Unfortunately, we live in a society today that is fixed on counterfeit and self prescribed levels of power. Within our mind, we dehumanize certain individuals in order to fulfill an internal agenda that rages on a personal, but global level. In turn, we stifle our own accolades and accomplishments by comparing them to an individual who is erroneously and allegedly on a higher level of approval according to the majority analysis. We place certain individuals within a faultless framework of perfection, as opposed to our own cynical, fault filled, and human characteristics. We fall victim to the pedestal illusion. The pedestal illusion is found in a variety of dissimilar practices, lifestyles, and standards of living. We must come to grips with this demoralizing idea and terminate it, before we are stuck in a vulnerable and susceptible society.
Preachers and Priests
One of the main places you can locate the pedestal illusion is in various religious settings. In an attempt to comprehend and grasp the concept of their higher power of choice, the members of the congregation place their preacher on a higher plateau than that of their own residence. Growing up in a Baptist Church, I have witnessed the overwhelming belief systems and mind sets first hand. Some of the mind sets are very slothful, in the sense that they look to their preacher to translate the words and messages from their almighty God. This gets dangerous, only because instead of creating their own unique relationship with Jesus Christ, they are now attempting to piggyback on their preacher’s relationship. In addition, you often see preachers that have a tendency to mistranslate scriptures or divine happenings that are easily implanted in your naïve mind unconsciously if you completely neglect to acknowledge your preacher’s ability to have inconsistencies. In order to have an undisputable and guaranteed relationship, you must contact the higher power directly and read your bible, or other holy ordinances, as opposed to through another sinner plagued by the evils of the world such as yourself. That is not to say that God cannot use other people to work through you, but that has no bearing on this notion of placing them on this stage of admiration and high regard. After doing this, as soon as we discover that our preacher has made an error in judgment, or partook in a sinful act, we as “Christians” are quick to dismiss them as heathens and evil doers; as if we thought for one second they did not have human characteristics that paralleled our own.
While I am not as aware of the practices and inner workings of the Catholic Church, I am acquainted with their use of priests in their confessionals. Webster defines confessional as a small, enclosed place in a church, where a priest hears confessions. In essence, you are repenting your sins to an individual who is not in any way, shape, or form, faultless. How can you place somebody who is essentially on the same level as you, so high on a pedestal that your forgiveness of a sinful act hinders on their mercy? Then once again, just as in the Baptist Church, as soon as the priest has made an error in judgment, or has partaken in a sinful act, we are quick to crucify him. The pedestal illusion is now reversed. Instead of placing the priest on a high plateau of greatness, we now diminish him to purely a shell of his former self, raising ourselves to a higher plateau as we look down on the ridiculed and scorned priest. Just because he didn’t live up to your glorious and unreal expectations of magnificence and splendor, you now chastise him and put him down? How are you, a sinner saved by grace, “better” than another human just because he made a mistake that you have yet to make? We speak as if our own lives were faultless, and if that’s the case, why aren’t you sitting at that confessional listening to others just like you, repent to you?
Fame and Fortune
Another arena, in which the pedestal illusion is very prevalent, is that of fame and fortune. More specifically, it tends to be rampant when concerning musicians, actors, athletes, or anybody that posses any sort of high sought after commodity. Often times, the media glamorizes these individuals as trendy and chic. As a result of this glamorization, we as the ‘common people’ who are typically fans of these individuals, feel obligated to live up to a standard that has been formulated by a character that we idolize. Because of a very inconsequential level of social status, they become the poster children for success. Here is the eccentric happening pertaining to these individuals. While their accolades and achievements are over glamorized, their faults and wrong doings are unjustly amplified and heavily looked down upon. It’s almost as if they have a love hate relationship with the media who decides the way in which they will be portrayed to their viewers. So from the perspective of the viewer or fan, you therefore see their accomplishments as something that is only attainable by them or someone of that same caliber; and you see their faults as despicable, as if you for one second disregarded their human characteristics. When we place these individuals on pedestals, we essentially strip them of their human identity. We raise them upland to the point that we no longer see a person. We more accurately see ideas formulated and manipulated by the press, pertaining to individuals whose gift just so happens to be one that symbolizes you as an elite member of society.
