Actress Sally Field touched something deep inside many of us a few years ago when she accepted an Oscar by exclaiming, with a touch of disbelief, "I haven't had an orthodox career, and I wanted more than anything to have your respect. . . . I can't deny the fact you like me -- right now, you LIKE me!"

All humans have an inner need to be liked and accepted. Part of the maturing process is learning not to compromise your core values to gain that acceptance.Which brings me to Salt Lake City's distinction of being chosen recently as the Places Rated Almanac's No. 1 city in all of North America.

This is a metro area with a firm inferiority complex. Like Sally Field, it hasn't had an orthodox career, and its people are, generally, hoping for respect. Maybe it has to do with a majority religion seen as different by much of the rest of the world. Maybe it has to do with the remote location or the smell of the lake if the wind is just right. Probably, it has to do with all of these things. We want to be liked. We want to be seen as one of the gang. Sometimes, we go to ridiculous lengths, such as when the Convention and Visitors Bureau put free beer in the packets visiting Olympics reporters got when they came here for a meeting in 1997.

And so, when a respected publication says this is the best place to live in all of North America, from Mexico to Canada, the tendency is to want to clutch the award to our bosoms and gush that the world finally likes us -- right now it LIKES us!

Well, don't get too excited. Some people out there still need a little more convincing.

Salt Lake City's ascension in the Places Rated Almanac made hardly a ripple anywhere else. Only a handful of newspapers reported it, USA Today being the largest. Most big-city papers wrote with an emphasis on how poorly their own cities were rated. And the publicity Salt Lake City got wasn't all good. The Times of London was downright vicious. Writer Damian Whitworth conjured every stale cliche he could think of in a piece that was about as enlightened as anything the British press wrote about the place in the 19th century. He was even original enough to get polygamy into the second paragraph as though he had just discovered it.

"The best place to live in America is a city in the desert famed for a devout majority who believe that Christ came to America after the resurrection, and a sizable minority who have more than one wife," he wrote. Why, he wonders, would anyone want to live here? "Young people call the city 'sterile' and their main topic of conversation seems to be all the activities you can do once you escape the city and head for the spectacular national parks."

He found one man, who "stared long and hard into his lemonade when asked what was the best thing about Salt Lake City before saying that he liked the grid road system." By the time the story ends, Whitworth has described streets teeming with "straight edgers" who are from "devout Mormon families" and are looking to violently punish anyone who rebels against healthy lifestyles. He cites a story in this paper last week about a study showing people are as likely to die of a gunshot wound here as in a car accident. It was a sterling example of journalism from a nation where "credible" and "newspapers" are seldom found in the same sentence.

But it also brought home a point. Cities, like people, will waste a lot of time if they worry too much about making others like them. Confidence and self-respect are more important worries, and they come from within. Certainly, the people who live in this metro area have plenty of reasons to feel both.

The Places Rated Almanac isn't the only objective source that thinks highly of the place. Howard J. Wall, an economist, has his own list of cities based on studying where people are moving. Salt Lake City finished a respectable 20th on it. Entrepreneur Magazine published Dunn & Bradstreet's annual ranking of top cities earlier this year, and Salt Lake City finished second in the large city category.

Still, so many people here beat their chests and wail when an athlete chooses to play elsewhere. They overreact to each little slight, forgetting the big picture. The truth is, this area never has been more robust economically. People are employed, construction is doing well, the sky is blue, and the local NBA team has won many more games in the past decade than teams from those other, more "exciting" cities.

I spent much of the week wondering what the pioneers would think if they knew the city they built out of nothing was rated the most desirable place on the continent. I've concluded they wouldn't give it much thought at all. To worry about pleasing others simply wasn't their style.

Deseret News editorial writer Jay Evensen can be reached by e-mail at even@desnews.com