Maybe It’s Not a Popularity Contest

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America's greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it's okay when people don't like you.
America’s greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it’s okay when people don’t like you.

I want everyone to like me and when they don’t I sometimes obsess about it.

I think I have it programmed into my mind somehow that the most important thing in life is whether people like you. When I take a hard look at my feelings and behavior, that’s the conclusion I come to.

I want people to like me so I try to be funny even though everyone laughs at different things.

I want people to like me so I try to be nice even though sometimes on the inside I want to kick them in the shin and insult their mothers before kicking them in the other shin.

I want people to like me so I don’t write about controversial things here, and I justify it by saying that I want to be someone who connects, rather than divides. Who participates in healing more than the tearing open of scars.

There are about 13,000 comments on this blog. About 7,000 of those are from readers, and the vast majority of them contain something nice about me.

It’s funny, because in real life when you read internet comments, it’s usually just racists and mean people rehashing political talking points like: “republitards hate women and black people and poor people!!” or “barack HUSSEIN obama is from kenya and is not real president!!” or my personal favorite: “your a moran.”

One of my biggest fears about taking my writing to a bigger platform is that a bunch of those people are going to say dickhead-ish things to me and I’m going to want them to like me, but they won’t. Ever.

I’ll probably stay awake all night thinking about them even though a really smart writer says that would be a good thing.

Despite getting overwhelmingly positive feedback (and that’s generally true for my personal life as well), I am capable of putting 95 percent of my focus on the 5 percent of people acting like cocks.

Sure, I’m a little insecure. Sure, I worry about what people think of me. Sure, I just want to be liked.

But I’m not 12 anymore and seldom act like it when I’m sober.

I know that I’m going to die and so is everyone else. I know it. And it just. doesn’t. matter.

It doesn’t matter!

Maybe I should write and say exactly what I think and feel. Exactly. Instead of being polite.

And maybe if people don’t like it, they can lick my balls.

When Bill Cosby wasn’t too busy drugging and raping women, he was saying insightful things, like: “I don’t know the key to success. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody. And also sexual assault. That’s another key to failure.”

(Half of that quote may or may not have been made up.)

The idea itself is important. That trying to please everyone doesn’t get you very far in life. Millions of people either love or hate Michael Moore. And Rush Limbaugh. And Bill Mahr. And Rachel Maddow. And Glenn Beck. And Chris Matthews. And Ann Coulter. Depending on their beliefs.

These are wildly successful political commentators and anyone with a penchant for (American) politics is going to know each person’s political bent immediately. That’s how strong (and controversial) these people’s personalities and ideas are.

Maybe it’s better to be that way?

I don’t know.

I never thought a non-Christian was going to convert to Christianity because of a screaming man holding a bible on a street corner pointing at them and yelling that they were going to hell unless they believed and behaved just like him. Who wouldn’t want to be like THAT guy!?

I never thought blowing up innocent civilians in Iraqi cafes or in American office towers was an effective way to convert people to Islam. You mean I’m not allowed to have sex here, but in Heaven, I get to have a 73-way!?!?

I never thought that smart-mouthed liberals like Mahr and Maddow were particularly good champions of social change, just like I never thought the fear-mongering and pompous tactics of conservatives like Beck and Coulter were an effective way of promoting family values and patriotism. I can barely stand the ones I AGREE with. It’s maddening.

I read something this morning. I’m not prepared to discuss it. But reading it made me question everything about my approach to life and writing. This idea that I need to always be careful about what I’m saying because I want everyone to like me and end up being a big pussy any time something controversial warrants discussion.

Life consists of issues about which not everyone agrees.

Americans used to shoot and stab one another by the thousands in open fields because they couldn’t agree on whether it was okay to enslave other humans.

Maybe sometimes you need to take a stand.

The point of sharing an idea is to put it out into the world in hopes that it, if well-conceived, will start getting kicked around other people’s heads and conversations and perhaps promote change of some kind.

Some people mean well. Others do not.

I mean well.

When I say I want to be a good man. Kind. Patient. Loving. Wise. I don’t mean “good,” like: “Oh yeah! Matt was a cool guy! He really liked beer and tequila and always made me laugh when he air humped inanimate objects at parties!”

I want to actually be good.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether everyone likes me because A. I’m going to die, and B. We’re probably not going to meet anyway.

Maybe what is popular isn’t always right.

Maybe you really will fall for anything if you don’t stand for something.

