If you’re asking me, I’d offer that it’s a fool that makes idols of people. We’re a fallible lot. We are mistakes tumbling through history trying to pick up enough good deeds along the way to outshine the trouble we cause or get into. People are a mess. Humans are the dumpster fires of the earth. The only species that can raise and ruin in one moment and then ask how it happened the next. That’s not to discount the great acts, loves, arts, or deeds Man has put into the world at all, but just to frame things with the warning – Careful Who You Wish For.
We live in a fascinating time. Every last idea and petty utterance we have can be recorded for video, audio, blog, Tweet, social media status, photo, or in other ways so there is a record of more of a record for most of us than history ever has had before. These are not just clay pots found with the residue of a meal. These are not scattered scraps of lost diaries. These are our direct thoughts put into the world freely so that we are seen. We are a species surrounded by one another but desperate for connection. Desperate to feel seen, appreciated, respected, and loved. It is easier for us to reach out through our screens and curated selves than it is to open ourselves up to the dangers of personal contact. The thing is though that more than ever there is a record of who we are, good, bad, and ugly, for history to sift through.
Worse than that, we have the means now to impersonate someone digitally and cause all manner of havoc in theirs and other lives.
First things first though.
Those false idols…
We are forever looking beyond ourselves for inspiration. For encouragement that we can do better, be better, and achieve more. We want people to be exemplars of how far we can strive if we believe and work hard. And that’s great. We SHOULD always strive to be better, in fact, I posit that ONE of the myriad meanings of life is to keep working to become a better person, fully understanding that we are all never works completed but in progress. The thing is that when we turn to humans to inspire us and to idolize, we set ourselves up for disappointment. It’s great to take inspiration from others but man, when you start look at others with any form of envy, even that sort of idol-worship we humans are apt to go for, you are being unfair to yourself and the person. Those feelings tie you to that person, past, present, and future, and puts you in the awful position that, should things come to light you never knew about, you will need to re-think why you admired them and if that admiration was honest in the first place.
Then there’s the awful fact that you are forcing someone to live in a box they probably never chose. We all try to live the best lives we’re able.
That’s what the most of us want, notice I said most, but the fact is that we are flawed. We say, and do stupid things, we act ignorantly, we jump to conclusions, we can be mean and petty and spiteful.
Basically, we screw up.
A lot-a lot.
That’s the human experience.
It’s worse now that we can dig up archives and ‘receipts’ on people and use them against the dead without even understanding their heart or reasoning. Someone can say something terrible, ignorant, and stupid and maybe that’s they’re heart speaking true in a moment where their defense were down or maybe they were having a rotten day and were angry and hurt and said angry and hurt things.
Catch me at ten and I am not someone to be proud of.
I was ignorant, and closed minded, and acted in ways that would embarrass me if I wasn’t a kid that didn’t know better.
But I grew.
People can grow.
Your view of the world and its issues can change.
They can broaden or shrink.
But we have to way these things with the whole of our lives. Outside of times where great acts of evil were committed should we throw a person’s whole life and career away because they acted an ass? Words matter. Actions matter. They reflect us, but they are also a reflection of the moment. The alchemy of a moment is very complex, and it’s usually not as cut and dried as a comment, offhand or intentional. There is more to us than that.
The future has an advantage in assessing us, because heaven knows we feel the need to assess everyone as good, bad, or whatever, because they have more to work with. Blogs, photos, videos, Tweets, social posts, and on and on and on. There is going to be more to work with, though, again, more to be faked. Woof. But as a society we are so bound and determined to tear every idol down, every icon, every star in the sky to show them all as less than human.
We want to dig up ever cadaver and every word they spoke to prove they never deserved anything but scorn in life and after.
Witness HP Lovecraft, a generally harmless guy who lead a sheltered life and had that sheltered mindset. Me, I don’t turn to him to open up how I see the world and the people in it, I read him for scares. Being long dead doesn’t let him off the hook for being bigoted, sexist, and not the most open minded but man, he’s dead. DEAD. If you don’t want the man to represent something, an award, a movement, whatever, then so be it. He just did his thing and WE put all the importance on him, he didn’t do that. So it’s convenient of us to get outraged at how he lived his life when none of us knew the man.
He left a pretty hefty record behind on how he saw the world, and that’s a bummer, but his art is his art and his views were his views. I won’t damn the work for the man, and vice verse.
He may have been a lout but he wrote some great fiction.
The thing here is that EVERY PERSON can have their lives dug into and the bodies there exhumed. Everyone has ugliness that wasn’t meant for the world. It’s unfair to dig up, bury, dig up, and bury people and their words and deeds that didn’t truly harm anyone just so we can give them a purity test.
It’s not fair and not right.
The problem, more than anything, is our need to hoist people onto pedestals. That’s on us, not them. Look to the world for inspiration, absolutely, but don’t let that be the box you bury yourself in. Look beyond that inspiration as well. See a full and true human who makes mistakes along with their triumphs. All we can do is the very best we are able as people and keep striving to be better. The burden is on us for holding the dead to the ever changing standards of a society that is still evolving itself. We don’t need more gods, demi-gods, or idols. We need more human beings that we can learn from and admire but never expect more than their humanity of them.
That’s the fair thing to do.
If you go looking in tombs you’re apt to find bodies.