Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Of Tin Gods: The Drive for a Billion or an Autograph

Good morning, Happy Souls!

People often ask me to tell them more about what it's like to be a dream concierge. While doing that the other night, the person I was talking to made an interesting comment about our billionaire- and celebrity-obsessed cultures.

This gentleman noted that primitive people saw gods all around them . . . in the very trees and rocks that made up their world. Since then, religions have focused on one God and have developed a complex sense of what it means to be human.

But in the last 50 years, religion has fallen away from the lives of many people . . . and more and more people live their lives without any religious focus or content. For instance, I ran into a 19 year-old the other day who said she had never seen a Bible. As a believer, I feel sad for these people and hope they will discover God.

People seek meaning for their lives. They also seek out significance and connection. The gentleman suggested that for someone who didn't have religion in their lives that billionaires and celebrities play the role that deities played for primitive people.

Having thought about what he said, here's what I think he was getting at.

People who have more of something we think we like (money, appearance, popularity, thinness, athletic skill or whatever) help provide meaning. Some have these greater gifts . . . and we seek a pattern that explains those greater gifts. In doing so, we get a sense of the order of the world around us. When we find order, we are more comfortable. In many cases, we feel we gain by following the "rules" of that orderliness. We save, have plastic surgery, learn how to influence people, go on diets, learn to hold our heads still or sleep with a beauty mask on. That gives us confidence.

In chasing the dreams of having these attributes, we seek significance. We are or can become the anointed, the elect, one of the special ones. The gods have smiled on us, as it were.

At the same time, the more we are different from everyone else, the more we lack connection. That makes us feel lonely.

How do billionaires and celebrities help us? They make people who have special qualities seem more like us. And that makes us feel more like them, as well. For instance, when we spend time with celebrities, any time or attention they pay us reassures us that we are both special and connected. Then, whenever we see that person on television or in person again, we are reminded that the person has "blessed" us by paying attention to us (say, by speaking to us . . . giving us a hug . . . or signing an autograph).

What's really going on? We are in effect raising billionaires and celebrities into the equivalent of the primitive person's deities. In the process, we fill deep psychological needs that are not being satisfied by our religions, our families and our friends. We feel comfortable rather than vulnerable.

In making that comment, I'm reminded of the airplane religions that were discovered in New Guinea after World War II. Some primitive people had never seen airplanes before then. Thinking that the airplanes were some new kind of being, some tribes began making little shrines to them and placing tribute before the shrines. In the same way, many tribes in the Americas viewed the first visitors from Europe as being gods . . . until the gods began acting like spoiled brats and began killing them.

The lesson: Enjoy being with celebrities . . . or enjoy becoming a celebrity . . . but don't treat them like tin gods. Find worthy people to emulate and become more like them. If you remove the unthinking part from your attraction to celebrities, this can be a positive, educational aspect of your life. On the other hand, if you simply obsess, you should realize that you have more fundamental needs for love, appreciation and religion that you are not meeting in traditional ways. When that happens, take time to reestablish all of your life on a sounder footing. When you do, you can have a richer life than the billionaire who can never get enough or the celebrity who can never be successful enough to feel great.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell


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