The Dangers of Popularity

Your friends all got new jobs. You didn’t. Your friends all went overseas this year. You were stuck looking after a sick parent. Your friend got more likes on social media, has more friends, buys nicer clothes. Humans have a hidden poisonous tendency to envy, to want to be popular, to want to be liked by the masses.

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Both Scripture and Ancient philosophers are clear- the path of the many leads to disaster. Follow the crowd like a sheep and you will lose yourself, destroy yourself, have no individual identity or distinct worth.

Christ exhorts us in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Proverbs 16:25 echoes these words, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

Pause for one moment and think of Christ in Matthew 27. An enormous crowd mocking Jesus, screaming their lungs out with zeal for Christ to by crucified while wanting criminals to be set free. These were everyday people. Who worked hard, looked after their families, felt they had a good sense of morals. Look what they did in the heat of the moment. Their minds were clouded with anger, they sought to harm the innocent. Do not trust the masses. Do not trust prevailing viewpoints without reference to morals, convictions and logic.

The madness of the masses and beauty of following the unique path of conviction is not a concept only found in Scripture.

In Ancient Greek mythology Hercules had to pick between a beautiful goddess who promised a life of ease and pleasure or a sterner goddess to promised no rewards except rewards stemming from hard work and sacrifice. He was presented a choice between virtue and vice, sacrifice or pleasure. Do you feel this tension in your day to day life? If not chances are you are well done the well trodden, wide path which leads to destruction.

Plato described a similar idea, “Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.” In other words, living by sincerity and truth is rare. Don’t expect to be popular or understood if that is what you are about. Socrates logic got too much for the Athenians and they wanted him dead.

We even see similar ideas in Ancient Chinese philosophy.

Confucius warned, “When everyone likes something, it should be examined.”

Lao Tzu echoed these words in the Tao Te Ching, “When everyone know good is good, this is not good.”

These truths, however, are not merely confined to ancient times. Having experienced hard labour under a Soviet totalitarian regime, Varlam Shalamov gave us a dire warning, “I discovered that the world should be divided not into good and bad people but into cowards and non-cowards. Ninety-five percent of cowards are capable of the vilest things, lethal things, at the mildest threat.”

People you think are nice, think are normal. Chances are, they have no spine. A bit of pressure from the boss, a bit of regulation, some nasty words from friends they think are stupid but still let influence how they behave.. and what happens… they cave in. They compromise their families, their

health, betray their friends, submit to evil agendas, become morally spineless. Shalamov’s warning is dire, yet clear, if you want to live in a morally consistent fashion do not expect to have many people similar to you. If popularity is your sole craving then you might run into issues. Sure, human relationships are crucial but if we betray all morals at the slightest pressure, our relationships are much more like those of animals than humans.

Kierkegaard warned the mass man who was one and the same with the crowd, had no self and thus failed as an individual. He adds, “Christ was crucified because he would have nothing to do with the crowd (even though he addressed himself to all). He did not want to form a party, an interest group, a mass movement, but wanted to be what he was, the truth, which is related to the single individual. Therefore everyone who will genuinely serve the truth is by that very fact a martyr. To win a crowd is no art; for that only untruth is need, nonsense, and a little knowledge of human passions. But no witness to the truth dares to get involved with the crowd.”

Next time you want to do something because that is what everyone else does. Stop and pause. Are you unique or a sheep. Will you fail as an individual becoming one of the crowd or will you live by convictions. Do you value being on the good side of spineless people or truth and morals even if it involves sacrifice.


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