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Why Do We Elevate Very Human People to God-Status?

11/16/2014 11:23 EST | Updated 01/16/2015 05:59 EST
Natalie Behring via Getty Images
PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 24: Jian Ghomeshi records a live show at Aladdin Theater on April 24, 2014 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

Ancient Greek mythology is full of stories of the exploits of Greek Gods and Goddesses. While these beings are powerful and immortal, they are also imbued with human characteristics such as lust, hate, seductiveness, jealousy, and, a lack of integrity. Certain of these deities paid a heavy price for their errant behaviour. Some had specific vulnerabilities, as in the legendary heel of Achilles. Ancient peoples did not expect their gods to be perfect.

While possibly believing in one almighty and powerful God, today, we also regularly elevate humans to a "god-like" status by imbuing them with power and adulation. Placed on a pedestal, not necessarily of their own making, they are supposed to be a model for us to emulate.

Branding and image creation, through all forms of modern media, make it very difficult for actors, musicians, radio and television personalities, sports figures, politicians, and others, to show their authentic selves. Some manage to continue to maintain their equilibrium and inner moral compass. Others come to believe the hype about their own power and influence, acquiring a heightened sense of self-importance and notions of invincibility.

Some are business and community leaders who seem to be the image of respectability and decorum. We expect them to adhere to a high standard of behaviour. Yet, all of them are very human. Bad behaviours may be overlooked and the person may develop a sense of entitlement until they reach a tipping point. Then they fall and we are disappointed, angered, and maybe even vengeful, because they "let us down." We are indeed fortunate when some of our "heroes," "heroines" and role models live up to our expectations.

There are numerous examples of the phenomenon of image belying reality. Tiger Woods dominated golf and golf stories until his checkered extra-marital liaisons brought him down and destroyed his carefully constructed image of a clean-cut family man. Lance Armstrong was the hero of the bicycle racing circuit until his spectacular fall from grace, when it was revealed that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs. Lindsay Lohan has gone from sought after actress to a troubled woman trying to find her way back to success. Jerry Sandusky was the highly regarded coach-hero, until he was convicted of sexually abusing boys. In mere moments, he went from "god-like" status to villain.

Recently, in Canada, we have witnessed the spectacular fall from grace of Jian Ghomeshi, the former popular host of CBC radio's program "Q." Media reports reflect the anger, disappointment and concerns that some of his alleged misbehaviour may be criminal in nature. By some accounts, this may have also been a case of less than acceptable behaviour being tolerated because he was a "star." No matter the result of all of the investigations, the ensuing debate has raised public awareness about the critical issue of sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence against women.

Similarly, other scandals have revealed a broader usage of performance-enhancing drugs and the misconduct of high-profile sports figures. Somehow, we expect rock musicians to use drugs but not sports figures, despite the pressure on them to live up to high expectations.

Where can we find the heroes and role models that so many of us seem to want in our lives? We can admire high-profile figures for their talent but we need not assign them the status of gods. We have a right to expect high standards of behaviour for public office holders, without forgetting that they are human. Looking for our role models and heroes in different places can help create a more balanced perspective.

Every day, we see hard-working, dedicated people in hospitals, emergency services, the military, and in every walk of life, displaying courage in the face of challenging circumstances. Often these acts of courage happen without media attention, or, well away from the spotlight. Looking closer to home for our role models will frequently leave us more fulfilled and less likely to be disappointed by our own expectations.

The remarkable and life-affirming qualities that ancient peoples revered in their gods and goddesses can often be found in our peers, our family members, and, in those who are devoted to making our world a better place in which to live. Thus, we would do well to look for inspiration in our midst and to celebrate but not venerate the actions of celebrities. To do otherwise is to court the inevitable disappointment that occurs when human beings are shown to have feet of clay.