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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wisdom and Reputation - Wisdom of the Vikings Part 6


It is fortunate 
to be favoured
with praise and popularity.
It is dire luck
to be dependent
on the feelings of a fellow-man.

Opinion of Others

He is fortunate
who is favoured
with respect and good reason.
Advice given
by others
is often ill counsel

This is part 6 in an ongoing series (the series starts HERE) bringing together the Hávamál (a collection of Norse wisdom poetry) and the still-evolving rules and mores of the Internet, particularly as they are developing in the realm of social media.

These two poems deal rather directly with the power and danger inherent in the good opinion of others. Despite the Viking reputation for toughness which we in the United States often associate with a sort of rugged individualism (and, to be fair, the Icelanders certainly had their share of individualism relative to the rest of the medieval west), Icelanders recognized—far better than many in the modern westthe vital importance of functional community. Indeed much of the Hávamál deals explicitly with how to retain functional community in a tense and violent situation. In this context, the good opinion of others—potential allies or enemies—is as much a resource as physical strength of skill. Humans are a social species after all.

So in these pieces we encounter both an acknowledgement that a good reputation is of significant value and the warning that those who become overly dependent on the opinion of others ultimately harm themselves. It is a blade which can turn on the hand that holds it. On the positive side, being the sort of person that others respect is pleasant and protective. Online, having a lot of "followers" or readers" is the basic form of capital. It may not be what you are there "for" but, for better or worse, it is the way internet culture tends to determine the value of a particular account (if not the value of the person who controls that account). Being a thought framer, someone whose ideas are valued by others is fundamental to this, and one classic indication that an online thought leader is going into decline is that they become derivative, merely echoing and amplifying the ideas and creativity of others.

Almost paradoxically though, one of the greatest dangers to someone with a good reputation is the temptation to rely on that reputation in their estimation of their own value. The moment a successful internet creator begins to ask "will my followers approve of this idea" is the moment that the quality of their ideas begins to decline. It was the independence and honesty of the thought product that drew your audience in the first place which means that the tighter you cling to the audience, the less they will respect you for it and the more your work will suffer. 


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