether I can feel some way about them; rather, it’s about whether I can do something for them, especially something that constitutes a sacrifice in real terms. In that light, I love some people more than I love other people – but I hope to be able to love everyone to whatever extent is possible for me in my personal circumstances (and I don’t mean only or even primarily financial).

  11. I’m of the Rogers persuasion myself. If the promise of seeing as we are seen means what I think it means, to see someone truly inherently means loving them. I like that ultimate human truth involves care. To quote Les Mis (because why not), to love another person is to see the face of God.

  12. Ray – love your comment! I think that hits the nail on the head (which probably isn’t the best analogy for love)!

  13. I think there may be an uncanny valley phenomenon going on here. In certain ways, we are all very much alike, and that can breed liking or disliking based on our own views of ourself.

  14. It’s kinda like Facebook, where you have people who you were “acquaintances” with offline, but when you become FB friends with them, you get to see all of their political opinions incapsulated in re-shared packaged image memes.

    And then you sour on them.

    I like to think that with enough conversation, that we can reach a point of understanding and appreciation (neither of which is “acceptance” or “agreement.”) But experience shows me more and more that even understanding is not really reasonable in many cases. Continued discussion in these cases is just really frustrating and leads to everyone disliking each other (at least, the misunderstood construct) even more.

  15. Is it really worth my time to get to know someone I dislike? God gave us podcasts. I can get to know someone’s ideas and moral core while I do the dishes. Surely that’s enough.

  16. Mark, if you’re tempted to believe Lincoln on this, just fall back on that old chestnut that “familiarity breeds contempt.” And if you need academic backup for that proposition, here you go: http://people.duke.edu/~dandan/Papers/Upside/less.pdf

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