By Muhammed Asif Khan
In a post-covid world, you are hanging out with a bunch of friends in a restaurant in Gulshan, enjoying a delicious serving of sushi and tempura. You guys are animatedly discussing about last week’s EPL scores, the need for a vacation to Bhutan, the latest marriage in your peer group to crumble and what not, when suddenly, you notice a suited up elder gentleman with an entourage smartly stroll into the joint. Your curiosity is piqued, but you don’t really know what to make of it.
Just then, Nishad, the startup geek in your group, points out that this person is the founder of one of the largest conglomerates in the country.
Immediately, your impression of the gentleman shifts. It becomes super positive. You are now enthralled by his presence. You have never seen this person before, but just by virtue of one information, he has instantly occupied a place of great honour and respect in your mind. Same probably applies for your friends. If this founder were to approach you guys to have a chat, all of you will act very meek and submissive. If you were to take a group picture, all of you will have your shoulders hunched forward and hands clasped over your crotch while you forced an awkward smile.
Now let’s consider the same scenario, but a different individual. This time, it is Shakib Al Hasan who walks in. In this situation, Shakib already occupies a position of an idol in everyone’s mind, so nothing new needs to happen. And like before, all of you will behave quite meek and subservient with him if he were to interact.
Society has taught us to put famous or successful people on an extremely high pedestal simply because of their accomplishments in one or two areas of life. And when we do that, we begin to consider such individuals as role models for the rest of us. We think that the person can do or say no wrong. That their beliefs, judgments and perspectives on any facet of life is extremely valid because of their professional achievements. Which doesn’t take long to become a dangerous slippery slope.
Think of the CEO of a prestigious multinational. Obviously, people around such a person walk on eggshells all the time, even if they don’t work in the same company. But it makes no sense. Yes, it is quite admirable that the person has climbed the ladder in an extremely competitive environment and gotten to the top. But does that automatically mean the person has good morals? That they are selfless, helpful, and kind? That they might not have any abhorrent views, or a dark personal life? That they would never engage in something vile, like, say, domestic violence?
No one is saying we automatically assume they do, without evidence. What it means is that, it is perfectly possible to be very successful in your corporate life while on the flipside have a toxic personality in your personal or social life. And when you don’t really know if that’s the case, because you know so little about him, is that person worth being subservient to?
And it’s not just about successful corporate individuals; this applies for any sort of celebrity. A person can be extremely good at cricket, but flawed in other spheres in life. He can be a great singer, a supremely talented actor, a charismatic world leader, or a famous social media influencer etc. But he can also be sexist, racist, corrupt, criminal or just a pretty horrible person to those around him.
And it’s not even like such incidents are rare! How many times has a celebrity made the news for saying or doing something that sent shock waves across their fanbase? From J.K Rowling questioning transgenderism to Ellen Degeneres being the polar opposite of kind to her employees to Elon Musk belittling the coronavirus pandemic to Kevin Spacey’s sexual assaults to Ananta Jalil victim-blaming women for rape and so on – it seems that stories of famous people “letting their fans down bigtime” are never scarce.
And let’s not forget about the countless tales of celebrities acting terribly rude to their die hard fans in real life. Afterall, there’s a saying – “Never meet your heroes”.
But why should the question of letting people down even arise? Just because Rowling wrote one of the greatest novel series of all time doesn’t mean she’s straight laced in all her personal views. I mean, there’s not even any tangible connection between writing well and having progressive perspectives in life. Similarly, just because Elon Musk is one of the most disruptive entrepreneurs of our times doesn’t automatically mean he is above saying or doing things that can be regarded as incredibly self-serving.
Success does not equal virtue. A person can be incredibly virtuous, but virtually unknown because they haven’t achieved anything significant in life. And a person can rise to global fame because they know how to entertain people while playing video games, but be a xenophobe in real life.
