In July of 2010, the Kokomo Tribune carried an article about six famous Kokomo residents who were inducted into the “Hall of Legends” at the Kokomo Country Club.
The article enumerated:
“The list of honorees included ‘60 Minutes’ legend Steve Kroft, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Ashenfelter, inspiring artist Harris ‘Misch’ Kohn, author of the ‘Clifford, the Big Red Dog’ books, Normal Bridwell, Kent ‘Oz’ Nelson, CEO of UPS, and probably the most influential of them all, auto maker Elwood Haynes.”
Many other individuals hailing from the Kokomo area have made names for themselves. Yet, no matter how famous one becomes, he is every bit as human as if he were unknown. For some reason, we human beings want to believe that a few of us belong to another species. It is a myth we may be desperate to believe.
The death of Whitney Houston underscores how alike we are. The famous celebrity struggled with life, as did Michael Jackson. Many of us remember the death of other supposedly “immortal” musical greats, like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley.
Musicians, entertainers, great actors, Einstein-like intellects and notable athletes are merely talented and/or self-disciplined mortals, not all that different from the rest of us except in an area or two (or, in the case of someone like da Vinci, several). These famous celebrities may be the best of the best, but when we watch shows like “American Idol,” it appears that raw talent is widely distributed. Sometimes a fine shade of talent and knowing the right people makes the difference, sometimes not.
Consider what we “unknowns” all have in common with the “greats.” We all need air, water and nutrition. We all live, need other people, and we all die. I am of the persuasion that all humans are in the image of God and that we rarely tap our potential. Every person is complex and amazing in multiple ways. Fortunately, we commoners are often more successful when it comes to relationships, family and life in general. The celebrities should be jealous of us.
Yet why is it that we elevate the famous to such heights? Why do we have to remind ourselves that everyone – from the president of the United States to Hollywood’s greatest – is merely mortal?
The answer to this question may be that we do not know these people personally and well. According to PsyBlog, students in a controlled experiment were asked to choose whom they liked better – fellow students with whom they had shared classes repeatedly, or new students they barely knew. They chose the new students. The study concluded:
“As this study shows, on the vast majority of occasions the less we know about someone the more we are inclined to like them … ambiguity allows us to imagine that other people share our world-view, our personality traits or our sense of humor. Unfortunately as soon as we start to find out more about them, we’re likely to find out how different they are to ourselves and, as a result, to dislike them.”
This may explain why the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence – we are not all that familiar with that grass! Interestingly, even Jesus encountered the same phenomenon when people in his hometown rejected him while many in other towns were impressed by him. He said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matthew 13:57). So the problem is at least 2,000 years old!
One of the best kept secrets seems to be that famous people – anywhere from politicians to entertainers to famous ministers to great humanitarians – are not something other than human. Yes, some have great talents in one or more areas (usually matched by great weaknesses in other domains), but, when push comes to shove, we are made of the same stuff.
Whitney Houston’s death is the latest tragic reminder. Underneath it all – as great a singer as she was – she was 100 percent human. No more, no less.
• Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.