I’ve been thinking about our heroes, what we expect of them, and how we turn on them. Two things have happened in the last few days to bring this up. The first of these was, unsurprisingly, Elevatorgate. The second was some conversations I’ve had with a friend* about Kate Bornstein- someone who I think is lovely, and who my friend has serious criticisms of and doesn’t like because of this.
I’m thinking of what we ask of the people we admire from a distance. The people who we have heard of, who we know as activists, whose work we read and are inspired by. The people we look to as spokespeople.
I’m thinking about how quickly we reject them.
Here’s the thing. Dawkins, in my opinion, has behaved abominably in relation to ElevatorGate. However, any of his behaviour from now on can’t negate his past work. A Devil’s Chaplain will always be dog-eared holiday nights, finally making sense of my lack of belief. The Ancestor’s Tale will always be the book I read oh-so-carefully, in whose detail and scale I found such profound, mindboggling awe.
I think that we reject people so strongly, not in spite of having admired them, but because we did. Because it’s hard to reconcile the fact that inspiration and ignorance can come from the same person. Because it’s hard, I think, to accept that a person who taught you so much can be so clueless. It makes us question ourselves, question everything we learned from that person in the first place. Question the times we admired them, the times we defended them.
And that’s hard. That’s hard work. It means learning to see these people as our equals. Learning to look at everyone- even our heroes- critically. Learning to accept that they’re just people who are as flawed as ourselves, who mess up as much as we do.
It’s a lot easier to just reject them wholesale.
I’m not recommending that we leave Dawkins (or whoever) off. The guy messed up, and needs to deal with what that means and what it implies. Messing up has consequences. And it should.
I do think, however, that we should be conscious of how we react when people we admire do godawful, ignorant things. And before we reject them wholesale, think about whether we’re rejecting them because of the ignorant thing they did, or because of the inspiring things before that.
*If you’re reading this, I didn’t name you because, hello, privacy. I’ll pop your name in if you like, though.