Heroes are human after all, go easy on the worship

I believe that all human beings are flawed, and make mistakes, and that is fine

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By Sharmistha Khobragade

Published: Mon 1 Aug 2022, 10:30 PM

Who’s your hero? A comfortable majority of humankind will respond to my question with a ‘Steve Jobs’ and/or ‘Elon Musk’. My kids told me a joke yesterday, ‘you know how to get adopted by Elon Musk? Ask for an autograph and pull out adoption papers for the signature.’ So here are twelve-year-old children, so overpowered by everything they’ve been exposed to about Mr. Musk in the media, that they want to let go of perfectly good and loving parents, just so that they can be adopted by the richest man in the world. It’s certainly telling, isn’t it?

Who your hero is tells a lot about you as a person. Someone who answers ‘Martin Luther King’ or ‘Mother Teresa’ is a different kind of person, with a very different set of values, from a person who answers ‘Steve Jobs/Elon Musk’. Maybe that’s why people are so sensitive about their heroes, and that’s why they resort to worship of their heroes on the one hand, and trolling of the detractors of their heroes on the other. Maybe it is their own sense of self that they’re trying to defend, rather than their heroes?

And then there are those who are stumped when asked who their hero is. Like I am. I really don’t know how to respond to this question. It feels very weird to say that one doesn’t have a hero. Maybe I come across as cynical, that I don’t find scope for admiration for a lot of great things that people are doing out there. But it’s not that. I do admire the great things that people do, the ones that impact others, especially the weak and the vulnerable, positively.

But here’s the thing. I admire the things people do and not the people themselves, and even my admiration for the things they do is tempered by the unintended consequences of those things.

I’m sure that Steve Jobs did not intend to have multitudes become slaves to their devices when he unleashed the iPhone on us, but they did. Unintended consequences. Bill Gates gives billions of dollars to many worthy causes through his foundation, but ends up distorting local priorities and undermining the democratic processes of many governments in the African continent. Unintended consequences. That’s why I’m very cautious of writing blank cheques for my admiration. Future may prove me wrong.

One easy way out for people like me would be to say that a parent is my hero. Because certainly my parents have been heroic to me, over the course of my lifetime, but then again, I’m also conscious of the fact that they are flawed human beings, just like I am. They have made their share of mistakes, which in no way diminishes my love and respect for them. But hero-worshipping them is again, beyond my remit.

The above is my reason for not having any heroes – I believe that all human beings are flawed, and make mistakes, and that is fine. The trouble starts when their admirers/followers start hanging on to their every word and action, applauding and building it up, and moving quickly to shut down anyone who might express a contrarian view. Even perfectly grounded and down-to-earth human beings can easily change into self-absorbed egomaniacs when confronted by this sort of adulation. And it’s not even their fault, it’s the fault of their worshippers.

Dangerous things can happen when people start believing that they are the messiahs who’re going to change the world. The lives of dictators and strong men, past and present, are testimony to that. It would be fitting to remember that these dictators were also adored and hero-worshipped by countless followers who believed in their visions for the world. Surely it was the adulation and adoration of their tribe which gave them the strength to unleash their grisly misdeeds on the world.

Social media, especially Twitter, makes it so easy to engage in online hero-worship and its flip side, trolling off the nay-sayers to your hero. I would like to pose a question to the Twitterati so engaged – might you be doing a disservice to your hero by hero-worshipping him/her? Are these dopamine hits you get when your community of hero-worshippers are cheering and egging on your hero and one another, worth the toxicity you spread when you criticize the other side? Could you perhaps do more for your hero by looking at the unintended consequences of their actions and drawing his/her attention to those, politely and respectfully, of course?

At the end of the day, I’m sure that everyone who is reading this is smart enough to know that humanity or civilization is not going to saved by the actions of any one person, no matter how visionary or even how well-intentioned they may be. Humanity is going to be saved (if at all) by the imperfect actions of majority of the eight billion of us ordinary mortals, plodding our way slowly in our everyday actions to do right by the planet and each other.

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