It’s high time we take down fans of the 1970’s progressive rock band, Yes. I kid, although Yes-fans have a lot to answer for. No, “yes people” are the people who “yes” you along, and continue to affirm what you already do and believe. Having friends who support you is one thing, but having people who never give you any objective opinion about your actions is an entirely different can of worms. In truth, “yes people” are how someone like Donald Trump ends up president.
First, an important distinction must be made. Friends supporting you in earnest are a blessing, and I try to do that for people as often as possible so long as it’s deserved. But what about when it isn’t deserved? What about when you’re doing something that you shouldn’t? When people reinforce that behavior for you, they put you in a place where you think you’re entirely in the right. It becomes that all too typical reality TV situation where your friends are telling you, “you’re amazing, you didn’t do anything wrong.” If anyone ever says that to you, consider that you did something very wrong to get there.
To “yes” someone along is to approve of their behavior when it really isn’t warranted. It’s to create a monster of sorts. You can always tell someone who is surrounded by “yes people.” Their hallmark is a general obliviousness to consequences of their actions and an overall since of “I can do no wrong, I’m living my best life.” Regrettably, I was a “yes person” for someone. I just approved of everything, regardless of whether or not I believed in it. In my situation, I was a “yes person” to a leader of sorts, and dissent felt utterly unwelcome. It was purported that dissent and opinions were welcome, but having seen the poor reception dissenting opinions garnered, I opted to just “yes” along.
But what I was doing was just allowing the same old shit to happen. You know these people, you’ve likely cast them out of your life, those people that every time you see them, you get a bad taste in your mouth, “this person never fucking changes.” Change is good, change is important, evolution is an imperative. If you’ve never done an about-face regarding your own behaviors or thought patterns, you may be well overdue. We cannot assume that because we’re getting approval that we’re in the right.
Approval is important, I get it. I enjoy approval, don’t get me wrong. But, I’m not actively seeking it. I’m a pretty private person for the most part. I never tell anyone any news about my life unless they ask. I never even make a big deal about my birthday because doing so grosses me out. I’m hyper-aware of these behaviors, but I do still like approval. I damn near cry when anyone responds privately to something I wrote. But, I don’t surround myself with “yes people.” I fail to see what the value is in having these reality-distorting friends around to constantly reinforce your bad behaviors. “Good for you,” might as well mean, “You’re selfish, but it’s cool.”
So much of this behavior is amplified by social media. People post, a few people leave positive comments, and the person posting continues on their self-indulgent path. Now, self-indulgence is fine in moderation, but often “yes people” give the green light to all forms of self-involvement. You’re not worldly just because you said you are and your friends agreed. Take a serious look at your life and your friends, look for those people who are supporting you in earnest and those who are “yessing” you along. Consider if your behavior is actually moral or beneficial, or if you’ve just been led along. Perhaps you have friends who only like what you like about yourself, and that’s not great either. You need people who will challenge you, who will push you forward. I’d like to close with a quote from Josh Tillman, the songwriter otherwise known as Father John Misty. He’s a subversive, intuitive, cynical, eloquent, and humorous writer whom I’m very fond of. Tillman writes:
“Someone’s been told too many times
They’re beyond their years
By every half-wit of distinction she keeps around
And now every insufferable convo
Features her patiently explaining the cosmos
Of which she’s in the middle”– Josh Tillman, Father John Misty – “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”