Transforming People Into Legends

People aren’t idols. Our legends, which usually aren’t remotely close to reality, remind us that people are not idols. When we haven’t had direct experience with people in the flesh, all of our knowledge about them arrived to us by proxy, thus any incoming indirect information is vulnerable to manipulation. However, our own perception may beguile us. As with many dysfunctional families, we can spend an exorbitant amount of time with people and never know what images or thoughts stir, rattle, and occupy their minds. Let’s keep in mind this lack of experiential knowledge and the limitations of language when we presuppose someone is pure evil or incorrigibly flawed. More importantly, let’s challenge our idea that someone might be immaculately good. Icons fawned over by the media aren’t worth the deification they receive. This blind praise of false messiahs not only has roots in ignorance but in lack of self-understanding, and I’d venture to say that those who lack self-awareness are the ones who smack their lips about our “heroes” and our “villains” who dominate the world’s headlines.

We haven’t observed the loss of innocence during their childhood, the unforgiving terrain of their adolescence, nor the fight for survival as adults in the cutthroat marketplace. How can we believe the ego stroking fallacy that we know enough about people? There is so much to know. The wise don’t let press releases nor inside scoops to encapsulate a human being. We might know the characters parading in our media stories, but we know very little of the people who play those characters. If a death is publicized, let’s not suspend reason and listen to journalists portray the dead as one-dimensional, angelic demigods. We, as humans, are radically more complex than that. Legends tend to transcend reality as to coat it with a polish, thus rendering it unrecognizable. The media can lull us into a willful amnesia. For instance, mainstream media heaped accolades onto Nelson Mandela without mention of his ANC terrorist ties and condoning violence to catalyze his desired change. Furthermore, this amnesia reflects the importance of research and clear thought. If most of us work ourselves to exhaustion only to let vacuous entertainment to fill the remaining hours, we barely know ourselves.

We’re only afforded a minuscule amount of information. Even if we’re not actively looking for the truth, we must not blindly accept this morsel of knowledge and by mere impulse, deny anything that contradicts it. Similarly, the myth of Mother Theresa oddly glazes over the lack of adequate medical care for the poor she’s alleged to have cared about. Heroes don’t have to turn out as frauds to disappoint either. Martin Luther King, jr. while preaching love, harmony, and togetherness, committed adultery in his personal life. King succumbed to infidelity, a vice, a temptation that corrupts the soul because in a moment of weakness, he was human after all. Western champions of non-violence and human rights are about as exemplary as every last one of us. Purity doesn’t select a few individuals to spread the message of peace and justice, because that message inherently resides in each of our hearts, just waiting to be tapped, strengthened, and lived. Additionally, our message of togetherness becomes most effective when left unarticulated. When truly channeling goodness in our hearts, we live the message and seldom utter a word of it.

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Living the message, however, doesn’t excuse us from our obligation to cast light on artificial facades, whether intentionally or unintentionally created by mass media. Public figures can easily seduce us, because they know what we expect and desire to hear and just as easily, can reinforce unwavering loyalty at the cost of reason and clear thought. A media darling can leverage this knowledge of his audience and orchestrate a plan to sway public opinion. Even the memory of a man can transform with ignorance and iconic imagery as we see with Che Guevara. Guevara looks cool and as appearances can deceive, his shirts don’t change the fact that he’s a murderer and that uninformed people are drawn to the misleading image of his face. Fashion, facades, and myths veil the truth about contemporary and historical leaders. We must make an effort to dig up the tacit knowledge about them for ourselves. Our intuition, this pestering feeling that unsettles all of us, must not be ignored, and we’re wise to uncover the entire truth, not just a lifeless, sanitized version of it.