When popularity is a game, no one really wins.
Popularity gets a bad rap sometimes. There's really nothing wrong with wanting to be popular, or even with being popular. After all, it's only natural to want to be liked and have friends. But the quest for popularity becomes a problem when it turns into a game complete with winners and losers. That happens when:
1. Friends becomes stepping stones. Making a new friend just because she's popular or dumping an old friend because he's not is a great way to end up with no friends at all. Seeing other people as a way to get what you want only leads to one thing in the end—a lot of pain.
- What's right is sacrificed for what's cool. Think about this: How far will you go to fit in? Will you join in spreading gossip? Will you drink at the party next weekend? Will you make fun of someone who's not a part of your group? If you're willing to go against your beliefs just to hang with the "cool" crowd, you need to step back and look at what you're really giving up.
- Fitting in means pushing others out. If you've ever been on the outside of an exclusive clique, you know how much it hurts. A close group of friends doesn't have to be a closed group of friends.
- Making friends means forgetting who you are. If you feel like the only way to be popular is to be someone you're not, you're living a lie. You risk losing track of what makes you special. Real friends accept you just as you are.
So what does radical popularity look like? Well, it looks a lot like:
- Respect: This means liking people for who they are, not what they can do for you. It means seeing others the way God sees them, as unique and precious members of his family. So maybe your best friend since third grade isn't the most popular person in the class. Do you really want to let go of a trusted friend just so others might think you're cool? Being kind and caring to others, regardless of their popularity, shows them how much you respect them. And by respecting others, you win their respect too.
- Integrity : It's not always easy to live your faith, especially when your beliefs fly in the face of what "everyone else" is doing. Doing what you know is right and saying "no" to what's wrong takes strength, confidence and integrity. And those are traits that lead to radical popularity.
- Acceptance: The desire to be popular is really our way of looking for acceptance. Most of us want to feel like we belong somewhere. Instead of focusing on your own need to be accepted, practice accepting others. Seek out others who like the things you like, whether it's art, music, chess or soccer. Before you know it, you'll be so busy hanging around with your new friends, you won't have time to worry about who's popular and who isn't. Including people in your life is a lot easier than waiting around for someone else to include you in theirs.
Consistency: When you're one person at youth group and another at school and still another at home, your friends aren't the only ones who'll be confused. Before long, you'll forget who it is you really are. Radical popularity means others can count on you to be who you say you are, day in and day out. It also means being true to the person God made you to be. So instead of changing your personality to fit the situation, practice being yourself.
When popularity is a game, no one really wins. Those on top usually feel great, believing they've grabbed onto something only an elite few ever experience. Those who aren't popular feel rejected, hopeless, as though they'll fade into oblivion forever. Those intense feelings are what drive us in our desire to be part of the "in" crowd.
The problems popularity can cause are some of the oldest problems in history. So old, in fact, that the Bible has plenty to say about the way Christians ought to think about their own desire to fit in: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).
God's will for all of us includes living out his love to others. And when it comes to popularity, God calls us to care for one another and accept each other just as he accepts us.
The point? God's got a plan for you that goes way beyond the temporary popularity of high school. Now that's radical.
Written by Carla Barnhill
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