The virtues and toxicities of popularity–I

By Prof N Natarajan

There are popular sayings too much of anything is harmful. Perhaps popularity falls under the category. Even nectar turns poisonous beyond a certain point.
 Our daily experience shows that this applies to most good things of life. When a child badly wants a toy, he is in ecstasy when he gets it. But after playing with it for a while very he loses interest in it and throws it away. A person with a sweet tooth relishes a delicacy only up to a certain point. I call it the Limit Theory (there is actually such a theory based on which Engineering Structures are designed), or in business parlance, what the traffic will bear. Of course, there are exceptions. My daughter never lost her interest in her family of dolls. She had a name for each of them and never discarded a single doll when a new one was bought. Now and then her dolls received some corporal punishment. Sometimes a limb or ear went missing, and occasionally it was beheaded, but the doll never left the family. At some point in time the missing part was restored and the torn dress was repaired or renewed.

Popularity is something we all seek secretly or publicly. It is not a dirty word. We all need a dose of it for motivation. It feels good. To that extent it is certainly a virtue. A good weapon in our armour. It can be acquired by working on it, bought or cultivated. Very rarely have I come across a person who does not love popularity. Many of us also mistake plain flattery for popularity. Some of us of course try to impress others by declaring that we don’t care for popularity. Some bosses specially do. It may not show on their faces but secretly they enjoy it. Junior colleagues compete to lay it thick on the face of the boss and have a good laugh when he leaves the scene. This behaviour is cultivated at school. In the continual rating system, a teacher has tremendous discretion. The students do not waste a moment in humouring him for a few extra marks. I had a Professor who was known for being soft and good-natured. He never chided us. We thought that he would be an easy prey to flattery. When we tried to try our skill on him, he simply removed his hearing aid to deliver us a lesson in good behaviour. We gave up.

Popularity should be the result of our genuine behaviour or action. To act for the sake of cheap popularity would be a mistake. That is a temptation one must avoid. We need to be bold enough to call a spade a shovel. Never mind if someone thinks you are not being polite. A foul language must be avoided, but there are ways of making your mind known in a subtle way.

Seeking popularity for its own sake ignoring the ground realities is a behaviour we exhibit now and then. I must confess that I have been occasionally guilty of such conduct. I simply get carried away, and make promises beyond my competence only to repent at leisure. I suppose it is just a heady behaviour in excitement on the spur of the moment blinded by an illusion of omnipotence. Very soon the monumental folly is exposed with loss of face and retraction. Why does this happen? It is toxicity. Such behaviour can be explained away when one has imbibed an overdose of the hard stuff. However, it is difficult to imagine that a tea-totaller like me can exhibit the same behaviour, unless toxicity of popularity has induced him to act in that manner.

Conclusion: Popularity is a virtue, but don’t go on an overdrive.


About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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1 Response to The virtues and toxicities of popularity–I

  1. rummuser says:

    Very often, we confuse favourite with popular. One could be a favourite teacher for students without the former ever becoming popular. Similarly, with Supervisors and Bosses in work places. I have been exposed to both types and early on in my Business School days pointed out the difference between the two not only in academics but also in corporate life and even in the stock markets where popular stocks need not necessarily be the favourites among regular investors.


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