All the Stories Are True and Un-True too.
I was 13 when my grandmother died. I never got to know her well. My experience of her was a tall, loving woman who smiled often and spoke only Italian. So you can see the gap.
However, I grew up with a wealth of stories about her to add to my small set of interactions. And because she was and is a hero of mine I was a always curious to know more to fill in the picture of this person I wished I knew better and more deeply as a person.
Now as each day brings closer to the age she was when I knew her, I realize she was more complicated and had more experiences and feelings than I’ll ever know. She will always be more and less of the hero she’s come to be defined in my mind.
It’s important to realize that stories and small sets of meaningful interactions can’t reveal a person to us.
Why Our Heroes Will Always Be More and Less Than the Pedestal We Put Them On
Stories and meaningful interactions are powerful things. But the very essence of what makes a good story or a meaningful interaction is that it highlights one quality, one action that reveals something about the person in question. But no person is only one quality.
Ask my son what he knows about me.
What I’ve learned is that, like great characters in movies, we’ve all got our great strengths and weaknesses. We’ve all got our stellar qualities and our deep flaws. And any one of us that gets put on a pedestal is destined to fall. Here’s why and why I never want to be on a pedestal myself.
- The heroes we put on a pedestal don’t really know what qualities or traits got them there. They can guess, but they didn’t define the “character” who was raised up and so they’re destined not to live up to the definition.
- The people who put the heroes on the pedestal can only see the heroes from far away. The closer we get to people the more we see their complexity, the more likely we are to change that hero-worship into friendship. True friends see a whole person and accept the humanity — what’s great and what still needs growing about them.
- Sooner or later every hero will be human and step outside of pedestal definition. Suddenly the hero-worshipers will feel a betrayal that the hero was less than they thought, but really he or she is also more … the more that they couldn’t see.
So let’s give up the Pedestal mentality. Heroes are only infallible from faraway. It’s unfair to make them one-dimensional and expect them to live up to a definition that no human could possibly be.
I love the stories of my grandmother. I’ll always keep her high in my heart, but I also know that she had to work for what she got and that she faced real decisions and couldn’t have possibly always chosen right. No human ever does.
If we truly want community, it’s our job to remember and protect our heroes as the humans they are so that they can keep growing and showing us what they’ve got. What kinds of fans would we be if we made all of the protection go one way and left all of the heroism to them? Where would Harry Potter be without his band of friends who have his back? No pedestal takes the place of a community of friends.
I think I like her better knowing that. It makes it easier to imagine she’d also be proud of me.
How do you protect your heroes and see them people not characters on pedestals?
–ME “Liz” Strauss