Tempering Expectations

I don’t know the origin of the idiom, “Never meet your heroes,” but it seems to be as relevant as ever.

And now, because of the ever-present role of technology and social media in our lives, we don’t even necessarily need to meet our heroes for them to personally disappoint us. A careless remark to someone in a private conversation can turn into a full-blown national scandal.

It’s not that you shouldn’t have heroes – I certainly have plenty of my own – it’s just that we shouldn’t be consumed by infatuation for them. I think it’s healthy to have people to look up to, people who inspire us. And that can, of course, include friends and family members. But we often look outside our social circles for inspiration, and we tend to forget that even the most well-regarded individuals are just as fallible as we are.

People are flawed and they make mistakes. Some get caught up in the heat of the moment – or react to something offhandedly, not necessarily meaning anything by it – and say or do things they instantly regret. Others do deplorable things intentionally, hoping no one will ever find out, and either show no remorse, or give insincere apologies in an attempt to save face when it all comes to light. There are a million ways people can, have and will step in it. The point is, because we have expectations, at some point or another, we’ll be let down.

And whether we personally deem a person’s actions worthy of national, front-and-center, in-the-spotlight attention, is irrelevant. Once it’s news, it’s all many people will focus on. It’s not up to me to tell you how to feel, and it’s not my place to dictate whether a person’s actions necessitate forgiveness on your part. That’s not my prerogative. That’s up to each one of us, individually.

But when we’re let down by our heroes in any field, I think it’s sometimes at least partially our fault for putting them up on a pedestal. That’s not excusing their actions, nor is it absolving them of responsibility, but for a plethora of reasons, we tend to hold prominent people to higher standards.

But some of those people can’t even meet the basic standard of, what I’d call, being a decent human being. And I guess that might mean different things to different people, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect each other to be capable of respecting, and not purposely violating, one another’s personal, physical, emotional and mental well-being.

There are figures in society whose identities we hold up as moral beacons. And when they (almost inevitably) stumble and fall, it hurts more than when some stranger does the same thing. We may not know the full story behind any of the circumstances, but when we begin to see a basic picture of who they are outside the spotlight, it can entirely change our feelings towards them.

I don’t know what I’m really trying to say, other than maybe we should temper our expectations of the people we look up to, because they’re often not who we imagine or want them to be.