We all have people we look up to. Friends, parents, neighbors, band members, fictional characters, people from the internet. Conscious or not, I’m fairly sure everyone has someone they admire and look up to.
But what happens when that person becomes problematic?
This sentence could punctuate my entire existence. In my early years of high school, I looked up to people who were liars and manipulators, even to myself, and in my mind, I excused their actions. In middle school, I looked up to a girl who ditched me without a second thought and a devout Christian who was very homophobic as well as not very accepting of anyone who wasn’t Christian, and again, in my mind, I excused their actions. In elementary school, I looked up to fictional fairy characters, 90’s and 00’s anime protagonists, and Winnie the Pooh. Which, I mean, that’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to “non-problematic.” Recently, in the Nerdfighter community, there have been people I looked up to that have seriously fucked up. (If you’re interested and don’t know about it already, Google can tell you more than I can. The names you’re looking for are Alex Day and Tom Milsom.) Tom, I am able to see their mistake, as well as the fact they have no apparent comment on said mistake, and go “…so you’re probably not the best person for me to look up to.” Alex has admitted his faults, is owning up to them, but that also doesn’t excuse what he’s done. But I’m old enough and smart enough to not simply excuse them in my own mind. So now I get to let my brain play tug-of-war over how I feel about him and his actions.
But I think, really, what makes this harder, is the fact that I looked up to them not on a human level, but more on… how should I phrase this… more with a level of detachment. Almost like an idol, but not quite. They were human, sure, but somehow they didn’t seem to be. They were better than your average joe. Above the average joe. And that’s where I – like a lot of other people – go wrong in my looking up to people.
In John Green’s “Paper Towns,” he shatters the idea of the manic pixie girl, states that that’s liking the idea of the person, not the person. “When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside.” At first, I kind of dismissed that idea. How could anyone see just “an idea of a person”? And in that, I kind of missed the entire point of the book. But I’m starting to get it now. When we see these people on a non-human level, when we either raise them up above us, we don’t see them. We see what they do, maybe. What they look like. What we want them to be. What we think they are. And I when I think about it… it’s not something I’d want done to me. Were someone to look up to me like that… I’m just a person. I’m just a human being, the same as everyone else, the same as anyone who might look up to me that way. To borrow a tired phrase, I put my pants on the same as everyone else; one leg at a time.
And this is information that I’m trying to process, something I’m trying to change about myself. With the current situation still playing push-and-pull in my head, it’s hard. But it’s a start. And I’m hoping this can help other people to start seeing the people they look up to as people, not symbols or great beings or anything of that sort. As humans. Not someone you’d want to scream about seeing, but someone you’d like to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with.