Admire the Achievement not the Achiever

A few weeks back as I was talking to one of my college friends. He mentioned to me that he had visited our college the day before to attend the inaugural ceremony of an indoor stadium. Former Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar was the chief guest for the function. He had gone there with the hope of getting an autograph from and a photograph with Sachin. It seems that the organizers had arranged or rather hoped to have a breakout session with Sachin post the inaugural ceremony and had invited a lot of people including sponsors, executives from the companies that recruit from our college etc. for the inaugural ceremony.

However post inaugurating the stadium, Sachin left without taking part in the breakout session (Not sure whether Sachin was aware of the plan for a breakout session). A lot of people (including my friend) went back unhappy as they could not get to interact with and/or take a photograph with Sachin. I was wondering to myself as to why my friend and so many others like him would take the day off and travel long distances to get a glimpse of a person who has stopped playing cricket for more than two years now. Are they fans of the phenomenal cricketing skills of Sachin or just Sachin? If they admired the way Sachin played cricket, they would have been better off watching the recordings of many a blistering innings that Sachin had played in his long career than traveling to my alma mater.

If people had been inspired by the good qualities of Sachin (like focus, hard work and dedication to attaining mastery in one’s chosen field) and wanted to follow on his footsteps, they would have stayed focused on their work that day instead of going to the inaugural ceremony. I am confused as to whether people had chosen Sachin as role model to seek inspiration for attaining greatness in their own life or just as an entertainer. Why is that most of us decide to remain passive rather using our role models as inspirations in transforming our life?

When former World Chess Champion Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand was challenging reigning World Chess Champion Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen in November 2014, I had badly wanted Anand to win back the world crown. Anand hails from my hometown Chennai and I, like a lot of other Chennai folks was hoping that Anand will be able to avenge his defeat from the previous World Championship held in 2013. But Carlsen defended his title in style. During the course of a chat with a colleague I had mentioned how dejected I was because Anand had lost once again to Carlsen. My colleague mentioned that in the larger scheme of   things, having a new and young world champion (Carlsen is much younger to Anand) would be good for the Chess World and a lot of youngsters would be inspired to take up Chess at a more serious level. Now that I think about the episode, I feel that my colleague is right. The better of the two players won the Championship, so why should I be unhappy about it. If appreciating a good chess player was all that mattered to me shouldn’t I be happy irrespective of who won?

We all have had or continue to have heroes/ role models in our lives. Initially we would start admiring a particular person (e.g. Rafael Nadal) because of one particular skill or characteristic. However with time we would be interested in all sorts of activities of our hero; from the kind of dresses he wears to his last vacation, etc. Most people would go to the level of spending day in and day about getting to know each and every piece of information about their favorite star; they would even take a hell a lot of pride in doing so. They will also start mimicking their favorite star by having the very same bandana or hair style like their favorite star. Worse still they might even start buying the brands endorsed by their favorite star despite realizing the fact that he or she might not be an expert in that product field and might also have a vested interest in endorsing a brand. Yet people assume that they have a divine obligation to follow whatever their favorite star says and does.

People have role models or heroes because understanding or following abstract concepts is difficult. Once we use someone as an example for that concept then we can easily grasp it. Understanding skill, discipline and hard work might be difficult without quoting an example of person who displays all these in a particular field, e.g. Rafael Nadal’s skill, discipline and hard work in the Tennis World. Having a hero or role model is not bad in and of itself. The problem arises when you lose sight of the fact you started admiring Rafael Nadal for his skill (that he displays on the field) and the discipline and hard work (that he puts into his trainings off the field) and instead make him your fashion guru, investment guru and social etiquette guru, etc..

Hero Worship is one of the many maladies affecting modern day. Does following superficial aspects about our favorite sport star or film star really help us in becoming a better people? More importantly does this celebrity culture help the society at large? Blind hero worship has several downsides: celebrity brand extensions (beneficial for the celebrity not for his or her fans), political dynasties (beneficial for the politician and his family and definitely bad for the society), acts of vandalism and violence, people being misled into doing things or buying stuff which might not have done without endorsement from their heroes and last but not the least herd mentality.

Whenever we decide to elevate someone to the pedestal of our personal hero or role model, it is very important to ask these questions to ourselves:

Why qualities that person makes you admire him/ her?

It is always better to remember why we started liking a person in the first place. And we should not try and translate the admiration for a particular characteristic of a person to admiration for that person as a whole. For e.g. we need to question ourselves: “How much ever I like and respect Anthony Robbins, does it make sense for me to accept financial advice from him?

What do you do with that admiration?   

Most of us express our admiration for our heroes in all sorts of wrong ways or rather in ways that are not beneficial to us individually or to the society as a whole. The manifestation of our admiration can take several forms: from the simple following of our heroes fashion statements to emotional and illogical Milk Abhishekams for our hero’s cut-outs to the very dangerous forms like vandalism and acts of violence (e.g. an obsessive Steffi Graff fan stabbing Monica Seles). I remember a scene from one of my favorite Tamil movies, where the hero’s teacher advises him. The teacher asks the hero not to blindly mimic him but to use the admiration for the teacher’s musical skills as a catalyst to grow and bring to fore the unique skills within the hero.

A couple of years back I was watching the video of Suki Sivam giving a talk on leadership qualities in a school function. During the course of the talk, Mr. Sivam mentioned that he generally dislikes signing autographs. During the Q&A session one of the students asked him why he dislikes signing autographs and shouldn’t he oblige and sign the autographs for his fans/ admirers. Mr. Sivam mentioned that rather than wishing to get autographs from their heroes/ role models, the students should aspire/ aim to become someone who would sign autographs for others. Meaning rather than hunting for others autographs the students should spend their energies in becoming an achiever themselves.

Does our hero still display/ espouse the very same qualities for which we started admiring in the first place?

This question becomes important so that we are actually following a person with the qualities that are desirable to us. It helps to prevent us from making emotional and illogical decisions like continuing to support a tainted celebrity (e.g. Lance Armstrong) or support a political dynasty in a democracy.

  1. We would all do ourselves and this world a great favor if we realize these fact:Rather than having Sachin Tendulkar or Rafael Nadal or Leonardo Di Caprio or Warren Buffet as our hero, we should try to a be a better version of ourselves. The society will gain a lot if each individual is able to become a better version of himself or herself by a mere 10%.
  2. Never let our admiration for role model’s achievements translate into hero worship. While we continue to admire and seek inspiration from their achievements we should never admire them.
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