And maybe now’s the time to figure out what that means.

38 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Not a Popularity Contest”

  1. I’m biting a hole in my lip trying not to make an Ann Coulter joke.

    But anyways, this was interesting. As long as you’re not a jerk about what your saying, it isn’t up to you whether people like it, or like you after reading it. They will agree or disagree. And they will do it tactfully or they will be jerks. Right?

    1. I think civilized people should be able to politely and respectfully disagree. It’s something I think I’m pretty good at doing.

  2. This is a fun topic to consider. I suppose it does come down to determining what your most specific current goals are, and those change as you age. It was awfully important to me to be generally liked at 15, and a lot less important at 60. Now I want mostly to grow wiser, and if half a dozen people like me (including my wife and the guy who signs my paycheck) I’m golden. Popularity is by nature superficial. You get there by exploiting principles including “Low Objectionability Factor”. TV stars are rated on their LOF scores. The most popular ones are clever and amusing but not controversial or edgy. Edge upsets some and cuts down your total likeyness.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. To date, I’ve tried really hard to never broach controversial subjects.

      The question is: Is that cowardly and irresponsible?


    1. I think this is very important. And it requires a level of bravery that I sometimes don’t possess.

      Need to practice.

  3. I’ve been mulling over similar thoughts lately. I have a lot to say about some Stuff and my first impulse is to just puke it out and let the chips fall where they may. Further reflection convinces me that the reactions of people I know may be a bit hard to take. The reactions of people I don’t actually know don’t matter as much, but everything could end up reflecting badly on me at some point in the future.

    For me, the line is increasingly clear – tell the truth and risk alienating some people but being true to myself, or leave out some stuff in order to be considered softer and (potentially) be liked by more people.

    It’s a hard line to toe…

    1. Every time we punch these keys we have to make those calls. And yeah.

      I think every time we hold back, our work becomes just a little bit more compromised.

      1. Exactly! How much we allow our work to be compromised for the sake of being “liked” is a totally personal call that only we have to live with…

  4. Now I really want to know what it is that hit you so hard. I understand if you’re not quite ready to talk about it, I have mountains of such things that I can barely stand to let myself think about let alone discuss with anyone.

    1. By sharing, I’ll open up THAT can of worms. I read what I considered to be a very thoughtful take on a controversial subject.

      It just made me rethink some things. I’m pretty sure I’ll address it when I’m feeling up to the backlash. 🙂

  5. I’ve followed your writing for a while now, and it seems you try to approach every topic with an open mind and fairness in looking at multiple viewpoints, so I say ..go for it! Your type of approach might be the “voice” many of us are longing to hear.

    1. That’s so nice to hear. Thank you. That part of it isn’t me faking. I really do try to listen to everyone I disagree with. I am not afraid to admit that something makes more sense to me than what I already believed.

      That’s happened to me several times in my adult years.

      Again. Thank you. I’m never going to lose my propensity for respecting other viewpoints and politeness. But perhaps it’s time to stop avoiding topics just because I know half of everyone won’t agree.

      I think maybe I need to learn to stop caring about that part of it.

  6. Here’s something odd. I participate in–and in fact, am a moderator on– DnDsanctuary. All we do is discuss religion and politics– the very things you’re not supposed to discuss because it starts fights– and somehow, with all of those different ideas coming from different countries– it’s an international forum— we manage not to try to kill each other. So, it can be done.

    I understand wanting to be liked and trying to avoid conflict. We all have that tendency to some degree I think. Some more than others. The problems come in on the extremes. When being liked means not setting boundaries, so people walk all over you is not good. On the other hand, being a loudmouthed opinionated (bless and do not curse) is equally bad and maybe worse. Not that having opinions is bad, but being a (bless and do not curse, bless and do not curse, bless and do not curse) is never good.

    1. I know it can be done. I do. And the somewhat nasty things I’m able to say about a very general, somewhat imaginary person is infinitely more vile than what I would ever say to a specific human being.

      You’ve even got me wishing I said fewer bad words!

      1. I learned that little trick from a christian forum. Any time something needs to be “bleeped” the moderators delete the questionable word and insert (bless and do not curse) in its place. The phrase is scriptural, comes from the books of John if I remember right.

  7. I think God has been warning the martyrs to slow down, he’s running out of virgins.
    The problem with art (and that includes writing) is you are putting yourself out there for criticism. However, you might be surprised at how many people share the same thoughts with you.

