The Real Truth about Those Great People You Admire!

truth or lieI would like to start this blog by tearing down the character of such admired and respected people as: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela and any other greatly honored and admired individuals you can think of. This is the way to the truth. We must always have the truth even if it destroys the credibility and memories of those we choose to expose. Did I say expose? Yes, the truth can help us expose these great figures of history whose lives did not quite live up to their memories. The problem is that great people have great visions and great ideas. The reality is that none of them have ever or will ever live up fully to the measure of their dreams. Perhaps that is why we honor and remember them. If that is the case, what is the point in the truth? For instance:  (Listen to Bonnie Tyler’s: “I need a Hero”)

Mahatma Gandhi: The TRUTH

He made many racist remarks about Blacks in South Africa and he had a kinky if unconventional sex life.

John F. Kennedy: The TRUTH

He slept around perhaps more than any other president in history, which is saying something.

Martin Luther King: The TRUTH

Reverend King also slept around and may have plagiarized some parts of his writings by not giving adequate credit where he should have.

Thomas Jefferson: The TRUTH

TJ never freed his slaves and had several children by one of his slaves named Sally Hemings. TJ was also somewhat of an Indian hater.

Abraham Lincoln: The TRUTH

Honest Abe often put the good of saving the Union ahead of the interests of Black Americans during the course of his presidency.

Nelson Mandela: The TRUTH

Nelson had at some points in his career associated with communist leaders and had sometimes taken an anti-western political stance which has angered some right-wing American politicians.

SNOWDEN_truthseeker2_by_robertgent-d6akkfkTo the above list of admired and honored individuals, I could easily add another fifty or so “great” people who I could then proceed to find fault with. In fact, I could add Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses and Abraham and find plenty of fault with them as well. And where would this get us? To the truth? Only if you think that the truth is some type of serum where you mix good and bad ingredients together and come out with a potion that will cure all the evil in the world. Unfortunately, life does not work that way. Those who want their heroes or heroines with no blemishes may need some type of fairy tale to believe in. “All heroes are strong, brave, courageous and bold. All heroines are compassionate, beautiful and sensitive.” Only in your dreams!

“We have all been expelled from the Garden, but the ones who suffer most in exile are those who are still permitted to dream of perfection.”Stanley Kunitz

kill-messengerThere are several “rules” of human behavior that throughout history have continued to be obvious and affirmed. One of these rules is that we often kill the messenger because we do not like the message. This fact has been noted and observed many times. Often it has been reflected by a reality wherein a messenger was literally executed because the King or ruler did not like hearing the bad news. “Woe to the bearer of bad tidings.” However, the opposite of this “rule” is another example of deviant human behavior which is even more insidious in its consequences and I would argue is even more frequently observed. Thus, we even more often kill the message because we do not like the messenger. We look at the person telling us something and if we or others can find some way to disparage their character, we discard their advice. We all do this.

“There are two kinds of perfect: The one you can never achieve, and the other, by just being yourself.” Lauren King

8b4474c916dc5fbe98579d51af32ffb9.960x720x1For instance, I am sitting at a bar having a drink. An older somewhat disheveled man sitting next to me starts a conversation with me. In a few moments, he is telling me his life story. It is a story of hard knocks, failures and tragedies. I immediately write the guy off as a loser. His looks, dress and manners all suggest that he never accomplished much. He is far from a success. At the point at which I have now disparaged his character, nothing he tells me will be taken in as any kind of useful advice, because I have labeled him a “loser.” I have let my judgement of his appearance and looks destroy any meaning I could get from the stories he has to tell me about the mistakes he has made in his life. Because he is a “loser”, I don’t have to listen to him. If he had looked and acted like a “winner,” I may have paid more attention to his advice. This labeling and categorizing of humans is typical behavior. We all do this. Kill the message because we don’t like the messenger.

How often I have heard many of the great people in history written off by some pundit or critic because of some behavior or some of their ideas that have echoed down through the past. When were those thoughts spoken? Did the speaker change their mind later in life? What was the historical context in which the ideas originated? How was such behavior viewed 100 or even 1000 years ago? Does anyone really know the answers to such questions?   The pundits and critics do not seem to care. Abraham Lincoln said many things about slavery before he became president and subsequently changed his position on it before he was assassinated. Do we judge Lincoln by his early thoughts on slavery or his later thoughts?

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.” — 1858, Fourth Lincoln debate with Steven Douglas

Have-No-FearI wonder why we need perfection in others while decrying the possibility in ourselves. Not a one of us would or could be perfect and certainly none of us want to be held to such a standard. Nevertheless, we go through life finding fault with others and holding others to unattainable standards. Good people, even great people, are frequently subjected to this tar and feathering. I have often said that leaders must be held to a higher standard. I stand by this assertion. However, this does not mean that I believe they should be judged by some ideal measure of human morality and ethics. Nor does this mean, they can repeatedly use lapses in behavior as an excuse for immoral or unethical behavior. I can think of several politicians who seem to think this is the case.

