“Failing Popularity 101,” New Era, Nov. 2004, 47
I had never failed a class until Popularity 101. I didn’t know such a class existed or that I was even enrolled until the grades started coming in: kind of nerdy, jokes aren’t funny, uncoordinated, goofy hair, and so on.
The problem with this class is that there’s no teacher, there’s no textbook or study material, and the grading is based entirely on the opinions of your peers. In the beginning I didn’t even know what popularity was. All I knew was others had it; I did not.
The grading got tougher at age 13, when I began junior high school. Apparently, there wasn’t anything cool about me. I was becoming desperate. I was ready to do anything to be accepted. In my math class, I saw popular kids cheating on homework. Everyone was doing it. It seemed a small price to pay to be part of the group.
“Are you cheating?” asked Curtis, the student next to me.
“No,” I lied, amazed at how easily one dishonesty followed another.
I realized two things at that moment. First, “everyone’s doing it” is a poor excuse. What I was doing was wrong no matter who was doing it. Second, not “everyone’s doing it.” Curtis wasn’t cheating, and he had lots of friends.
I started watching Curtis. I tried sitting next to him when we had classes together. He didn’t swear; he didn’t cheat; he didn’t lie; he didn’t make fun of other people. This guy was straight out of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. I wanted to be just like him.
Then one day something amazing happened.
It was lunchtime, the worst part of the day. “Cafeteria” was just another name for “Popularity Exam Room.” As I was once again faced with choosing to sit alone or to sit with people who challenged my standards, Curtis invited me to sit with him. His friends accepted me.
I’m convinced that single act saved me. While many of those I could have hung around with passed Popularity 101, many of them are in danger of failing life—having chosen paths that led them into serious problems such as addictions to tobacco, drugs, or pornography.
Through Curtis, I learned I could have fun and keep high standards. I learned that doing what’s right is cool. And I learned a secret about popularity—it’s Satan’s counterfeit for true friendship.
There’s nothing wrong with having friends; what’s important is how we go about gaining them. Popularity 101 (the world’s way) teaches to focus on yourself and what you have to do to be accepted by others—whether it’s swearing, drinking, smoking, or in my case cheating. True friendship (the Lord’s way) teaches to focus on others, to lift them so they feel accepted by you. This is accomplished through love, kindness, sincerity, and, like Curtis, having the Spirit so others feel comfortable around you.
Curtis and his friends weren’t enrolled in Popularity 101; they were enrolled in Living the Gospel. This class has all sorts of helpful textbooks—the scriptures, Church magazines, For the Strength of Youth. Classes are offered at general conference, in seminary, and every Sunday at church. There’s a tutor who will work with you anytime—the Holy Ghost. Best of all, this class is graded by a loving Savior.
I still flunked Popularity 101. But thanks to some guys who had learned to love others as themselves, I’m now studying with the Master Teacher so I can pass life.
“[A] craving for praise and popularity too often controls actions, and as [people] succumb they find themselves bending their character when they think they are only taking a bow.”
—President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982), “For They Loved the Praise of Men More Than the Praise of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 76.
Popularity is dangerous especially because it focuses us on ourselves rather than keeping us attentive to the needs of others. We become preoccupied with self and with being noticed, letting those in real need ‘pass by’ us, and we ‘notice them not’ (Morm. 8:39). It is a sad fact, therefore, that popularity gets in the way of our keeping both of the two great commandments! (See Matt. 22:36–40.) …
“Jesus gave us the ending demographics: wide is the gate and popular and broad is the way that leads to destruction (see Matt. 7:13). The narrow and straight way that leads to salvation, alas, is the path less traveled by. Hence, there is no way we can both move with the herd and also move toward Jesus.”
—Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004), “Popularity and Principle,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 15.