I’m getting old and it scares me. I fear I’m about a year or two away from standing in my yard wearing plaid shorts, black socks and sandals yelling at the kids to stay off my grass. I live in the country; we don’t have neighbor kids! I’m very afraid. My current AARP dilemma is that I don’t know who the celebrities are anymore. There are all kinds of people who are famous but I don’t know them or why they’re famous.
My wife knows and my nieces and nephews know. I don’t. My wife and I passed a celebrity in the LAX airport. My wife says, “Hey that’s so-and-so.” I had no idea who she was talking about. “He’s a rapper,” she says. I’m a 54-year-old white guy—enough said. I wanted to be impressed. I didn’t know enough to be. There are just too many celebrities in too many niches for me to keep up with. And celebrities are different today. They are celebrated for different reasons.
Some people are famous for being famous. I don’t even know how that happens. It’s something about reality shows, the Internet and online media. It seems that the main criterion for being a celebrity is how outrageous you are. If you wear a dress made out of meat at an awards show, you can be a role model for little girls everywhere. The culture picks outrageous people to be role models. Then when the role models do outrageous things that hurt people, we are shocked.
It struck me one day that there is a big difference between having exceptional talent and having exceptional character. There are lots of young people (40 and younger) who have amazing abilities but little character. It’s not always their fault. There just might not have been enough life lived yet to develop great character. There may not have been people in their world capable to nurture character. Character is built over time, usually with great intentional effort and with the support and coaching of a person who already possesses character.
When you have a great talent, often people cater to you. For extremely talented people who get notoriety, things go easier. There are perks for being talented enough to become famous. But character seems to grow best in adverse situations over time. When things aren’t going your way and doors are slamming in your face, then who you are is both formed and tested. The Bible says it this way: “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” –Romans 5:4
It is almost impossible to not celebrate gifted people when we see their extraordinary abilities. But the celebrities who seem to do best in life are those who have family and friends who keep them grounded in reality. We all need people to help us develop who we are and not just what we can do.
The rest of us probably do the gifted and talented a disservice by offering adulation too easily. We should be cautious when choosing our heroes and role models as a favor to them and ourselves. Maybe then there will be fewer talented people getting caught up in their own hype and fewer of us being disillusioned when celebrities reveal their human frailty.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Siebbi