Saturday, January 19, 2013

Idolization That's Worth The Risk

     Even though Spartacus and I have inhabited our loft for almost a year, we've yet to hang all of our paintings, framed photos, and wall art, partly out of laziness but mostly because the preponderance of our walls are made of concrete. Yeah, it's sturdy, but it's also temperamental, a real schizoid time bomb threatening to crumble and vaporize if you aren't holding your mouth just right. Mounting a biofuel fireplace was our first foray into working with this material. After multiple trips to Home Depot, we learned that drilling into concrete requires a drill with hammer function, special masonry drill bits, medieval-looking anchors, and lots of courage, as mistakes are nearly impossible to conceal. One false move with that drill gun, and you'll be at the mercy of a clueless, orange-aproned teenager all over again. Among the items still needing a vertical home is a little plaque, given to me by my sister. Still armored in bubble wrap, waiting patiently to be liberated, it reads, "My goal in life is to be the person my dog thinks I am." As useless as goal-setting tends to be (if you don't believe me, just observe a gym in January...before your eyes, that crowd of well-intended folks who haven't broken a sweat in years will dissipate with each passing day as their New Years' resolutions melt back into oblivion), that's not a bad one to strive for.
     Strange as it may seem, I don't recall having heroes growing up. I wasn't a sports fan, nor was I particularly fascinated with history or literature, outside of school. The hours I spent sitting through Catholic mass and catechism classes were largely uninspiring, except for the iconic art and the chance to enjoy a sip of wine at communion. I certainly wasn't awed by or fearful of God. The only authority figure I remember being really afraid of back then was my piano teacher, an old woman from Siberia who'd once been an opera singer. She thought nothing of slapping my hands for making mistakes or criticizing me for being overweight. What really killed me was how she spoke so glowingly of her other students while tormenting me inside that musty house of hers; it always smelled of cabbage. In my eight year old eyes, she was the epitome of cruelty. Had I come from a family that valued competition, I might have viewed her with respect. Instead of pressuring me to be someone I wasn't, my parents encouraged me to explore my own interests, most of which were creative or artistic in nature. If anyone was a hero to me, it was the two of them.
     I haven't changed much since then. I still don't worship whoever or whatever it is that mainstream society considers extraordinary; it's a set up for disappointment. Greatness is an illusion borne of expectations. Lance Armstrong's fall from grace is as much the responsibility of those who idolized him as it is his own. In worshiping anything, you believe at your own risk. Sure, there are people whose accomplishments I admire, but I don't put them on a pedestal. They're only human, as perfectly flawed as the rest of us. Like my piano teacher, popular opinion is a cruel thing cloaked in conditional approval, a capricious wall of concrete that crushes its heroes as readily as it safeguards them. If only heroes weren't so damn human. Why not value the wisdom of nature and experience, the courage it takes to be individuals, the fragile yet durable beauty of what's ordinary and mundane, and the grounded instability of the present moment instead? Why is it so difficult for us to believe in ourselves? Why aspire to be like anyone else, when we can be the amazing superheroes our dogs think we are? Now, that's idolization that's worth the risk.



22 comments:

  1. Hey Kris
    I wish I had a few more heads to keep up with all the reading I want to do, including reading your posts here. This one brings to mind some TED talks I heard recently by Brene Brown. You can find them and read about her work at brenebrown.com
    Blessings!
    Lisa

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    1. Thanks, Lisa!! I know you've been busy being a brand-new grandma to Lily. Please tell Alex hello from us!

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  2. I love that plaque. You're right. That's a pretty good goal, if not unreachable for most. It's a good thing to strive for. And like you, I can't say I had any true heroes growing up. Sure, there were my folks. They were great role models. Must say, I loved the line, "In orshipping anything, you believe at your own risk." So very true. I will remember that.

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    1. After writing this post, I found a place to hang the plaque...it'll probably move a few times before I'm happy with it. I've always been so much more impressed by ordinary, everyday people than with the heroes of the day...I think we've all got a little hero in us.

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  3. A thoughtful post, Kris. If only we could all see ourselves through the eyes of those who adore us. How wonderful the world would be: free of striving and disguise.

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  4. Always liked that phrase, Live like the person your dog thinks you are. Its really a great way to be, because you are idolized by certain people and things around you, because you are who you are.

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    1. I don't know if my dogs do much thinking about me, but hopefully, I meet up to their expectations :-D

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  5. Cruelty and cabbage, what a combo. Beneficence and bones, a much better replacement. Well done, Helena, great sentiment. :)

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  6. Great post, Kris. Living through others has never been a fulfilling way to live. I don't know what it is with people, that they just can't accept their mortality, their finiteness-but always have to be salivating over some god or hero or genius. It's so much sweeter just to relax and be ordinary.

    "Between greatness and cheesecake I'll take cheesecake."

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  7. Love it, Kris! A philosophy printed in that pendant sounds the best to me!

