The Fear of Liking Something

I was in charge of my two young nephews this weekend while my sister-in-law took a much needed mini-vacation; just three guys hitting the town in search of some fun. There's no restaurant as fun for a four and six year old as Benihana, simply because of all the action taking place in front of you. I can get some sushi and grab a drink, while the chef throws knives, catches shrimp in his hat, and makes a Mickey Mouse shape from his mound of fried rice, keeping the two boys completely transfixed and entertained, so that's where we went for lunch. We had a great time together and they ate all their chicken, but one thing I did notice was their reluctance to try things like zucchini or mushrooms.

"I don't like those," they each said.

Classic child response. We've all been there. Saying that we don't like something as a kid is really code for "I don't feel like trying that because it might be gross." Of course, there's the chance that it might be really good, too, but as small children we're not willing to take that risk. All kids can think about is the discomfort brought on by the situation. It's easier to simply protect themselves from anything bad by expressing the negative opinion. For my nephews, saying that they didn't like zucchini was a sure-fire way to avoid an uncomfortable experience. I completely understood, although I was hoping they would at least try one bite. Taking the chance and enjoying the zucchini might embolden them to try other foods and be a bit more adventurous.

When I finally got some alone time last night I flipped through the channels and found one of my favorite Corey and Corey movies: Dream a Little Dream. While the film carries what is undoubtedly one of the worst plot lines in the history of 80s cinema, its portrayal of 1980s fashion and teen angst is remarkable. Insecure teens are seen picking on one another for their eclectic tastes and personal styles, hoping that their negative opinions of one another will further elevate their own self-esteem. In the case of these particular high schoolers, not liking a particular song, shirt, person, or idea protects them from possible criticism of who they are and what they're about. Everything "sucks" or it's "lame" and "uncool." It's not until Corey Feldman's character becomes possessed by the soul of Jason Robards (don't ask, you have to see the movie to get it - kind of a Freaky Friday-type scenario), an older and more secure person at his age, that he summons the courage to be who he wants to be and stand behind his opinions. That's the value of experience and wisdom.

When it comes to wine and whisky appreciation, the same basic analogies apply to serious critique and evalution. It's easier to say we don't like something than to try and tackle a new, unfamiliar experience. For many people, talking honestly about why something is good is usually more difficult than simply saying they don't like it. In most instances where disagreement occurs, people are criticized for having bad taste, but not for their negative review. For example, if you come out and say your favorite whisky is Tobermory there's a fear someone will respond with "Tobermory sucks" and challenge your opinion, rather than "I also like Tobermory. You seem to know your whisky." Dave Smith, from St. George distillery, and I had this conversation a few weeks back. He said, "If you talk about how you like a whisky you're more likely to be put on the spot for an explanation. 'Why do you like this whisky?' someone might ask. If you say you don't like it people just assume you must have your reasons, so a negative response almost masquarades as knowledge, when in reality it's much more difficult to say why you like something."

It seems "I don't like it," can be a defensive maneuver long into adulthood.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll