How To Keep Our Heros Human

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A couple years ago I visited the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL. As I walked the halls exploring the life and pursuits of this legendary man, I came across a timeline. It showed his life and his endeavors from beginning to end. I was amazed at how meandering his life was, particularly in his early years. Between losing jobs and changing careers, his life was very different from the story in my mind about him.

As I stood in front of that timeline, this great leader became more human, and I came to admire him much more. I found myself feeling moved by who he became in spite of his less-than-ideal early years. I discovered that I could relate to him more knowing he struggled. I found myself feeling proud of who he was because of what he had lived through. He wasn’t just a legend, he was a flawed and sometimes lost man who had to work hard and fight his share of demons.

I often put the people I admire on pedestals.

I tell myself that they are just gifted and things just fall into place for them. I also tell myself that there are parts of me that are broken— life is harder, work is harder, and my daily struggles are more intense.

As much as I like to protect the people that I respect and admire— they are just people. They may be great people, but they are still just people. They may be great, but “greatness” isn’t as unique of a category as we make it out to be. The “greats” still struggle and have all the limits that everyone else has. As the saying goes: they still put their pants on one leg at a time.

We tell ourselves so many stories about other people, which are also stories about ourselves.

We compare ourselves to a public persona and assume that the rest of that person’s life is like the sliver-lined version that we see on display. We don’t get the whole story, but we compare all of our selves and our stories to the portion of their story that we know.

I want to teach myself this: no one is as great as I think they are— meaning they are still human and still struggle. In fact, that is what makes a person truly great. My admiration deepens when I understand the struggles of someone I respect. Everything doesn’t just line up perfectly and easily in most cases, and life still has its share of challenges.

When we let the people we admire be human, we find grace and compassion for them.

I find myself advocating for them and wanting to see them succeed. And I also find myself feeling more grace and compassion for myself— finding more space to let myself struggle and not have it all together.

When I see Abraham Lincoln, I see a man who hoped when he could have given up hope. Then I see myself struggling with hope, and feel that there is more reason to hope.

Others have walked this ground before us. They can lead us home.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 4 Comments On This Post.

  1. Michelle

    In the relating Dan talks about in this post, there is a rich empathy that I hear emerging. Recently, I read some of a book entitled Trading Places. Although the books audience is specifically married couples, the theme relates to other personal relationships as well as one sided public figure observances. In the quick mental process of envisioning Abraham Lincoln as another human being, we trade places in our heads in a way, sensing what his process was like and how, despite the specifics, we ourselves journey through life and character shaping circumstances. What separates us from Abe is decades not value or significance. If we could have Abe over for coffee, I bet he would tell us so.

    • Thanks Michelle! You are right and I appreciate the way you think about this through the lens of empathy. That’s a good direction. Thanks for sharing!

  2. lindy

    favorite so far. (I’m catching up)

    if you want to think further about this topic O’Donnell has some thoughts on this that are changing my life. i will not do justice to her ideas- but she touches on how we are actually harming people when we idealize them because it makes them an object rather than a human. and further that there is a reason that we need them to be something, as it is related to our self… and the narrative we are telling our self. which is what you are saying here. when i find myself putting someone on a pedestal now i sit with it and wonder what i am needing them to be, or what i am afraid of in my self. so much blossoms from these thoughts. local example/phenomena: seattle seahawks winning the superbowl

    love this post, thanks.

    • Thanks Lindy! Great insight. Thanks so much for chiming in. I like how you said: “when i find myself putting someone on a pedestal now i sit with it and wonder what i am needing them to be, or what i am afraid of in my self.” That’s a good direction to explore that I hadn’t thought of!

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