    1. I try hard to not be offensive. Ironically, I probably offend people anyway because I’m a little crass and childish sometimes. I don’t know. But I appreciate the encouragement to be authentic. Writing is always best when it’s pure.

  8. I know exactly what you mean, when I started blogging, I thought the anonymity would allow me the freedom to write whatever I wanted (which is why I use another name etc) but I know I screen all the time and it dilutes the content (severely). I can’t stand the idea of negative comments, trained to be liked, it’s a curse!!

  9. I have the same problem. I’ve spent most of my life trying to make everyone happy. It’s only now that I’m seeing that. This is partly why my blog is anonymous; I write for me. One person in real life has read it. I would never have the courage to write what I do if I knew I might be judged. I think we are the same age? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend the next thirty odd years being so worried. So focused on others’ opinions. They say identifying something is the first step… Sounds like you’re there.

    1. I’m glad you understand. And before long, I’ll be attaching my first and last name to stories which makes it scarier, still.

      But, yeah. I’m there.

  10. Oh, outstanding! One of the best ways to find your true voice is to confront your fears of people not liking you and just have a proper mental breakdown all over twitter. A few dozen random strangers shrieking at you, usually does the trick 😉

    From having teen age girls, I eventually came to the conclusion that if I haven’t ruined somebody life, I probably haven’t bothered to get out of bed yet, and therefore I’m not really living.

    There is huge freedom to be found in letting go of the need for other people’s approval. I highly recommend it. Also, oddly, I am a much kinder person now that I don’t truly care.

    1. I just wrote this in another comment: I’m not sure I’m going to be able to totally shut off my desire to be liked and my worry about what people think of me.

      But I think I’m capable of being brave enough to write and publish something despite being afraid of that. Do that enough times and maybe it stops being scary.

  11. B…S… People are trained to please others. Take for example the young baby trying to get attention, who will try any trick (gooing, cooing, bubbling, burping…) to get a positive response. You would have to work day and night to overcome that tendancy.

    People who say outlandish or unpopular things are just taking the idea to the extreme and have found a core group of people they are pleasing.

    When I was young, I attended an FBI interregation workshop, the main thing I learned is that everyone (I mean everyone) wants to believe they are the norm. For example, a person who steals, believe everyone steals. An extreme example would be someone who has a shoe fettish. In their mind everyone loves shoes.

    The reason you get positive comments is because you like those nice people and want to please them. Anyone who doesn’t like you would have to be crazy.

    Since I am not crazy, I like you — we are alike (unless I am a deviant- then all bets are off)

    1. You’re very kind. Thank you.

      The FBI interrogation workshop sounds incredibly fascinating. I’m going to think about that more and maybe find a book or something. The human inclination to believe they’re the norm. That’s really interesting.

      1. Matt, I think you would find a wealth of information on the subject in sales manuals. I think one of the terms talked about is “Mirroring” reflecting someone’s beliefs to establish common ground. I spent 10 years working for Target in Loss prevention. One of my jobs was to investigate theft which entailed interrogation. The first step in any interrogation is to break down barriers by putting the person at ease. The best way to do that was to lie to them, tell them you know that everyone is a thief so it’s no big deal. You’d be surprised how easy it is to agree with someone and be believable. Was it ethical? Ask a cop what he thinks. Believe it or not, I had thieves (that I had prosecuted) come up to me in shopping malls to introduce me to their family because we had made such a deep connection during the interrogation. It was a fascinating part of my life, but one I’m glad to be done with — Had to take way too many showers to get the smell off me.

  12. See? I should totally say something horrible and mean to get you ready for all the d-bags (can we agree to disagree about never calling people pussies, huh?) on HuffPost (when you get there which you will any minute.) But my huge flaw? I love to be loved. I need to be needed. (It’s a Peter Gabriel song.) So I can’t really find anything rotten to write.
    And I have to say. You’re just too good. And by good I mean, witty, funny and spot on. Screw the naysayers. Life’s too short for negativity and meanness anyway.

      1. But we’re agreeing to disagree. You can’t disagree to disagree. That would make us like… that would make us… hmmm, political commentators?

        1. I tend to be pretty good at that, actually. Accepting others’ points of view while maintaining whatever my convictions are (assuming I have convictions). I’m not afraid to change my stance on something when presented with a more compelling story than the one I’d been hearing or telling myself.

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