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  8. The only person I've ever looked up to is my mother, who I regard as the most saintly person I've ever known. She endured no end of shite during her life, including from my father, yet she never complained. Even in her eighties, despite being registered as totally blind as a result of severe macular degeneration and despite being functionally deaf, she was out and about in all weathers "helping the old folk". The real tragedy of her life is that she was a very bright pupil at school in the 1920s, but this was a time when there were very few opportunities for a schoolgirl outside marriage. I have on my bookshelves a small bronze medal inscribed "for excellence", which she was awarded by the local newspaper in Newcastle at the time and which I went out of my way to ensure wasn't thrown away when she died. I've neither met nor heard of anyone who even comes close.

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  9. Kris, I love the message on that plaque, it’s perfect! I’d hang that on my wall. :) I don’t really have any heroes either. I can think of people I have respected over the years but I wouldn’t call any of them heroes as such. I don’t feel the need to look up to or idolize anyone, I have always been independent, a lot of that stemming from my childhood too. “Greatness is an illusion borne of expectations” is an excellent line and very timely to Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. I agree that it’s just as much the responsibility of those who worshipped him as it is his responsibility. Enough with the hero worship. Yes, let’s aspire to be the person our dogs think we are!

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  10. I feel it is only modern consumer culture that has pushed sports stars on us as heroes, in the hope they can sell us more breakfast cereal, apparel and other things.

    I am familiar only with this definition

    Hero:
    A person, who is admired for courage or noble qualities.

    I never saw any sports stars accomplish such things, but I do see it from firemen, and police on a regular basis, and occasionally from an otherwise average citizen.

    I do admire athletes abilities, but they although they literally put them on a physical pedestal when they win, they have never been heroes to me.

    I still look up to the fatherly examples my Dad showed me, he was my hero as a young child, and still is today.

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  11. I feel it is only modern consumer culture that has pushed sports stars on us as heroes, in the hope they can sell us more breakfast cereal, apparel and other things.

    I am familiar only with this definition

    Hero:
    A person, who is admired for courage or noble qualities.

    I never saw any sports stars accomplish such things, but I do see it from firemen, and police on a regular basis, and occasionally from an otherwise average citizen.

    I do admire athletes abilities, but they although they literally put them on a physical pedestal when they win, they have never been heroes to me.

    I still look up to the fatherly examples my Dad showed me, he was my hero as a young child, and still is today.

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  12. A hero to me is someone that puts themselves at risk to save or help others, this is not what a sports star is.

    Sports stars are often genetically superior to the rest of us and it is good to watch them perform, and often they are quite good to look at also, but they do what they do for selfish reasons, and do nothing heroic.

    This is Google's definition of a Hero, and its the only way I see them.

    Hero:
    A person, who is admired for courage or noble qualities.

    A fireman, police man or sometimes the average citizen might fall into that definition, but it is not often our sports stars do.

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  13. Very nice, Helen. The culture of hero worship rampant throughout our society. I do however think that the individual who eagerly decides to stand on a pedestal is just as guilty as the people who set him there in the first place. Maybe the exposure of Lance Armstrong will begin to change perceptions.

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  14. There's nothing wrong in holding someone in high esteem if they have done extremely well and achieved incredible goals in life, but even so, they shouldn't be held so high up to the skies that they get away with murder, and are not held accountable for their actions should things go wrong.

    Some of the true heroes aren't put on a pedestal at all. They are the ones who risk their own lives on a daily basis trying to save ours. They are the ones who spend all day doing research/studying trying to find cures to our sicknesses and diseases and the list is endless. They are the ones who deserve much more recognition for what they do.

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  15. There's nothing wrong in holding someone in high esteem if they have done extremely well and achieved incredible goals in life, but even so, they shouldn't be held so high up to the skies that they get away with murder, and are not held accountable for their actions should things go wrong.

    Some of the true heroes aren't put on a pedestal at all. They are the ones who risk their own lives on a daily basis trying to save ours. They are the ones who spend all day doing research/studying trying to find cures to our sicknesses and diseases and the list is endless. They are the ones who deserve much more recognition for what they do.

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  16. Great blog post! :) I really agree with you, I have never been one for idolisation and celebrities - I'm just seriously not interested and never have been. I think the people I most admire are historical figure, especially women who managed to make a name for themselves in a male-dominated world.

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  17. Hullo! I found myself here after following links at BlogCatalog. Thought-provoking point-- it makes me ponder the differences in the way our modern culture makes (and constantly tears down) idols, and the way nineteenth-century culture tended to make (and maintain) idols. Did they continue to admire the Duke of Wellington, George Washington, etc., because without modern media it was harder to discover and disseminate the heroes' flaws, or did they have less perfectionistic expectation for heroes? Were they willing to overlook their heroes' personal flaws because certain public virtues/heroics were more important? Hmm. In some ways, it seems as though our society still clings to a Victorian desire for heroes, yet puts our heroes through the sieve of modern expectations and is always disappointed. I dunno what that says about us.

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