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The folly of veneration
For this edition of Tangent, I’m doing a throwback. This is an essay I wrote a couple of years back that is still relevant today.
Enjoy the piece!
I’m not going to idolize you. But I would be grateful if you subscribed!
Originally published November 21, 2021
My favorite rock star was died of drug overdose.
My favorite rapper is a bipolar egomaniac that said slavery was a choice.1
My favorite athlete was accused of sexual assault.
My favorite founder has a penchant for juvenile misogynist humor.2
In light of some of these statements and actions, it became very difficult to reconcile the label “favorite” to these individuals (some have lost that title permanently). Every so often, I wrestle with my appreciation of them versus their irreconcilable behavior. Their talent, grit, and performance is overshadowed by their own sins. And their sins have caused me terrible disappointment.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about our relationship with our “favorites” and our “heroes.” It can be easy to look at these human beings and idolize them. Perhaps it’s the decline of organized religion in the Western world that has caused this. We search for new idols, new deities. Social media has become our church, and likes have become our prayers.
Our penchant for idolatry has created a vicious cycle: We prop up mere humans to idols, shower them in adoration, individuals engage in conflicting behavior, we end up feeling dejected, and search for new idols. Rinse and repeat.
This is madness. We place unrealistic expectations (i.e. perfection) on someone we don’t know, and in most cases, don’t have any relationship with. Depending on your level of idolatry (think posters on your wall, knowing every fact of their lives, reading everything they’ve said), your sense of self becomes coupled with the idea you have of these individuals.
Sooner or later, your reality is rattled by your idols’ mischief. “Now what?” you say as the actions of someone completely removed from you, shake your reality. Instead of pausing to reassess whether our relationships with our “heroes” are healthy in the first place, we seek to numb our pain with the same painkiller that caused it in the first place.
As if that wasn’t enough, our mass idolatry dehumanizes these individuals and actively causes harm. Celebrities often speak about not wishing fame upon anyone, as you are constantly being looked at, every breath you take, and every word you say is analyzed through our unrealistic expectations.
We ignore the basic reality that they are humans like us. They leave the toilet seat up like your boyfriend, say problematic things out of ignorance like your aunt, and lash out when they don’t get sleep like your teenage child. In our quest to adore them, we put them in a prison that too often leads to addiction, depression, and death.
We have manufactured a no-win scenario fueled by the media, which disregards the main actors in this horror film (you and your idol) as long as they are making money out of your idolization.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can admire exceptional performance and achievement. You can take an interest in a particular human and seek to model their virtues. But do not fall in the trap of setting your sense of identity and/or happiness on an external stimulus you cannot control. You will lose. Every time.
Give these people you admire grace: The grace for them to make mistakes, to not act like the way you want them to. And in the cases of egregious behavior, give yourself the grace of eliminating this person from your reality, and give them the grace to own up to their behavior and seek to be a better person.
After all, they are people, not idols.
Who knew this was just the tip of the spear of the unhinged Kanye West era.
Who knew this was just the tip of the spear of the unhinged Elon Musk era.