Updated: Jun 15, 2020
‘Everybody wants to be us’ goes the line. Popularity is a traitorous muse that appears confined to movie clichés and high school misery. Even the popular kids are miserable, according to the movies at least, the majority cannot speak from experience.
If everyone is so keenly aware of its downside, why does it become so prevalent today? Look around; an entire society revolves around being ‘perceived’ a certain way. Society requires to curate everything -images, lives- all in the name of acceptance, security, and belonging. Because below the veneer of superficiality, what people seek is a sense of identity and inclusion. People are social by nature; everyone's survival at one time depended on someone's ability to be included in the clan.
Our tribes have moved, however, and our survival needs have become existential, we no longer need others -at least not directly- to forage for food or care for our young and us. Survival is less dependent on the physical presence of others. Yet, some agonize about their emotional or ideological presence. Is it just a dopamine-induced addiction that makes people dependent on approval? Even if it makes them search for meaning and affirmation in all the wrong places.
Most are able to articulate that self worth does not include someone else’s perception of themselves. They can distance themselves enough to say that, then go right back into looking for affirmation from someone else. The majority of the population was not too fond of high school, and sometimes, they think they finally outgrown it. Except they do not, and in trying to outrun the experience there is a flaw in the thought process from the beginning.
Needs don’t change; it is the ability and process through which we achieve them that does.
The need for belonging is inescapable, and no one is meant to be an Island. That said, a fully realized life does not exist in praise, success, money, or power. If anyone doesn’t believe that, look at all the anxiety-ridden and miserable billionaires, celebrities, and ‘successful’ people out there. They can mask the discomfort, but never entirely eradicate it, and outside affirmation is probably the most toxic, and costly palliative available.
There has to be a better way, a more natural, and longer-lasting way to fulfill the human needs that lay behind the desire for inclusion and acceptance. Life is an experience, an illusion, a moment in time, meaningless to others yet paramount for the individual. To live a good life is best to free from social conditioning -at the very least, consciously acknowledge it- intimacy is forged through vulnerability and it requires presence and hard work. It cannot be achieved under the current social conditioning that values popularity and conformity over humanity and diversity. Under the current structure, individuals make the system but the set up does not care for them. Perhaps it is time to look for another clan.