Now there are three central problems with us idolizing celebrities or successful people:
1) We defend them when they do something deplorable
When we strongly identify with a “role model”, and actively express so, if that role model ends up doing something disgraceful, it attacks our own identity so much that we find ourselves trivializing or defending them, just to save face or reconcile with the contradiction.
For example, Shakib Al Hasan was rightfully punished by ICC for failing to report the approach of a bookie last year. These are rules repeatedly ingrained by the ICC year after year through various educational sessions, and ten years back Shakib even reported a similar approach from another bookie, so it is impossible for a seasoned cricketer like him to be unaware of the correct course of action this time around. In fact, text messages reveal Shakib even wanted to meet with the bookie.
However, when the scandal broke out, too many of us overlooked those facts and were more interested in criticizing ICC for being too harsh, theorizing a BCCI conspiracy against us and so on. That a person we so much look up to, can even momentarily consider engaging in corruption or fixing of some sort was a huge threat to our own identity.
2) We take it too hard when they let us down
Some people are extremely shocked and crestfallen, when a role model of theirs does the unthinkable. They may react to it by suddenly going the opposite path; by becoming a vehement critic of the person they once idolized. Or they may question whether they can trust any person to ever do the right thing, consistently.
Both are flawed solutions. And they rob us of the opportunity of taking the good and recognizing the bad in every human.
3) We are influenced by their darker sides
This is possibly the worst outcome. Some people are so enamored by successful individuals that they will follow them to the T. So much so that, even if such personalities begin to express despicable views or behaviors, the followers will adopt them as well, thinking that’s the right road to take.
This is how cult personalities like Donald Trump, Milo Yiannapoulus, Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, Ann Coulter etc. take people who are borderline flawed, and convert them into total douchebags. It’s a slippery slope when your admiration for one part of an achiever is extended, unchecked, to all other areas.
Ultimately what we shouldn’t forget is that celebrities, influencers, corporate hotshots, revolutionary entrepreneurs etc. are people just like you and me. Humans are complex. We all come with a mix of good and bad traits. We are all prone to jealousy, vengeance, lust, self-righteousness, pride, temper etc. Celebrities have PR agents to mask those negative traits for as long as possible, and put forward to you an artificial, perfectly likeable version of them. And successful people are usually those who have mastered the art of hiding their dark sides.
But sooner or later, those curtains do come off. That is when cognitive dissonance kicks in for the audience.
But all that drama can be avoided if we simply stopped idolizing people for their successes. If someone has achieved something remarkable, it is okay to admire that part of them. But that shouldn’t give them a free pass to say or do whatever they please, while we jump to defend them left and right. Or they shouldn’t be put on a pedestal where we worship everything that comes out of their mouth. Or treat them like royalty.
Personally, I admire Musk for his entrepreneurial exploits, but fully acknowledge a lot of the silly and self-serving behavior he has shown over the years. I don’t deny or defend them. I like many of Jordan Peterson’s views and speeches, but at the same time I also accept the fact that some of the others are toxic and problematic. I don’t condone them. I am inspired by the stuff Gary Vaynerchuk says, but I know it would be horrible to be in the same room with him, because the dude can never shut up. I absolutely love a lot of Kanye West’s old music, but I agree to the fact that he’s an idiot at this point.
In the end, no one is really worth fawning over. I think it kind of even makes us think less of ourselves. We can admire yes, but worship, no. Instead, we should have the guts to stand tall and look at someone we admire in the eye, and tell them what we like about them, and what we don’t, if it comes down to that.
This mere shift in mindset can be quite liberating, and empowering. It can free us from the burden of defending flawed human beings. And even boost our own confidence in ourselves.
About Me: I am a co-founder of a young food venture, Alpha Catering. My passions include digital marketing, personal development, reading, writing, and entrepreneurship. At Alpha, we are striving to change the perception of catering in Bangladesh through tech, innovation and awesome customer experiences.
Link to our FB page: https://www.facebook.com/alphacateringservices
Disclaimer: This article was originally posted in Medium.