Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner


Originally posted on December 31, 2011

Three items on this blog:  First, about popularity. When I grew up in the olden days, in the early 1950s, I had a sense that I should become popular. Something about making friends. I read books about it. “How to Make Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie was a key—but it addressed salesmanship, and it was clear you needed a pretty thick skin, a capacity to be rejected, and so the book never really fit. I really had a mild but definite inferiority complex.

Even though kids teased me and called me “genius,” I really didn’t realize that most folks were not particularly intelligent. Indeed, in light of the mildly critical home I was raised in, I came to believe that most people were smarter than me. I bought into their scolding: I was just acting like a smart-aleck. (And half the time, that was a little so, though I was just imitating the comedians on television. That I was actually smart never occurred to me.  The other half I had zero intention to try to show off. It’s just that I remembered stuff and knew answers and like Hermione in the early Harry Potter books, I raised my hand quickly.)

But I thought I should just learn to get in with the other kids, never thinking for a moment that just hanging out and making small talk and not pushing folks to really think about this or that was a social norm. I now recognize that I couldn’t do what it takes to be socially popular if you paid me big bucks.

Another funny thing was my style of rebellion. Far be it for me to be directly rebellious. My brother did that and caught a lot of flack. I tried not to be a bother. But I did find certain types of books interesting. One was the story of Tom Paine, Robert Ingersoll, and others who questioned traditional religious beliefs. This was not mentioned in school or on television. It was, like, a secret. And along with that were some books in the John Burroughs Junior High School library on (of all things) propaganda analysis. Wow! You mean folks really fell for these manipulations? (It laid the foundations for further curiosities about psychology, which merged with my interest in medicine to become an interest in psychiatry. But I found that even psychiatry only scraped the surface of the pervasive forms of mass folly that infest the species! So I’ve continued to explore how people can fool themselves and become more foolish than wise—much of this hardly spoken of by psychiatrists.)

Second: Still, in spite of that age being when I did some of my best learning (extracurricular), I still wonder if it might be a better idea for kids in 7th or 8th grade should be given over to vocational guidance. They’re too hormone-addled to really learn in class, too narcissistic and self-conscious. The kids would take 3-6 week electives, find out what turned them on, what their own interests were, lots of focus on them, who they are, how they’re unique (pride!), which prepares them for the fact that for many, becoming “popular” as a standard may be a misleading illusion.

Third, I realized I have finally achieved a measure of popularity, here in my late 60s through early 70s. I think that, as popularity goes, and relatively speaking, I’m popular in this community. By no means a celebrity, but no one else seems to be, either. I realized there are 100 or so activity groups of various sizes and that no one is as popular as they seemed in high school; but some are relatively popular in being in a few groups. I was not popular as a teen. But I have been learning the limits of being “popular” with quotation marks: Beyond 64.8% popular, the demand on one to do more, take office, shoulder more responsibility, rises sharply, and the yield for this work drops off. One more social norm bites the dust!

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