The Problem with Putting People on Pedestals

Originally published on Thrive Global.

Besides the obvious tongue twister, viewing others (or ourselves) as being on a pedestal is harmful, no matter how you slice it.

Even visualizing a physical pedestal illustrates what I’m getting at here. Imagine someone you deeply admire that you’d love to forge a connection with. Now imagine that instead of meeting and communicating with them on your level (which is their level, too — because we’re all human), you pick them up and place them on a pedestal so they’re towering over you. They never asked to be put there, but you felt like they deserved to be and took it upon yourself to make that decision for them.

Now you try to communicate all the things you love about them while you’re standing on the floor and they’re uncomfortably looming over you and it feels awkward and forced. You wonder why. Aren’t you just giving them the notoriety that they deserve? Isn’t it flattering to receive compliments? Shouldn’t they love you for making them feel so loved?

Well, yes and no. It’s important to give credit where credit is due and to express your love freely, but it’s the unspoken and unwarranted change in the power dynamic between the two of you that creates the issue here. By placing them on a pedestal you immediately created an inferior/superior relationship between the two of you.

They don’t feel like they can truly connect with you, because it’s clear that you’re not viewing yourself and them as being on the same playing field.

You’re not actually seeing them or hearing them — you’re just seeing and hearing your personal perceptions of them. You’ve unintentionally stripped them of their humanness and comfortability with being fully themselves, the imperfect parts and all (we ALL have ‘em), and that feels isolating.

Your intention was connection, and instead you created uncomfortable separation. This happens all the time in both real and virtual life and it’s part of the reason that comparisonitis is so rampant in the world right now (leading to all sorts of un-fun things like anxiety and depression).

When we choose to overlook people’s humanness, we stop seeing clearly — and when we aren’t seeing clearly, it’s easy to look at people from the outside and think of them as godlike. We create unrealistic perceptions and expectations of people we don’t even really know. It’s wild!

And as if creating separation instead of connection isn’t bad enough, seeing others as being above you is an absolute disaster for your own self-worth. It’s like unconsciously running out ahead of where you are on your life path and throwing around a bunch of banana peels, digging potholes, and putting out traffic cones.

Low self-worth is a great recipe for not getting what you desire out of life. It’ll rear its ugly head and create roadblocks every time you try to move out of your comfort zone, take a step forward, listen to your intuition, or do anything else that’s important for your own personal growth.

Not only is the habit of pedestal-placing bad for your self-worth, it’s also incredibly disempowering — when you’re standing on the floor gazing adoringly up at someone that you’ve placed above you, it’s easy to forget that they’ve had and still have their own set of struggles and challenges on their path. We can perceive their lives as being perfect and unattainable.

When we see someone who’s created a life that’s appealing to us, it’s important to use them as real, human inspiration (which is very different than idolization) — because when we see things from that viewpoint, we can get a much better idea of the whole picture, and realize how innately worthy we are of our own dreams. Personal empowerment, at its finest.

We need to create a safe space for people to be themselves, to stand tall in their authenticity, to form real connections, to mess up, to grow, to just BE without constantly projecting our own judgments and expectations onto them — and the only way we can do that is by leveling the playing field by reminding ourselves that we’re all just doing the best we can while we try to navigate this crazy, gnarly, beautiful human experience.

As Brené Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Long live real connection and deeply meaningful lives, my friends. Pedestals, be gone!

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