I happened to catch a little bit of a Dateline show aired tonight about young teens who burglarized the homes of young Hollywood celebrities. The robbers wanted to wear their clothes, shoes, jewelry and carry their bags. I lived in Los Angeles for 30 years, so I know the aura of celebrity that surrounds it. Hardly anyone can resist telling the story about who stood behind us in line at a coffee shop or sat next to us at a restaurant. It is a strange and irresistible fascination.
I thought of these kids going into the homes of the objects of their fascination to try to get for themselves some reflected glory by now wearing what was taken from there. These kids are fascinated with celebrity, but aren’t we all fascinated with something? In the end is this so different from people who go to Rome, or Egypt or Greece or Jerusalem and bring something back? Breaking and entering is obviously a crime, but maybe a story like this could cause us to stop and think about what is reflected back to the culture by it, to ask how we helped create the problem for these kids, rather than asking them to bear the full brunt of it.
I am thinking of the oft-quoted words of Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech, “Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” I believe that in general we are a culture in fear of inadequacy, imagining that someone else besides ourself might be adequate. We are raised to idealize religious, , artistic, philosophical, historical and political heroes as though they carry something we do not.
I witnessed one of my own heroes, Buckminster Fuller many times in a situation in which he sat with a room full of adoring people ready to hang on his every word. I believe in each case he would begin by saying something like: “You imagine that I have a skill, intelligence or aptitude beyond yours but I assure you that I am a very average human being. Every single one of you can achieve what I have achieved or greater by working to do so.” He was so uncomfortable with people idealizing him, not because of a humility but because it was the absolute opposite of, and destructive to, his message.
What if we listened to our toddlers and first-graders as if they were wise and have something to teach us? What if we stopped projecting wisdom and greatness outside of ourselves and started recognizing inherent value in absolutely every single human? We might teach the next generation to explore and bring out the gifts in their own natures rather than imagine that modeling themselves after someone else will make them valuable and worthy. We are guilty by association with these poor Hollywood thieves whenever we ignore our own unique value and try to wear the garment of any learned idea about who we should be.