Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rethinking Popularity

Popularity: The Story of Natalie
Natalie had entered seventh grade eager to meet new people and make new friends. Her best friend Katie was in several of her classes and sat with her in the cafeteria. Natalie was energetic and outgoing, whereas Katie was more reserved and introspective. The two had been good friends since elementary school and spent many summers together swimming and riding bikes. From the beginning of the new school year, Natalie began noticing that certain groups of students seemed to be more respected and well liked than the rest. They were the popular crowd, attractive, athletic, and social. Perceiving that she was no more than a cipher in this populous middle school, Natalie began to feel a longing to be a part of the “in crowd.” She found herself wanting to dress like the popular kids, spending a great deal of her weekly allowance and her parent’s money at the trendy stores in the local mall.

As much as possible, she played the part. When the cool kids laughed, she laughed. When they were angry, she was angry. When they made fun of others, so did Natalie. One day, the popular students decided to poke fun at her friend Katie. In gym class, Teivel, one of the popular girls, taunted Katie about the way she wore her hair. A few others joined in the harassment, and soon a small group was laughing and pointing fingers at Katie. Natalie, who was standing nearby, had an important and defining choice to make. What price would she pay to be popular? On the outside of the circle were the popular girls whom she had been trying to impress for some time now; inside was her best friend, Katie, whom she had known since she was little. The temptation and pressure to take part in the tormenting and to identify with the popular crowd was growing by the minute. In the end, she gave in and pointed her finger at Katie in a mocking gesture, making fun of the friend who had been so loyal to her all of these years.
The Real Danger.
Why is yearning to be popular a bad thing? Adolescents want many different things, so why categorize the desire to be popular as a temptation? Look at the foundation of popularity. What is it? If you boil it down, popularity is almost completely based on the opinions of others. Certain people are popular or unpopular because of what other people believe about them. The teens that strive to be popular and to climb up the social ladder tend to base their sense of self-worth on the opinions of others. If the right people smile at them or talk to them, they have a great day. However, if this just doesn’t happen, for whatever reason, their day has been torpedoed.
A healthy young person is one who understands that happiness is a choice and that the opinions and attitudes of others should not determine what kind of day it will be. The quest for popularity is a siren song that will lead only to disappointment, negative feelings about oneself, and a self-image that is to a great extent based on the approval of others. It simply establishes an unhealthy pattern that can follow a person into adulthood.
The friendships of those who are tempted by popularity are often formed for the wrong reasons. True friendship is typically about common interests and a respect for one another. Social climbers develop friendships not out of respect for others or mutual interests but rather for what the other person can offer in the way of increased social status or prestige. Friendships such as these usually lack any real foundation and are quickly disposed of if one individual is no longer socially useful. Betrayal is not uncommon in social-ladder relationships, leading to a “soap opera” atmosphere among popular cliques. Seeking to form friendships in order to advance social standing is a dysfunctional model that can impair relationships throughout a lifetime.
Young people who are lured by social advancement usually have little or no sense of self. They have spent so much time and energy trying to be what they think other people want them to be that they have absolutely no idea who they really are. The things that are held up as important to the popular crowd subjugate outside interests and passions. This can lead to an adulthood of striving to be what a person perceives others want them to be. These are the bones upon which the Siren of popularity perches.
The Real Desire.
When a student is tempted by popularity, what is being revealed about the heart’s deep longings? The secret to unveiling the real desire is to examine the impostor, the siren song. Why is it so seductive? What does it claim to offer the young person who is chasing after it?
Popularity offers the illusion of belonging to a group. There is always a popular clique or social group in a school, youth group, club, or sports team. And unfortunately, the adult world is not much different. Human beings want to know that they belong to something, that they are a part of a greater whole. This is the good thing that the heart of the adolescent deeply craves.
We were made to live in community with one another. Popularity seems to offer water for this thirst, but the reality is much different.
Popularity grants friendship, although the friendship—if that is what it can truly be called—is tenuous at best. It is usually based on what the other person can do for you and what you can do for them, not simply enjoying one another’s company. The desire to have friends is very real and good. The friendship developed by social climbers, though, is a deceptive alternative. These “friendships” lack key ingredients—mainly trust, respect, and the authentic joy of being in the other’s presence.
The Siren of popularity also professes to provide an identity. This identity, though, has as its foundation the shifting opinions of others in the group. If the rest of the popular group considers you to be popular, then you are allowed to maintain that identity. If your musical tastes, style, or relational choices begin to differ from the group, however, your identity is jeopardized. Basing one’s sense of identity on the likes and dislikes of others is a dangerous route to travel. The rocks of the Sirens’ islet are not far off. The desire to understand your place in the world is noble and universal. Who am I? Where do I fit into the big story? What is done with that desire in youth can establish patterns that last throughout a lifetime.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Academics Blogs - Blog Top Sites