Our obsession with troubled celebrities strikes me as odd. We crave every detail of Britney’s quirks, Mel’s rant, Bonds’ doping, Lindsay’s meltdown, and Paris’ incarceration.
Why are we obsessed with celebrities? Do we take comfort in seeing famous people act even crazier than we do? Or do we worry that they are a barometer for our national well-being? Do we resent their prominence and take quiet pleasure in their suffering? Or do we grieve for our injured heroes?
Celebrity may be one of the biggest enemies to goodness. The first article of faith for celebrity is that we must be filthy rich and regularly in the news. That’s the good life.
The prominent irony is that the celebrities don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. The plain among us seem to have more peace and satisfaction than any of the stars. Which of us wants the life – and death – of Elvis? Or Marilyn Monroe? Or Kurt Cobain? Do we really believe that we could live the lives that they lived and somehow dodge the landmines of celebrity? What is the lure of celebrity?
I fear that celebrity is so attractive because we have failed to understand and to teach the riches of the simple life. What happened to appreciation of quiet, steady goodness? How did we lose simple love, joy, and peace as the measuring sticks of the good life?
Lives Well Lived
Nancy and I used to take our children and visit her grandparents regularly. So our children heard their great-grandpa tell about herding sheep. They saw the little carts he made for the widow ladies so they could haul their trash cans to curbside. They heard their grandpa recite the poems he wrote. They witnessed their grandma quietly care for family and neighbors. I hope our children today feel more attraction to the lives of Les and Stella than those of Paris and Kurt.
When our daughter Emily expressed concern about a shunned classmate in first grade, Nancy helped her make a plan to serve him. They made cookies and went to visit the boy at home. Emily played with the classmate while Nancy visited with his mother. The mother was touched by the thoughtfulness. I suspect that the boy continues to be blessed by the act of compassion. And Emily continues to touch lives.
On one occasion we invited a radiant couple in our community over to our home for dinner. We invited them to share with us and our children stories of their lives. They were too modest to tell about the many ways they had made our community a better place. But their kindness, humor, and warmth left a lasting impression on all of us.
Parents, grandparents, and neighbors can be local heroes as they quietly serve and love. They can be – and should be – the people from whom our children learn the vital lessons about goodness, service, and the good life. They can be local heroes.
Bringing the Famous Home
There is still more we can do to teach our children about real heroism. When our children were small we were reading Bible stories together every morning before breakfast. We told the stories in our own words and supported them with colorful illustrations. We read for several weeks about Moses and his leadership of the children of Israel. The people complained and grumbled. But Moses continued to invite the people toward the Promised Land.
One particular morning we read about Moses leaving his people never to be with them again in mortality. Then we dove into breakfast. In the middle of breakfast I turned to find that Andy was weeping. I was surprised. I asked, “Andy, what’s wrong”? He said, “Dad…” and I thought his little heart would break as he sobbed the words, “…I’m going to miss Moses!”
I’m still amazed by the lesson. We can bring any person who ever lived to our breakfast tables. We can be taught by King Benjamin. We can be enriched by Abraham Lincoln. We can be inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ. All are available. Each will come gladly. All we must do is prepare for them by filling ourselves with appreciation for them and telling their stories with heartfelt love.
They Learn what We Live
Of course there is another key to directing our children toward the good life. We can’t teach compassion with a sledge hammer. They will see goodness in our heroes through the lens of our own efforts to be good people. If we scream at them to shut up and learn from Moses, they will resent both us and Moses.
But how can we balance our children’s view of the celebrities? Should we try to dethrone celebrities from our children’s lives and dreams? Should we underscore the foibles and foolishness of the famous?
I don’t think so. We should show the same compassion and charity for Lindsay that we show for our neighbors whose lives are in turmoil. We should speak of them with charity. We should acknowledge their great strengths while hoping and praying that they can find the love, joy, and peace that come from living the good life. We might acknowledge that we have a real advantage. We can love, serve, and bless without being followed by the paparazzi.
So we teach our children to look to real heroes – folks who quietly serve, love, and bless. As children see such heroes in their own home, in their neighborhoods, and in their imaginations, they are drawn to the good life.
Celebrity is only an affliction that we hope to evade. The good life comes from quietly loving, growing, and serving.