Trying to Please Everyone

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jul 11, 2015

“It would be nice if everyone liked you but it’s not necessary.”
Dr. Richard Dobbins

The story is told of a man and his grandson traveling down the road, walking and leading a donkey. They met a man who said, “How foolish for you to be walking. One of you should be riding the donkey.” So the man put his grandson on the animal.

The next traveler they met frowned and said, “How dreadful for a strong boy to be riding while an old man walks.” So the boy climbed off the donkey and his grandfather climbed on.

The next person they met said, “I just can’t believe a grown man would ride and make a little boy walk.” So the man pulled the boy up and they rode the donkey together. That is, until they met another man who said, “I never saw anything so cruel in all my life — two human beings riding on one poor defenseless donkey.”

Down the road a ways, they met a couple of men. After they passed, one of the men turned to the other and said, “Did you ever before see two fools carrying a donkey?”

As you probably know, that is an old story that has been around for a long time but each time I read it I am reminded again how impossible it is to please everyone. 

At a seminar where leaders were discussing this subject, one of the participants somewhat boastfully declared, “After I turned 50 years of age, I decided that when the guilt train pulled up, I was never again going to get on board.” He took the position that no one could make him feel guilty for anything that he said or did. 

I agree that we should not be paralyzed by the impossible task of trying to please everyone but not caring about anyone’s opinion of us would seem to be a dangerous extreme. We all should be persons of integrity by being true to ourselves but to ignore the opinions of others entirely could place us in an extremely vulnerable position. Who of us does not have blind spots which we literally cannot see except through someone else’s eyes?  

Even though it was many years ago, I will never forget the day I came home and started to complain about something rather minor that had gone wrong that day. As I just sort of fussed and fussed, Evie patiently waited and when I was finished she simply asked me, “Do you hear yourself?”

Her words cut me to the heart like a knife. My shortsightedness had so blinded me that I had completely lost my perspective. I need people like that in my life. That must be why someone said, “Always listen to your critics. They may be the only ones telling you what you need to know.” 

On the other hand, I also remember working at a job just out of college with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation where our task was to buy right-of-way to build roads. With all of the enthusiasm of someone who was young and hungry, I poured myself into the task at hand. One of my co-workers didn’t have the same zeal that I had and he challenged my work ethic with these words, “Will you stop working so hard; you are making the rest of us look bad.” 

I realized immediately I was not going to please that person. My commitment to the quality and quantity of my work would require me to ignore that request.

Aesop of “Aesop’s Fables” said, “In trying to please all, he had pleased none.” 

No wonder we have this proverb, “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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