I think we admire people because they seem to be able to do something that we don’t believe we can do. Some of the time that is true – they really can do something we are not capable of doing. Some of the time it’s not that we aren’t capable, it’s that we don’t want to put the time and effort into learning or practicing or sticking to the task until we excel at it. I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s an observation. Some of us admire athletes, actors, musicians, and artists of all kinds. We admire problem solvers. We admire leaders. We admire people who have made a lot of money. We admire people who help other people.
I admire a lot of those people too, but the people I truly admire are those who always seem to be kind. I admire people about whom it is said, “She never said a bad word about anyone in her life” or “He never loses his temper” or “They always remain positive.” I admire them because I value those qualities, but none of those statements can be made about me. I try to refrain from saying bad words about people. I try to stay calm and choose how I will act rather then immediately react in anger. I try to remain positive as much as possible. But there are days when I fail and those days occur far more often than I would like.
The major problem with admiring people for never saying a bad word, or never losing their temper, or always remaining positive is the absolute. Never and always are an impossible standard for most people to keep up. I would say for anyone to keep up, but there is still a part of me that wants to believe it is possible to always or never. This is what my therapist used to get on me about: all or nothing thinking. Of course no one is perfect, but…
That’s called a Cognitive Distortion. It’s just one of them. There are other CDs like over-generalization, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions, mind reading, the Fortune Teller Error (You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact,) magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization, emotional reasoning, “should” statements, labeling and mislabeling, and personalization.
Golly, we human beings find a lot of ways to distort our view of life. We all do it to some extent. I believe I have, at one time or another, participated in every one of these cognitive distortions. The problem comes when the distortions becomes so great that we have trouble seeing other people’s points of view or even seeing reality itself. It can be dangerous stuff and has taken a lot of practice for me to stop myself when I realize I am doing it. That’s assuming I do eventually realize I am doing it.
All of that to say that there is nothing wrong with admiring someone for their talents or temperament or actions. The problem comes when we expect them to be who we think they are, or who we think they “should” be, or maybe who they would like us to think they are, rather than who they really are.
We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all make bad choices. We all do the very thing we don’t want to do and don’t do the thing we would like to do – Paul certainly wasn’t alone in that, not then or now. Nobody is always good or never bad, not even a little bit.
Admiring someone for always being good or never being bad isn’t realistic. Even when we know that they aren’t completely good or completely bad, we tend to focus just on the parts that appeal to us. That is also known as idolizing.
So here’s the thing: to idolize someone (or something) is to worship someone (or something.) According to God, worship is reserved just for God. Worshiping people or institutions or philosophies is both dangerous and against God’s law.
Today’s reading is Psalm 106: 19-23. They made a big old golden cow and worshiped it. That did not make God happy, especially since God had just specifically told them not to that. It was a “thou shalt not”.
So today I am pondering: do we work to see people as they really are? When we set people up to be better than they are, that is setting them up for failure. When we expect people to be better than those around them, they don’t have a chance. Why do we refuse to see people as they are?
I think one reason is that when people fall from that pedestal, not of perfection but of “better than”, it makes it possible for us to dismiss them. When we set the bar higher for someone else than we do for ourselves and they can’t get that high, we find it easier not to listen to what they have to say because they aren’t “good enough”. I’m not saying the bar for behavior shouldn’t be set high. I am saying that it should it be in the same place for all of us.