The perils and value of fame

Recently, I was involved in a Twitter discussion about writers who prefer obscurity and fear popularity. It got me thinking about fame and if it has any value.

In today’s world, we can wind up being famous whether we like it or not. We have no privacy, so our slightest slipup can go viral. Tragedy can force us into the spotlight. But whether it comes by intention or circumstance, fame is a dangerous place to be.

When you’re famous, everything you’ve ever done is scrutinized. People will look for any reason to cancel you—or worse. We all have some flaw or lapse in judgement in our past that can be exploited and amplified. (And if you managed to live a life of virtuous perfection, there are people who can make stuff up about you.)

Being famous opens yourself to criticism—sometimes deserved, sometimes not. People may condemn your work because of comments someone heard from somebody else based on some article written by some columnist who hadn’t read your book but heard enough from some other people to pass judgement. And there will be people who hate you simply because of who you are.

It’s understandable why people would prefer obscurity, as difficult as it is to maintain. But is there any value to fame? Are there reasons for seeking the spotlight instead of fleeing from it?

In our culture, if you’re on a screen, you exist. Fame bestows on you validation and authority. If you’re famous, people listen to you, even if what you say is nonsense. You have a platform that too many use to stroke their egos, wage personal beefs, and spread racism and ignorance. So why not use your visibility to do something good?

The value of fame is that you can add to the conversation. You can offer something positive to offset the close-minded cruelty in the world today. Of course, the close-minded and cruel will try to intimidate you into silence. But if you’re too afraid to express yourself, they will have already succeeded.

Not everyone wants or will achieve New York Times Bestseller List levels of fame. There are those of us who are satisfied with finding recognition in our community or profession. But any amount of fame gives us the opportunity to contribute something good to others and share our gifts and insights. This is the value of fame.

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