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Biographies of celebrities are often tales of emotional abuse. In school, I despaired that I could never be a famous author because I hadn’t suffered enough. I was only partially right. First comes a person of rare genius in music, art, literature, performance, invention, or whatever (I hoped to fulfill that requirement with sheer will) and then the users appear. The users feign love to gain control. They can be family or partners or self-declared friends. I wept when I learned the biography of Judy Garland—a young girl who was never thin enough or pretty enough or perky enough. Her huge soul-wrenching voice had doomed her. Like Marilyn Monroe, she fell prey to the vultures who fed her drugs and tore out her heart.
Later, as I watched BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY about Freddie Mercury and, most recently, ROCKETMAN about Elton John, I realized our society runs on ownership. We discover someone who can do and be something we can’t, and we seize the part we like as though there weren’t a person attached. The grander the talent, the greater the likelihood the person will be utterly decimated. Resilience research says only the true love of at least one consequential person can mitigate the sentence of despair. How much more difficult is it, then, for those whose love isn’t straight or widely understood to survive intact? How hopeless does the situation seem to be when there is no unconditional love in sight?
Sadly, the victim doesn’t have to be utterly extraordinary to be exploited. I’m mightily irritated when I hear people who never dared reach for their potential dissing those who achieved a level of expertise in science, humanitarian service, or even political acumen, mocking what they can’t comprehend. As I watched a recent TV documentary on George Washington, the contrast between the honor many who struggled to create this country held dear and the absence of integrity so many embrace as personally advantageous today is stark. Not that people were made of finer stuff back then. They weren’t. Benedict Arnold was focused on himself alone when he betrayed his fledgling country. He might enjoy a better cover-up now.
The truth is, we can take stock each day to see where we use helpful people around us, disregarding the toll on them. We can ask ourselves if we have been both empathetic to those with whom we interact and entirely transparent about our motives. Perhaps the operational word is respect. We give respect as we require it back onto ourselves. Like the film version of Elton John, we hug the child we will always be.