Two Kinds of Popularity

20100701_popularvoteThere are two ways to become popular:

1) Impress People

2) Serve People

By being “impressive,” you’re admired for your talent, your confidence and the way you carry yourself. They value your skillset and if they’re not inspired by your example, at the very least they’re impressed by the substance of your abilities and the way they perceive your personality based on the quality of what you’re able to do.

By “serving people,” you’re appreciated because of the way you make people feel about themselves. When they’re around you, they feel affirmed and if they’re needing any kind of assistance – you’re there to offer a helping hand. Your confidence is based on the substance of who you are and not just the way you’re able to present yourself on stage – that “stage” being the workplace, school or wherever it is that your strengths are most vividly displayed.

While there’s nothing wrong in being “impressive,” if it becomes the foundation upon which you base the manner in which you interact with others, it can be socially lethal. Reason being is because, without frequent and profound reality checks, you inevitably become the center of your own universe. The only relationships you value are those that deliver the kind of applause that merits your appreciation. They must admire you – that much is a given. But because of the depth of the prideful hole you now live in, you’ve become more particular as far as the kind of people you even bother to pay attention to. If the person who is approaching you does not constitute something that substantially adds to your social standing, they’re dismissed as one of several faceless “fans.” You run with a higher caliber crowd now and the people that don’t register as such are regarded as underlings that barely rate a cordial “Hello.”

What makes the “impressive” approach potentially fatal from a social standpoint is that the people you are now associating with are perceiving you according to the same criteria that you use to evaluate them. You’ve built a community of “friends” that remain committed to you provided your trophy case continues to increase in volume and substance. Should your performance falter to the point where you’re no longer worthy of a headline or a cover article, the number of your “friends” begins to dwindle. Truth is, they weren’t friends to begin with as much as they were agreements. You remain friendly to them provided their celebrity status remains intact and vice versa. As long as your mystique endures, your entourage remains in place. Should your aura begin to lose its luster, so do the number of phone calls that are actually returned.

On the other hand, if part of what draws people to you is the way you’re willing to invest your time and energy into their lives, your status is built upon a foundation that is far more noble and thus far more stable.

Bear in mind, I’m not talking about the way people may use you or take advantage of you. Those personalities exist, but they’re not the kind that you use to define society as a whole. Rather, we’re talking about the way most human beings determine the kind of person that merits their trust and esteem. They’re looking for something real, something selfless. In other words, a person who’s genuinely thinks of others before they think of themselves. That kind of person is wired to be affirming and optimistic and they treat others the way they would like to be treated. They’re generous and giving and are quick to step aside so that others around them might shine a little brighter.

In short, they resemble Christ – the Ultimate Model of Selflessness, Service and Humility (Mk 10:45; Phil 2:6-11).

Jesus died a martyr’s death and the mental picture we have of Him is often a soft spoken, doe-eyed, frail individual whose followers  perceived His Message of Grace as a cue for radical pacifism, submission and isolation. Jesus was soft spoken when the situation called for it, but was downright forceful when He confronted the Pharisees. The frailty depicted in so many of the artistic interpretations of Christ ignores the first three decades of His life spent doing hard, physical labor as a carpenter. Those Who insist that pacifism is the only correct approach to an altercation, regardless if the bully is a thug in the classroom or an entire nation of terrorists determined to conquer the world, disregard the sanctified violence depicted throughout the Old Testament and the admonishment Christ gives His disciples to procure a weapon in the book of Luke (Luke 22:36-37).

Adopting the posture of a servant is not a compromise of one’s strength and confidence, it’s an expression of it. Christianity is not a call to be quiet to the point of being irrelevant nor is it a mandate to be gentle to the point of being a nonexistent defense against evil. Meekness is strength under control. Holiness is the state of being complete that results from giving God’s Spirit free reign over every aspect of your existence. If the truth be told, whatever it is that I “give up”  in the context of being obedient to God’s Direction,  is ultimately revealed as an existence that I’m tasked with having to endure as opposed to the life I’m enabled to enjoy.

Fact is, a commitment to Christ equates to the wisest and most practical approach to life in general – even when it comes to one’s desire to be popular. Establishing a philosophical starting point characterized by an authentic desire to serve rather than a determination to shine is not only an effective way to win friends and influence people, it’s also an act of obedience (Phil 2:3-4) which is key to being successful in the most comprehensive sense of the word.

Ernest Hemmingway once said,

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.1

And the only way you’re going to prove to a better version of who you were a moment ago is to give the Spirit of Christ greater reign over every aspect of who you are.  Bottom line: It’s not so much “Let me tell you about myself,” as much as it’s “What can I do for you?”That’s the surest way to become popular, that’s obedience to the commands found in Scripture and that’s being consistent with the example of Christ.


1. Goodreads, Ernest Hemmingway, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/76281-there-is-nothing-noble-in-being-superior-to-your-fellow, accessed January 13, 2016

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