Human Heroes

Humans are prone to failure, and sometimes this failure is massively panned by the public. I can name several famous (and now infamous) individuals who I looked up to in different respects, but now their image has been tainted so it’s not worthwhile to keep them as role models, at least in the sense of idolizing the whole person.

Some people solve this by striving not to have any heroes at all. There are a few ways to do this. One of the healthiest is to turn all comparisons against your past self. Are you improving? That’s all you need. It can be beneficial to see what drives greatness in others though.

What about posthumous heroes? They obviously can’t let you down directly. You’d be surprised how often you learn new not-good things about people if you dig into their history though. Especially given the complexity of people’s lives, there’s really no guarantee that you won’t eventually find out something unsavory.

I think having heroes can be a good thing, but make them domain-specific if at all possible. I respect Roger Federer’s tennis prowess and sportsmanship. Richard Feynman’s ability to explain physical phenomena clearly is something to look up to. Ramon Foster (“The Big Ragu”) is a force on the Steelers’ offensive line. (Okay, I’m just grasping for another R. F. name.)

The danger is in turning people into these perfect platonic ideals, assuming that just because someone is hyper-successful in one area, that means they have their life together in all others. Don’t fall for the halo effect.

Point is, it’s okay to look up to people. Just acknowledge their flaws and don’t turn them into something they aren’t.