Have you ever found yourself putting people you admire on a pedestal – and then face the inevitable disappointment when they fail to live up to expectations?
I certainly have.
Whilst there’s an element of wanting to only see the best in people, there’s a large element of setting up unrealistic expectations so great that nobody – no human – could ever meet.
This leads to a few problems.
- The inevitable disappointment and hurt when reality shows it’s head around the door – when a real person fails to live up your expectations
- An objectification and one sided view of a real person – that makes them almost mythical. This is fundamental denial of their own humanity
- A poor estimation of yourself – because you surely know that you can’t ever meet the expectations you hold other people too.
This is not a good foundation for a healthy relationship.
I’ve been thinking a lot what putting people on pedestals does after a good friend courageously pointed out to me that I have this tendency.
Curiously, the realisation that I do this at times, whilst hard – also brought with it a large amount of relief. It helped me see that I have built an arbitrary standard for behaviour built on unstated assumptions about ways of being that I’ve been trying to keep – and naturally failing at. Nobody could keep those standards. Not me, not you, not anybody. Ultimately, these type of unrealistic standards and expectations set us all up for failure.
It also helped me see how fundamentally equal we all our in having a beautiful combinations of flaws, vulnerabilities and strengths.
And finally, it’s helped me see how in holding people up as heroes, I’ve denied a certain humanity to them. There’s a big difference between holding people in high esteem and awarding them hero status.
So in one short conversation, I’ve made a fundamental shift in my world view and as a result feel freed from a self-imposed prison. I’ve also freed the people around me to be real – vulnerabilities and all.
What’s got me wondering is how much we ‘pedestalise’ people in our day-to-lives.
Sometime we hold ourselves up on a pedestal – on our soapbox – and see ourselves as in some way superior to others in a way that creates a fundamental hierarchy of ‘goodness’. I think people who are experts in their field may sometimes be at risk of this – because it’s very easy to confuse having high expertise in an area with being a better person.
Sometimes we do it to other people – whether it is celebrities, royalty or politicians. In one sense we deify them – and then scream scandal when they go all human on us.
Sometimes we do it when it comes to thinking about what profession, religion or other social group we belong to. It becomes about “us” (the in group) and “them” (the great unwashed – or whatever derogatory terms of otherness takes your fancy).
Sometime we do it in political correctness – casting people off a pedestal and into a ditch if they don’t hold a particular predetermined right way of thinking.
So having pedestals in our lives – no matter who is on them – is in some way a way of creating difference and division.
Getting rid of pedestals – and allowing us all to make mistakes, make misjudgments, let each other down – or even hold different opinions – is a fundamental expression of faith in humanity – and the ‘specialness’ we all have because of that.
I’m reminded of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
I’ve always seen the “vast and trunkless legs of stone” and the “shattered visage” as symbols of the impermanence of man’s creations. Ultimately, whatever works we make will become “boundless and bare”.
If this is true of the physical world – how much more true of the metaphorical statues we make by putting people (either ourselves or others) on pedestals. Ultimately only the pedestal with its vain hope will remain – and the rest will become “lone and level sands” that “stretch far away”.
What we construct and put on pedestals is destined to ultimately vanish.
What, however is real, is the relationships between real people – with all their love, joy, imperfections and disappointments too.
So my friends – my real ones – you are off your mythical pedestals now. I solemnly undertake to see you in your full humanity (to the extent my own limitations allow anyway). And let’s agree to not be too disappointed with other. Because ultimately we’ve all got too much to lose and ever so much more to gain.