Many years ago, I was in charge of the summer reading program at my church. The idea was to encourage children to read during their summer vacation, so I would create a display to keep track of how many books the kids read and give them a reward when they had completed the program. The program usually had a lot of kids, but one year only five signed up. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to go to so much time and trouble for only five children, so I called the church secretary to let her know I was going to cancel the program this year. There was a brief pause, and then she asked, “But don’t you think those five kids deserve a reading program?” And, of course, she was right.
Sometimes I think we live in a world where we put far too much value on popularity. Social media encourages that, since success there depends on attracting huge numbers of followers and likes, and we all know that a post “going viral” is considered the ultimate goal.
When I tune into the local news in the morning, I’m encouraged to join the thousands of others who follow that particular station. They actually put that request across the bottom of the screen, right between the international news and the daily traffic report. Things aren’t any better for those who get their news from the internet. There, the stories seem specifically designed to get a reaction from the readers, because the goal is to get as many “clicks” and comments as possible. (I’m assuming in the hopes of attracting more advertising money.) And the more outrageous the story, the more popular it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s the news we actually need to know.
I refuse to name names, but I’m sure we can all think of several celebrities whose chief talent seems to be being a celebrity. How they achieved that status, I don’t know, but it might have something to do with their ability to create viral posts, or say really outrageous things.
I remember when I told a friend I had just started a blog, and she immediately asked me how many followers I had. I answered, with equal parts honesty and shame, “twelve,” and she changed the subject rather quickly. That was over four years ago, and now I would have a very different answer to that question, and one that might not cause her to worry that she had asked an embarrassing question. But you know what? I’m not putting any more effort into my blogs posts these days. I did the best I could then, and I’m doing the best I can now . My blog may be a little more popular now, but I honestly don’t believe it’s any better.
I’m proud to say that I paid attention to the lesson that church secretary taught me, all those years ago. I did go ahead with the reading program for those five children, and I put just as much effort into making it a good one as I did when lots of kids signed up. Because when it comes to true quality, the numbers don’t count.