When I was young popularity meant that when you sat at the lunch table in school, four other little girls would clamor to sit next to you. When I hear my grandchildren use the term, I know that they are more apt to be talking about social media. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many people visit your blog?
I wonder about this crazy need we have to be known by many. What does it mean to be known, anyway? Does someone know you when they recognize your face in a crowd? Do they know you when they hear your name and are able to match the name with their picture of you? Do they know you when they have heard your words spoken or seen your work. By the way, I know Pablo Picasso and Thomas Merton. And just because one is known, does it also imply that one is liked or has the approval of those that know them?
Being known has practical application in this world. People make money selling themselves, their ideas, their talents and their products or services. Each of my four adult children are engaged in work that requires that they “put themselves out”, become known in some way. This can’t be a bad thing. It provides food and shelter for their families. But this seems to me to be such a burden, a drain on the human psyche.
When one’s livelihood depends on not just people knowing you but liking you or preferring you or your product, it seems to me there is an added dimension to every act one performs. It poses the question “Will people notice? Will they want what I have to offer?” Spontaneity is lost. People have to be worried about outcomes and those who they meet become a means to an end. At the same time, anyone who criticizes us or our product looms as an enemy. Some of us super-sensitives can feel this even if we are nobodies being criticized. But when one’s livelihood is at risk, critics can feel especially threatening.
When I left church work years ago, I remember a moment when I realized that I was leaving a place where I was known by people I admired. People I tended to put on pedestals recognized my name if it was spoken to them. I probably had grandiose ideas about any esteem they afforded me, but being in that place did wonders for my ego. Loss of my income impacted Bernie and I, but not to the point of emptying our table or throwing us out into the streets. But it changed my relationships in a way that I appreciate today. There have been moments when I have been put in a position to “sell myself” since then, when I was seeking a new job, for example. But for the most I feel free. It is a gift to be able to have encounters that have no hidden agenda. It is liberating to have no concern what people may think of me. I don’t care how many people read my blog. I just love writing.
I don’t know if there is another way for the world to function without setting people up to play this popularity game. I just know that I feel so free since I’ve been able to set that behind me that I would want it for anyone and everyone. I know that God knows my name and that has become enough for me.