Many people crave popularity. Perhaps more pertinently, they are scared stiff of the possibility of being unpopular – it is a constant fear and preoccupation hanging over their lives like the sword of Damocles (You know – that bloke with the sword dangling over his head!).

When a schoolchild is killed or dies in some appalling accident, the news cameras are quickly sent round to the school and numerous people queue up to say how popular the girl or boy who died was – not that they were kind or intelligent or thoughtful or even academically gifted, but POPULAR!

When did you ever hear of a schoolchild killed in a terrible tragedy who was very principled and stood up for what they believed in despite this making them incredibly unpopular?
It is a well-known fact that only popular people die in tragic accidents and murders. Unpopular people are immune to such occurrences. They have a sort of forcefield around them so strong that if a drunk driver drove a juggernaut into them, the vehicle would merely bounce off the forcefield, causing it to career into the nearest popular person and splatter them all over the road!

And have you noticed that there is often something terribly wrong with and sinister about popular people? People need to be reminded (more often than they are) that Hitler was popular. Some people may wish to pretend to themselves that Hitler was sustained in office merely by the brutality of the SS and the Gestapo, forcing people to obey his orders, but that would be nonsense. When he took Germany out of its economic depression and avenged their humiliation in World War I by defeating France and marching his troops up the Champs Elysees, he was wildly popular and millions of Germans thought it was wonderful that he had made Germany a great power again. None of this popularity, however, stopped him from being an evil mass-murderer.

Conversely, many great people who have brilliant ideas or stand up for worthy principles are often wildly unpopular. Look at Socrates – condemned to death! Look at Jesus – he only said it would be a good idea if people started being kind to each other and stopped being selfish money-grabbing bastards (though not in those words) – and what thanks did he get? They killed him for it.

This is not to say that is it impossible for a good man to be popular, but there does seem to be a distinct correlation between being principled and being unpopular. This makes sense – after all, if you want to be popular, you often have to sacrifice principles whenever they do not coincide with the popular mood.

If your principles happen to coincide with popular opinion at a particular point in time, then woop-de-do-da for you, as you may experience a brief period of popularity, but since popular opinion is fickle, and your principles, if they are to count as principles, cannot change so easily, you are unlikely to remain popular for long.

If you are a good, principled person, then the popularity of your opinions will make no difference to what your opinions are. It is not something to be proud of if your values and principles are popular, since their popularity is in no way a reliable indication that they are right.

Fortunately, these days, in civilised societies, unpopularity doesn’t usually carry a death sentence. So hurray for all the deeply unpopular principled people – living into old age and completely failing to get mowed down by drunk drivers or killed by violent gangs of criminals!

(The above is an extract from Here is Wosdom.)