HERO TO ZERO: A Different Sort of Conflict

People enjoying a concert with their hero with one person making a heart with her hands.

HERO TO ZERO: A Different Sort of Conflict

The betrayal we feel when one of our heroes disappoints us is actually a sort of conflict. Our newsfeeds are chock full of headlines that either wholly praise or completely condemn the most famous, most revered entertainers, sports figures, and politicians (and others). When we find out new, disappointing information, they suddenly go from hero to zero. This causes a sort of conflict inside of us. How do we make sense of this new, dastardly information?

Our obsessions with our heroes are fun, a kind of entertainment, like binge-watching The Walking Dead or Friends. Our fascinations with stars’ lives of glamour and wealth are exiting, like following a royal wedding. But when a headline appears of a hero’s wrongdoing, have you noticed how betrayed you feel?

When you find out that your favorite senator who has voted no on women’s rights to abortion has also paid for his mistress’ abortion: He is a hypocrite and a liar. He is a zero. When you find out that your favorite athlete used performance-enhancing drugs: This is illegal and unsportsmanlike. S/he is a zero. When your trusted newscaster is outed for sexual harassment: He has misrepresented himself. He is a zero.

Let’s be honest here: It feels personal. We feel personally betrayed that we voted for or followed or cheered on someone who is so deeply flawed. We got hoodwinked. And let’s be clear, I am not espousing that you should ignore the new, horrific news. I am saying, I believe we can appreciate AND vehemently dislike different behaviors of the same person. 

Through the transformative theory of mediation, we know that when someone is upset, when they are in conflict, they tend to be weaker and more self-absorbed than their normal self. This is the universal experience of conflict. http://www.transformativemediation.org When we are surprised and disappointed by someone’s bad behavior, we are similarly in conflict with our own notion of who they are. He lied, she cheated, he didn’t follow through, she was late – there are so many opportunities to feel bad about someone’s behavior. We now react in a way that turns the person’s bad behavior into their whole being, which is all-or-nothing thinking.

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You can change your thought process  to help you out of the hero-to-zero, all-or-nothing mindset that feels so upsetting. Following are four steps that will guide you through the process:

Step #1: Realize that it’s not personal. No matter what they did, how long they hid it, how much of hypocrite they are, you should understand that they didn’t really do anything to you. To illustrate this point, following is an excerpt from The Tell Me Gesture: How & Why to Welcome Conflict (Rowles, June 2018), which begins with a Buddhist parable:

A farmer was covered with sweat as he paddled his boat up the river. He was going upstream to deliver his produce to the village, trying to make the round trip before dark. As he looked ahead he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. He rowed frantically to get out of the way but it didn’t seem to help. He shouted, “Change direction! You are going to hit me!” but to no avail. The vessel hit his boat with a violent thud. He cried out, “You idiot! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river?” As he glared into the boat, seeking out the individual responsible for the accident, he realized no one was there. He had been screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was floating downstream with the current.

The moral of this story is: It is always an empty boat. The parent who never acknowledged you, the driver who suddenly cut you off, the boss who berated you – they are all empty boats. They were acting based on their own unexamined or unresolved psychological suffering, their triggers. It had nothing to do with you.         https://mediationunlimited.net/editorial-summary/

The same is true for our hero crushes. It is their damage, their addiction, or their personality disorder that allowed them to behave badly and disappoint you. They did not set out to harm you, and it has nothing to do with you.

Step #2: Make a list of the reasons you admired this person. Before you found out about your hero’s bad behavior, what did you appreciate about them? What good had they done in their field or in charitable ways? What amazing talents do they possess?

For example, consider Charlie Rose, famed television journalist and (former) talk show host, who was a favorite to many, receiving great accolades and honors for his interviews with the world’s political leaders and celebrities. When he was accused of sexual harassment in 2017 by eight women, he went from hero to zero. He was fired immediately, issued an apology (of sorts), and went away. Now it has become taboo to like him or appreciate him. While, personally, I never much liked his work, I think that if you did, you could certainly still like it! Make a list of all the interviews you loved, of how it felt to experience his style of interviewing, of his apparent intellect, etc. Truthfully, he is still all those things, and we can still appreciate him for those things.  [For more info: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/what-happened-charlie-rose-we-asked-his-friends-associates-1101333]

People are whole people and we can welcome them as complex individuals. While first we attribute only the good behaviors to these celebrity heroes, when we find out about a horrible characteristic, suddenly we attribute only dislikable behaviors. This is all-or-nothing thinking, where people are either good or bad, instead of good and bad.

Step #3: Think to yourself, Now I know more. Now that you have a list in hand of the reasons to appreciate someone, and can add the bad behavior to your list of admirable behaviors, and you can think to yourself, Now I know more. In my mind, this is one list, not a two-column comparison.

Now I know more is the essence of restraining yourself from all-or-nothing thinking and welcoming the whole person. You can practice it in your daily life, when you find out something new and disappointing about anyone or anything. It is a way of practicing nonjudgment and will help you feel less upset and less stressed when you are confronted with disappointment.

Going back to the transformative mediation theory, when you think to yourself, Now I know more, you are helping yourself out of your conflict. You were feeling relatively weak and relatively self-absorbed, and now, as you change your thinking, you are becoming stronger and are able to do this perspective-taking. Someone moves from hero (all good) to zero (all bad) to human being (complex individual).

Step #4: Own your own part. (Seriously? Yep.) You do have a part in it. Ask yourself, What assumptions did I make that allowed me to think that [enter your favorite celebrity here] didn’t have a dark side. What need do I have to see someone as a role model, an angel, or a hero? Acknowledging that you have a part in the disappointment is a good practice, whether someone is a celebrity or an everyday person in your life.

“Admitting your own contribution sounds painful, but is surprisingly liberating. When we feel victimized by others, we overlook the control we do have. When we are in the middle of conflict, we often feel victimized by the other person, which gives way to our own triggered behaviors.” (The Tell Me More Gesture: How & Why to Welcome Conflict, Rowles, June 2018)

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Valuing a person as a whole, complex person may be difficult work, but it helps to reduce the feelings of betrayal that can be triggering. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care or that the negative behaviors shouldn’t bother us. It means that this is just part of the picture and that we can make decisions on how we feel and what to do based on a balanced view. Perhaps we can still enjoy aspects of a person even though they do things that we disapprove of.

Everyone has a dark side and when we welcome people, even famous people, to be their true selves, we achieve deeper, more meaningful relationships. Our heroes are human and while we can detest some of their behaviors, we can still appreciate the things we loved about them previous to this knowledge – perhaps we can appreciate them even more, once we understand them more. Do you think this sounds feasible?