Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost
my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of
myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation,
Iago, my reputation!
As I am an honest man, I thought you had received
some bodily wound; there is more sense in that than
in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false
imposition: oft got without merit, and lost without
deserving. You have lost no reputation at all,
unless you repute yourself such a loser.
~Othello, Act II Scene III, by William Shakespeare
or those who choose to base their sense of self-worth upon the opinions of others, popularity is the key to happiness.
When you believe you are popular, your self-esteem organically spirals upward thanks to a natural, positive feedback loop. It’s quite simple. You receive feedback that you are liked. You therefore start to believe you must be a worthwhile human being. You begin to behave with more confidence and a greater sense of calm in social situations. This frees you to be open, spontaneous, and silly in interpersonal interactions, and you start to have fun with people. You unleash your best social self. And because people are sheep, when you believe you are great, others notice the signals in your body language, and they start to believe you are great too. And because people are birds, when a few people start to flock to you, a million others do too. Beliefs about people – kind or unkind, true or false – tend to spread. News of your wonderfulness goes viral. You receive even more feedback that you are liked. Your confidence improves even more, and the cycle continues.
To call this a “positive” feedback loop, though, is misleading, because at its core it’s actually quite unhealthy. This process can only lift you up temporarily. You are bound, eventually, to plummet painfully back to the dirt, bipolar-style. Popularity spirals are fickle. Your fair-weather friends will flutter off, forcing you to start from scratch with a new gaggle of ego feeders.
And just as popularity-based self-esteem can spiral upwards, it can also spiral downwards. Whenever you believe others dislike you, you’ll dislike yourself. The sheep will then notice your self-loathing, and decide it must be based on facts. The birds will erupt into a cacophony of cawing and peck your eyes out. You’ll discover that you are a pariah, and your remaining confidence will belly-flop into the gutter.
If your self-worth calculus demands that you receive attention and approval from other human beings, then your life will be a miserably neurotic roller-coaster ride. You’ll obsess over what others might be thinking about you (which of course you can’t know but you’ll fantasize that you can). You’ll have difficulty being around others because of the intense pressure you put upon yourself to impress them, and yet you’ll find no satisfaction in being alone, because you’ve convinced yourself that you can only be happy if you’re famous and adored.
How will you survive if your oxygen is human opinion? You’ll suffocate.
Your social status is an external that is not entirely in your control. And sometimes it swings wildly about like a rogue fire hose. Other people might believe unkind things about you that are radically untrue, and their opinions might be unamenable to reason. You cannot control the minds of others. But you can always cut power to the hose.
Externals cannot make you happy. The solution to popularity-addiction is to remove the opinions of others from your self-worth calculus. Choose not to internalize their behavior.