“Don’t meet your heroes” is a piece of conventional wisdom. “They will surely disappoint you”.
I have had the good fortune to meet a couple of my personal heroes, and I must disagree. They were generally pleasant enough, and even engaged and generous. They treated me with respect and politeness. However, there is a proviso.
I met these people as a member of the media. As such, I was of use to these people as a marketing and branding opportunity. Our relationship was something close to a partnership. Famous people are often indebted to the media for making them famous, which explains some of the respect and politeness.
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I have also had occasion to bump into those same famous people in other circumstances, away from my work. Here, I have had more mixed results.
Sometimes the person will literally not recognise you. At others, share a perfunctory greeting. And then of course, there’s the brief glance that says, “This person is of no utility to me right now.”
Then there is the other one, where you meet your literal hero as a fan. Here, there is a different dynamic in play. One person is having the greatest moment of their life, and the other person is slightly bored, polite at best. It’s about a material imbalance of enthusiasm. One person is significantly more excited to meet the other.
This transcends manners. The famous person can do their darnedest to be civil and understanding, but they are not experiencing the visceral rush of endorphins that come from physically meeting someone who has made a massive impact on your life.
On the other side of the coin, the superstar did not know you existed until five minutes ago. And hence their boredom.
However, there is the rare breed of famous person who is interested in everyday people. Perhaps this is detectable in people who are themselves storytellers.
I once encountered this approach with a personal hero of mine named Chuck D, leader of the rap group Public Enemy.
To this day, I have no idea how PE found themselves in Johannesburg, but there they were, and I was blessed enough to interview Mista Chuck, as he is known. We had an hour-long conversation, during which he seemed sincerely keen to learn more about the situation in our country.
I was thrilled when he dropped some of the simple buzzwords I’d shared with him at that evening’s concert at the Alexander Theatre. But I guess that is his stock in trade – telling stories – and he gets those stories by being engaged with other people.
Famous people are different to us, but we share bloodlines. We share a heritage, and we are prone to similar enthusiasm differentials in our daily dealings with our fellow human beings – even though none of us are famous.
Consider the lack of interest we sometimes display towards people at the robots. How we might sometimes ignore the service staff who risk their lives to clean the spaces we occupy. The cursory attention we pay colleagues who might be our subordinates.
How we dismiss those with more romantic interest in us than we have in them…
Famous people may be different, but they are us. And they are prone to a strange loneliness, to being universally admired, but strangely alienated and depressed. Alone amongst the millions. Perhaps this comes from the slow death of their fascination with others.
When we find ourselves more interesting than other people, then we start to lose some of that fuel that powers us. The reciprocal human connection, which is love.
I’ve been trying to remember this lately, trying not to be too much with myself. To appreciate the beauty and magic of other people. Because when we appreciate others, we retain our enthusiasm for life.