“It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.”April 11, 1865: Lincoln’s Last Public Address (Upon hearing this John Wilkes Booth declared that it will be Lincoln’s last speech.)

Every one of us will (whether we like it or not) be held to some group or social standard. It is the role of individual responsibility and discipline to help guide us towards the correct fulfillment of these standards. Society and family bestows the standards on us but we are the ones who must for most of all lives try to live up to these goals. When we fail, we can be forgiven if our transgressions are not too great.  Ironically, television and the media thrives on such human failings.

“People are good or half good or a quarter good, and it changes all the time- but even on the best day nobody’s perfect.”Colum McCann

Television and the mass media love failures.   It is more fun to see someone trip and fall then to simply watch then walk down the street. It is more fun to see a car crash during a race then to simply watch the cars go round and round. Even more pervasively, we seem to love crime, serial killers, adulterers and other forms of deviance. The mass media know this and they use it every chance they get to sell us stuff.

“I like to watch the news, because I don’t like people very much and when you watch the news … if you ever had an idea that people were really terrible, you could watch the news and know that you’re right.”Frank Zappa

money_gettingYou see, there is another problem here. What if the message is wrong or even a lie? What if the message does not contain the truth about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What if the message is designed to ridicule or denigrate someone else?   Madison Avenue and Josef Goebbels found the solution to this problem many years ago. If you want to tell a big lie, you must dress the messenger up in fancy credentials. If we trust the messenger, he or she can be used to sell us anything. The con man must look rich and successful or how could anyone be conned. No one will buy the Brooklyn Bridge from a bum. The rule is to take the messenger and make him or her seem unblemished. They must appear admirable, exemplary, magnificent, brilliant and totally trustworthy.  They have to be 100 percent bona fide certified grade A “Winners.” People who are sports heroes, war heroes, movie stars, glamorous singers and rich people can be used to make the message look like the truth.

“We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. ”Edward R. Murrow

Hundreds of books and thousands of talks are sold each day by “winners” who tell us their stories after they have made us feel how smart and wonderful they are. Celebrity shows are full of “winners” who are portrayed as almost superhuman and worthy of admiration. We are led to believe that only an idiot would doubt the experts on the Oprah Winfrey Show or the advice given by Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or any of the other thousand talking heads on TV. In truth, some of their advice is good. But is it good because of their impeccable credentials? The truth is that good advice does not just belong to the experts. In fact, most of these talking winners have lives that none of us would want to live. Very few of our idols live up to the image they want to convey.

“Living up to an image that you have of yourself or that other people have of you is inauthentic living.” ― Eckhart Tolle

sisyphus_largeSo what is the bottom line about heroes and heroines?   There are two lessons to be learned. First, no one is perfect. Do not judge others by simple criteria that allows for no imperfections.   Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.   Thomas Jefferson had a slave who he repeatedly had sex with. Thomas Jefferson also authored the Declaration of Independence, perhaps one of the greatest documents that have been written. Martin Luther King cheated on his wife. Nevertheless, MLK marched and put his neck on the line for civil rights and ultimately lost his life over his convictions to speak out for social justice. Perhaps some of you will find it evil that neither the Reverend Martin Luther King nor Thomas Jefferson were perfect. Would that you could have been in either man’s place to see how much fortitude and morality you would have had in their shoes. Don’t kill the message because the messenger was not perfect.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”   Robert F. Kennedy

Second, beware of people who use their credentials to see you something. Maybe, you will get a good deal. Maybe, you will find a pearl in the oyster. Maybe, the Lost Gold Mine map will lead you to a heap of buried treasure. Maybe, the new improved toothpaste will forever protect your teeth from cavities. Maybe the new signature golf club will improve your game. I would not bet on any of the former. If you want to spend your money, beware those people selling you their credibility along with the products or services you plan to buy. In this case, perfection and glamour should be suspect. Don’t believe the message because you love the messenger.

Time for Questions:

Who do you believe? Why? Who are your heroes and heroines? Are they perfect? What are their faults? What if you found that your heroes and heroines were not perfect? How would this change your attitudes towards them?

Life is just beginning.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greg Gorman
    Apr 27, 2015 @ 15:25:01

    I believe all people are human and thus are subject to imperfect behavior vis a vis the idealist standards offered by society
    I have no perfect heros only people who have made life betterbecause of their efforts.
    The only perfect hero is the hero under-reported.
    For someone to lose hero status they would have to betray the principles that gave them the hero status initially
    Good blog John. I can’t help but think of the many singularities of behavior that were exaggerated by the media in order to convince people that this one incident defined the character of that person. Criminal!
    I’ll try to respond to more of your blogs.



  2. poetry and chocolate and books
    Apr 29, 2015 @ 17:20:18

    I loved this article. Not many people dare to say these things out loud. But then again, it also proves the point that nobody is perfect. One can be perfect about somethings but may have equally ugly flaws.
    This article reminded of this recent book I read by Khushwant Singh “Why I supported the emergency”. He is an Indian author who talks about menacing behavioral mannerism of some very influential personalities.



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