Monday, June 19, 2017

On Popularity (And Indifference To Popularity) ...

This blog has become a bit of a wasteland, an infrequently populated place that was once quite a hub of activity. A lot of my thoughts are now boiled down to 140 characters or threaded if I have something extended to express.

But every so often, the impulse to share something in a tweet is overcome by the realization that there's simply much more to say, and so, here we are. A blog post. A rare blog post. The link for which I can tweet.

Today's post is inspired by this: Why Popularity Matters So Much—Even After High School.

It popped up in the Medium Daily Digest, an email that I scroll through each morning but which rarely contains headlines that inspire me to click.

So kudos to Mitch – or whomever wrote the headline – for capturing my attention which led me to read an excerpt from his book, Popularity: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World.

The post is interesting, so I expect the book is, too. And I love that Adam Grant is blurbed on the cover: "This book helped me understand why I wasn't cool as a kid, why I'm still not today, and why I shouldn't care."


I wasn't cool as a kid. I'm still not today. And, indeed, I don't care.

Which isn't to say I don't want people to like me. Being liked is nice.

But being liked and being popular are different things.

Moreover, my preference is more that people don't dislike me. I have come to appreciate that some people simply will not like me on principle. As a very wise friend says, "It is always the other person's shit, Beth. Always."

Well, maybe not always. If I have done something to upset someone in some way, I'd like to have the chance to address it and apologize for it if an apology is called for in that instance. Or perhaps what's needed is a clarification, a moment of "You misunderstood what I meant ... ."

But I hope I am conducting myself in such a way as to not give folk active and accurate reasons to dislike me.

Popularity, though? Meh.

I don't care about my number of Twitter followers. For a long time, I didn't accept connection requests on Facebook or LinkedIn unless I knew the person. Then I considered that perhaps I was cutting myself off from encountering some interesting people or people who might be folks I should know in order to advance some area of my life, some insight, some growth, professional or personal. And so I started expanding my circles ever so slightly.

But not much. I once knew a guy who was damn near obsessed with amassing friends on Facebook, never mind that they weren't really friends at all. They were local personalities whom I expect accepted every friend request that came along.

In his excerpt, Mitch quotes Daniel Clemens, a popular Yale student who has achieved much professional success: "We teach writing and arithmetic. We expect folks to do very well in science and reading from a very early age. But the ability to establish great relationships with others seems to be every bit as important to success if not more, yet it’s not taught in a formal way. We usually learn about relationships by trial and error — how to get along with peers and how to be popular. For those who can do it, great. But for others, it is a lifetime of struggling, never understanding why their peers have issues with them."

I have a knack for establishing relationships with others. Whether they're "great" is subjective. But friends have commented on it. One asked, "What is it about you? You meet these people and become friends with them."

He was referencing a few folks I know who are "famous" or perhaps "known."

Relationships don't form with everyone I meet. I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for a story some years back. She invited me to come to a show on her upcoming tour. I did. I met her very briefly. I'm sure she has no recollection of it and we haven't been in touch since.

Some encounters are fleeting – like the one with the mom in the parking lot of a store who was trying to load groceries into the back of her vehicle while her newborn baby, in a carrier on her chest, screamed his little head off; I helped her with her groceries and then returned her cart to the front of the store – while other encounters – with those "famous" or not – turn into friendships.

And the reason, as I see it, is pretty damn simple: I'm a nice-enough person.

I try to be kind. I try to be helpful. I try to be sincere. I'm not trying to game the system or scam people or engage for purely selfish reasons.

But forming substantive relationships and "popularity" strike me as different things.

When I was in school, "popular" seemed then as it seems now: largely superficial, rooted first and foremost in appearances. But, as I see it, it's also assigned. The most popular people I remember from school didn't strike me as striving for popularity. Popularity was placed upon them. Those who strive to be popular by definition aren't and, to my mind, can't be.

These days, I suppose popularity is often cultivated. Some are genuinely adored for their flamboyance or personality or artistry. But others have become successful in parlaying a glimmer of notoriety into an outsize following.

Which begs the question: why do so many follow?

But that is another topic for another post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see you posting again. The letter to Trump was wonderful. I hope you sent a copy to the White House.


3:49 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

That's nice, Kathy. Thanks.

Alas, I did not send a copy of my Trump memo to the White House. Would that he'd care about what his fellow Americans have to say.

3:52 PM  

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