Pulling Down the Pedestals

<January 2009> Putting people up on pedestals seems to be an irresistible pastime among us humans, doesn’t it?

I’ve done entirely too much of it in my own life, for sure – but I know I’m far from alone in what I now see as this very unfortunate tendency. I really believe this pedestal business is something we need to put a stop to.

We put people up on pedestals in a (likely completely unconscious) way, as if to say, “Wow. You’re so good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished…and I could never be so (take your pick) good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished… and so, I’m not maybe even going to try very hard to be as (again, take your pick) good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished as I can be.

Or something like that. I don’t really understand it myself, dear Reader – I’m still wrestling with it, okay?

I think it’s tied up with the widespread tendency to have rather low regard for ourselves, no matter how good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished we may happen to be. As in, I think too many of us feel inside, really, that “I’m not OK; YOU’re OK" (‘cos you are so much more good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished than I am).

I think the roots run pretty deep… I’ve written elsewhere about how I believe most of our pathologies go back about 10,000 years – and I suspect this pedestal business can trace its roots to the same loss – the loss of our feeling connected (deeply and inextricably connected) to a whole tribe of people, the loss of which led to that horrible scourge of human life – alienation.

Well. This little rant is about pedestals, not alienation…

I think lots of us come from families in which the dysfunctions were numerous and in some cases raging, and we grew up looking around us thinking “everybody else” had it all together (at the very least, this certainly holds true for my own pedestal-creating tendencies…).

If we could just get a fabulous job and make tons of money and really, really succeed at “looking good” (which most “big shots” and celebrities do, hmm?), we’d finally fill up that inner hole of insufficiency, insecurity and need…right??

And meanwhile, we go around firing other people up onto pedestals.

In my own life, I’ve at one time or another had scientists, academics, couples with intact marriages, mothers of many children, certain individuals and certain families way up there on lofty pedestals.

Eventually, of course, they’ve all come crashing down under the weight of their mere… humanness.

Turns out we are ALL merely human, and terribly fallible. Academics can sometimes be not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer about 101 things – brilliant, perhaps, in their own narrow way, yet utterly clueless in so many others. Scientists? Same story. Very often brilliant in a tiny area of expertise, but incapable of seeing the big picture, or the forest for the trees, you might say… (this of course does not apply to all academics, or all scientists…but enough of them to have made me realize that the one-size-fits-all pedestal had to go…).

And all those individuals and the families I’ve hoisted up so high, well, they’ve all turned out to be about as fallible as I myself am – which is pretty goshdarn fallible, I’m afraid.

Shoot, I’m aware that a few people have put me up on some kind of pedestal – poor unfortunate, misguided souls! My ex-husband and children (and all the people who know me really well) would certainly have a grand belly laugh at the thought of anyone elevating me onto a pedestal; to them, my faults, neuroses, problems and shortcomings are so glaringly numerous and obvious that pedestal-occupying is an utterly nonsensical concept.

Here’s the thing, you see: as my sister Elizabeth once said to me, “There’s only one way to go off a pedestal, isn’t there?”

She got that so right…

We’re all kinda the same, is the deal.

We all have our faults, neuroses, problems, challenges – and sure, some of us are so damaged (I’ve worked in the psychiatric and correctional fields, so have seen some kind of extreme things) that recovery seems pretty darn unlikely – but anyone reading this little rant has enough intelligence and perception and resilience and sheer gumption to do some reading and meditating and self-healing (counsellors can sometimes be mighty helpful too) to clear away some of those internal cobwebs that get in our way so readily.

You can also let this wonderful, inspiring Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation fill you up with hope:

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

We are capable of awesome feats, dear Reader; yes! Each and every single one of us.

Instead of using up our energy to put ourselves down & elevate others unrealistically, let’s each acknowledge & then act on our very own awesome potential for greatness.

What are we waiting for??

Janet

P.S. I wrote this before encountering Elizabeth Lesser, with her lovely insights about "bozos on the bus." We are ALL just "bozos on the bus," for sure...