If there’s anything everyone can agree on, it’s that we often miss the nuances of things. Politics, social issues, momentum investing. It seems very black and white, all or nothing. And that’s not entirely a new thing—but it concerns me when it gets applied to individuals who we either lionize or vilify. In a world that’s increasingly complex, we should be increasingly nuanced. Instead, it often seems like we’re becoming less nuanced.
“You should never meet your heroes” is an adage that’s been around for quite a while. But it should go further.
In the film world, some of the most creative auteurs are huge assholes. They treat people like shit. In fact, it can go well beyond that as some of the #metoo saga has shown. It’s true in the classical music world, in the arts (painting, sculpture), and probably in every field. Gandhi, who brought freedom from tyranny to hundreds of millions of people and inspired MLK, participated in freakish experimentation in sexual stoicism.
In tech, the concept of heroes has long been a problem. Of course, there are amazing individuals who are pushing the world forward by being creative, bold, enterprising… by being geniuses in their field. The problem, though, is that we conflate capability or achievement in one sphere with everything else, including being a good person, a good human being, or someone who’s smart about everything else, like the arts. Why do we care what an accomplished CEO or investor thinks about all these other areas that they have nothing to do with? And more importantly, why do we give them the credence of a demigod?
It’s a truism that we only see a sliver of these people’s lives, and often, it’s the sliver they deliberately want us to see. If someone has the image of being infallible, that’s fiction. No one is flawless.
Whatever goes on a pedestal must come off. At minimum, it’s going to come down for cleaning. No pedestal is permanent. Putting people on pedestals doesn’t serve us, and it also doesn’t serve them, because it only makes things worse when they come crashing down.
There are so many smart people in the world. Some of the smartest people I’ve worked with are not even on social media. So they can’t become heroes in a world where followers, controversial hot takes, fragile egos, and pithy one-liners rule the world. My heroes are those who I know well, the people who I respect for their ethics and how they live their lives, not just their public accomplishments. But even then, I try to think of them as heroes in one sphere—in one part of life that I’m aware of.