Heroes and Idols


August 12, 2013 by kittynh

This is a guest post from my good friend Ellie, also known to many as Library Lady. Yes she really is a librarian and author.  Thank you Ellie, your common sense and heart inspires us all.

About 20 years ago, I realized that idols and heroes did not exist, that
people are people and feet of clay are more common that we like to
think. Role models, same deal. Adopting such figures in your life,
people to follow, people to emulate, eventually leads only to
disappointment. In a way, it’s like the ancient philosophy of calling no
one happy until he (or she, of course) is dead. Perhaps we should say,
call no one admirable until she (or he, of course) is dead.

Heroes are human

Heroes are human

Great heroes fly over the ocean solo to great acclaim and align
themselves with the philosophies of Hitler. Presidents lead the nation
in the direction we approve of and cheat on their wives. Actors charm us
on the screen and turn out to be abusive drunks. That’s just the way it is.

Which leads us to a question: Do their sins negate their
accomplishments? I don’t know. I freely admit that I haven’t seen a
Woody Allen movie since he publicly humiliated Mia Farrow, or worse, but
that’s my choice. He makes me uncomfortable now. Should he no longer be
considered a great film maker? I don’t think so.

Right now in the skeptical world, a place I’ve lived for about twenty
years, there is breast-beating and garment-rending over alleged crimes
and misdeeds of prominent skeptical writers and activists, not only in
terms of sexual abuse and harassment, but in other areas as well. I am
not as alarmed as perhaps I should be, because in some cases the
accusations have not been proven by evidence, something I like to see
before making judgments, and in other cases I’m not sure their behaviors
have anything to do with their skeptical stance.

To judge others, we must also look at ourselves.

To judge others, we must also look at ourselves.

This is not to say I take any of this lightly. My respect could be very
much lowered, especially if lies are proven. I might look more closely
at their research and pay less attention to them on certain subjects. I
could even stop communication or cease paying dues to an organization.

However, it would not be the crushing emotional situation that some
others seem to suffer when good heroes go bad. Because I have no heroes,
I expect no perfection, I’ve seen very smart people do amazingly stupid
things, and I can take it as it comes.

Nor do I glory in the downfall of other people. If they’ve done
something wrong, they should make amends, whether through apology,
remuneration, imprisonment, or other ways. Except for the most heinous
crimes, I see no reason for them to be ground into the dust, set on
fire, and spit upon to put the fire out. People are fallible. Smart
people are especially fallible; their downfalls tend to be more dramatic
because expectations are higher.

Let’s admire accomplishments, condemn misdeeds, and leave hero
worship to the unwary. It does not befit a skeptic.

6 thoughts on “Heroes and Idols

  1. I agree with your assessment of hero worship. It might be noted that even the Catholic Church waits until death before canonization; I imagine to insure the would be saint not do anything to question his saintliness.

  2. John Stewart says:

    Quite timely, and I am buoyed by your solidarity. Also, I like your use of everyday terms like “happy” and “admirable” in lieu of latin-based words which are so over-loaded with the religious baggage of centuries that they are effectively meaningless to real life. Thank you.

  3. cjwinstead says:

    Reblogged this on Chris Winstead and commented:
    Excellent words on the PZ Myers debacle and the fallibility of heroes. Well said.

  4. […] many lives, and that is truly beautiful.  Check out another wonderful post by Ellie other posts here.  Also more on the Enoch Pratt Free Library […]

  5. […] retired librarian.  I’ve written about her before, and she also is the author of one of the best blog posts ever written on […]

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