I had a woeful tendency to put people on pedestals. I do not realize that I am doing it, but I meet someone and they are cool, smart, funny, and/or awesome in some way and I tend to think the world of them. My husband says that this happens because people are “new and shiny and you haven’t discovered their flaws yet.” Another friend of mine once said that I fall half in love with all of my friends – which is true in a very non-romantic sort of way. My friends are awesome, fun, clever, wonderful and I find joy in being around such Shining Ones.
Years and years ago, I had a friend I thought was awesome. He was so funny and witty and clever. I loved talking to him. Then he loaned me some George Carlin dvd’s and he mentioned, casually, “I steal a lot from him.”
By “steal a lot” he meant “everything I have ever said that you found insightful or funny was actually a George Carlin bit.” I was happy to discover Carlin, but a bit dismayed to find out that the entire personality I loved about someone was really just a mirage, a front – fake. This was a pedestal shattering moment. Will tends to know that these pedestal shattering moments are going to happen. He knew it with this friend. Will is sometimes more insightful about people than I am.
Part of the problem is that we tend to like the idea we have of a person better than we actually like the person. I’ve seen this often in couples who break up – they never really knew each other and the love they felt was for their idea of the other person, not the reality of who the other person was. One of Will’s prerequisites for romantic love is understanding the other person. He believes that if you do not understand the other person, you do not truly love them, you merely love your idea or illusion of them. This is why when we first got together he asked me endless questions. Even now, if I am not forthcoming with details he will ask me endless questions. Being married to Will is sometimes like having your every thought exposed and dissected, but I know that he loves me, warts and all, not some sort of unattainable ideal of me. I’ve even gotten used to being constantly analyzed.
With every new friendship (I live in a college town so people tend to come and go from my life in revolving door of school/graduation/moving) Will tells me that I should not be so excited. That I will be disappointed. That having these idealized, romantic notions of people will bite me on the ass eventually as I will be crushed when they fall from their pedestals. He is right, of course. I have worked pretty hard in making sure that I do not put people on pedestals anymore. It hurts me when I realize they are human after all, it hurts the other person who can in no way live up to expectations, and it is living life in illusion instead of reality – something I really strive not to do.
This has really helped me maintain more of my current relationships. If someone is treated and viewed as a human instead of a pedestal topper, it is easier to roll with various flaws and offenses. Every once in a while I still get surprised when someone turns out to be a completely different person than I thought they were, but more often than not this is less because I am putting them on a pedestal and more because they were putting on a front. Sometimes, people can just be disappointing. Sometimes people who are not even on a pedestal in the first place can just break your heart. People, on occasion, have simply tragic flaws. Ask Hamlet, he knows.
When I was younger and more confrontational, I would say that if you had something bad to say about me say it to my face. As I got older, this attitude changed. If there is a problem I can fix, or something I did that offended you that I need to know about, please tell me. I am happy to make amends when the situation calls for it. I am flawed and socially awkward sometimes, and I occasionally am a bit too blunt. If you are just griping about who I am, feel free to say it behind my back because I am not changing for you and I am not interested in your drama. I am aware of my flaws and I work on negating them as much as possible. Usually, in this life, we are all doing the best that we can – sometimes we mess up, sometimes we are messed up, and sometimes we manage to succeed.
I think that more focus needs to be on the positive in people than the negative, not in a pedestal topper way, but in general see the good and feel joy for the positive. More energy needs to be put in achieving our own potential than in denigrating the efforts of some one else. It takes time and energy to constantly be tearing other people down. I think we should put that time and energy into building ourselves up. More often than not, the people who spend all of their time and energy tearing down someone else are doing so because they want to feel better in comparison. They tear down others to build themselves up.
How about skipping the first part of the equation? Instead of tearing someone down, why not just build yourself up? If you do not like who you are then change who you are to someone you like. It is not difficult. Be awesome. Be great. Be someone you like. If you do, then it won’t matter when people try to tear you down, because you will be too awesome to hear their noise.