Please do not misconstrue my evaluations as a message that we should not have role models, or figures we admire. It is entirely appropriate to admire and think highly of an individual, in order to raise the bar for your own pursuit. It is almost essential to have an individual that has vigorously worked to pave the way for you, just so you are constantly greeted with the idea and the representation that what you seek to accomplish can be accurately fulfilled. The problem occurs when the pedestal illusion takes full effect, and we overlook our idol’s human traits. By the time we come to the realization that our famous idol that we have carelessly placed on this pedestal makes mistakes just like us, we make one of two detrimental errors. The first error we sometimes make is we dismiss our former role model, on the basis that he/she can no longer fulfill our dreamlike level of perfection. When making this judgment, fans become discouraged and continue on an unreachable search for perfection. They chastise and ridicule their past role model, as if they themselves were faultless creatures from the heavens. This error in judgment is very reminiscent of those discussed earlier who deride their preacher or priest. The second error we make occurs when we embrace our former role model to the point that we believe any act that they partake in is morally and ethically acceptable. When making this judgment, fans become so caught up with the desire to become like their role model; they promptly dismiss any sort of ethics and morals they have received prior to their admiration of this star. Both of these errors are extremely dangerous to a person’s psychological well being, as well as their future ideology of various events. Not to mention the fact that many of the individuals who attain fame, fortune, and various commodities, would probably give it all up to live a normal life... a normal life reminiscent of yours.
Often times we place historical figures, especially those that are deceased, on a heightened level of elevation. One of the things we as a society need to do is let go of the past. That is not to say that these historical personnel were not vital assets to the evolution of our country, but often times we operate as if the magnitude of their greatness could never be touched by future generations. I’ve been in heated debates with colleagues, where we compare the old to the new. I was often scorned for even mentioning a new up-and-coming individual in the same sentence as that of an early pioneer that paved the way. It was almost as if my statements were marked as blasphemous and offensive to supporters and advocates of past accolades. With this mind set, no progression is able to manifest. Being stuck on the belief that a past individual has reached the peak of achievement, and anyone else who follows will pale in comparison is a very immature and close-minded way to asses the situation. Being an adamant fan of hip-hop and hip-hop culture, I see this growing even more prevalent in these recent years. I admire groups such as Sugar Hill Gang, Furious Five, and Run DMC. These groups contain pioneers of hip-hop who paved the way for future artists to manifest their talents and skills, and gave them the ability to produce music for the masses. While this may be the case, any real fan of hip-hop, such as myself, can tell you that the lyrics in songs have evolved tremendously over the years. With that being said, it would be completely trivial to compare the simple rhyme schemes of the Sugar Hill Gang, to that of a metaphorical, double entendre speaking lyrical genius such as Jay-Z. With evolution comes improvement, but unfortunately, with that improvement comes backlash from the originators that protest a lack of respect or acknowledgement. That is not to say that we are not to give originators and pioneers their just due, but I am simply suggesting that sometimes they receive abundant credit to the point that it undermines the future of the craft. History is important, but you can’t live there for ever.
Switching gears, the other aspect concerning historical figures involves imperfections and blemishes, or rather the lack thereof. When we speak on historical figures, why do we tend to ignore faults or anything that gives them human characteristics? Do we no want them to be perceived as human? Many times, this is why our mind is distorted into believing that anybody being compared to a historical figure is inferior. It’s not that we come out and say they were perfect, but the lack of mentioning anything other then substantial feats creates this perception. If you think highly of a historical figure to the point where you see no faults, blemishes, or blunders, then how could you strive to be like them? How are the youth going to have the ability to be relatable to an individual they perceive as perfect? Why would they even strive for greatness while using their historical figure as a benchmark, when they will always fall short? The answer is they won’t strive, they don’t strive. Instead of correcting the problem, however, we simply become adamant scolding our youth and calling them lazy and ignorant, not realizing that their ignorance is sparked from our altered perception of reality we have relayed to them.
The next time you wish to place somebody on a pedestal, take a step back and reanalyze the actual situation. Notice that the motives are raging within your own psyche, but in the end it will be more detrimental than uplifting. The next time somebody wishes to place you on a pedestal, don’t let them. Humble yourself and understand that the high place they are attempting to set you upon is not a sturdy structure.
“People place themselves and others on pedestals and wonder why they slip, it’s because you can’t stand on something that doesn’t exist” – Jon Chambers