The buzz about the recent indiscretions of Tiger Woods has been inescapable, and as the year winds down, I believe it provides one of those “teachable moments” that we have heard so much about, not just for Tiger, but for the rest of us.
Tiger is a golfer. I remember watching him come up from the amateur ranks and explode onto the pro tour. It was clear from the beginning that he was something special as a golfer.
It does not follow that he is some sort of messiah, or that he is an expert in every other field of endeavor. If one needed advice on how to cure a slice, Tiger might be the man to consult (although his golf game is something from another world and may not translate well to the average duffer).
If, on the other hand, one needed advice on one’s investments, or how to repair an engine, or fix a leaky faucet, there is no reason to assume that Tiger would be any more useful than any other guy one might meet.
If we need advice on a specific type of activity, we go to someone who is an expert in that activity.
If my car needs a brake job, I don’t take it to my tax consultant. If I need advice about insurance, I don’t call a heating contractor. If my shower is acting up, I don’t call an electrician. These people might be wizards in their own field of expertise, but they may be clueless in other areas.
We understand this, and that is why most of us call the right person when we need help.
For some reason, though, some people can’t make this distinction when it comes to celebrities.
Tiger is a golfer, and that, as far as I can tell, is all he ever claimed to be. Sure, he did a neat little sideline endorsing cars, shoes, and other products, but he only got those gigs because of his ability as a golfer.
Some people, however, put him on a pedestal and believed he could do no wrong.
This kind of thing happens all the time, whether it is in sports, or music, or acting, or whatever the field might be, people turn celebrities into role models and practically, if not literally, worship them.
That is why it is so hard on these poor misguided souls when the object of their devotion turns out to be nothing but a normal flesh-and-blood man or woman who puts his (or her) britches on one leg at a time, and has all of the normal quirks that everyone else has.
These hero-worshipers always seem shocked when one of their idols tumbles off his pedestal and comes crashing to earth, as if such a thing has never happened before.
There also seems to be a special kind of indignation that comes along with this, as if their hero should have been above all that (whatever indiscretion was committed). They suggest that a person who has so much success, or money, or power should be satisfied with that, and should be immune to the temptations or failings of mortal man.
This is wishful thinking.
Celebrities and superstars are like everyone else, they just have bigger bank accounts. Some of them are decent and honorable people, and some are the most obnoxious and devious creatures imaginable. Most of them, I suspect, fall somewhere in between and have good points and bad points, just like the rest of us.
The fact that someone is good at golf, or basketball, or football, or happens to have a hit song on the radio or is starring in a movie does not mean that he is somehow on a higher moral or spiritual plane.
The fact that someone may have talent and more money than they could ever possibly spend does not make him a better person. One might suggest that in many cases, the opposite is true.
The same is true of power. There are more examples of politicians who have gone astray than one can shake a stick at. They work hard to get elected, and once they are in office, some use that power to their own advantage. Keeping a mistress on the side and using their position to extort favors or gifts are never part of their platform as a candidate, but that doesn’t mean these things don’t happen after the election.
My purpose here is not to excuse the celebrities for their behavior, but to suggest that the rest of us could make better choices when choosing role models.
It is fine to admire a professional athlete for his ability on the golf course, or the court, or the field. It is acceptable to appreciate a singer for her ability to rock the house, or an actress for her ability to nail a role in our favorite movie.
But as we prepare to begin a new year, we would do well to consider our role models more carefully.
If we are looking for some sort of moral compass, or someone to model our lives after, we would do better to look at our neighbors, teachers, or even members of our own family for our role models, rather than at celebrities.
Integrity and honesty come from inside, and cannot be purchased with cash or credit cards. Respectability is earned, and cannot be bought at any price.
Celebrities and sports stars are fine for entertainment, but when it comes to choosing role models, real people are a better choice. They are not without flaws and shortcomings, but it is much easier to separate the reality from the myth when you see someone as they are, rather than in some idealized fantasy.