Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” We all strive to do better, but what we do when we don’t know better is often all that people remember. Because eyes are watching, fumbles and stumbles can define a life more loudly than success.
Celebrities’ words — dredged from places forgotten, seemingly invisible, or assumed uninteresting — come back as if recently spoken. They are watching not only what was done today, but what was done years ago. Empires tumble faster than you can eat a hummingbird cake, and before the most practiced spin control professionals can get on the case a life is altered, changed — a lifetime of work and credibility becomes a punchline.
Young performers, whose maturing lives are publicly displayed, make mistakes not new to generations of teens. We hold up the errors in judgment as DON’T DO THIS examples to youth who dream of fame while the famous squirm under magnified scrutiny. They are watching as a slightly post-adolescent transgression becomes news for all, and the life lesson of the examined, high-profile teen is harsher for the publicized magnification.
They are watching. Officials in visible positions use their power not only for societal advances, but for personal ones, too. Their indiscretions are amplified by a higher standard of behavior brought about simply because of their jobs. If an accountant has an affair, a spouse will be angry, a few neighbors surprised but normalcy continues. When the more well-known does exactly the same thing, a career can come to a standstill, then a plummet.
Most of these careers can be salvaged or new ones reborn from the debris. The flip side of negative publicity is that it’s possible for some to look past the mass campaign of ruin. Eventually the story dies down and the altered life resumes as the mob forgives something that had nothing to do with them in the first place. But it takes time for the tide to turn and, for a lot of people in the public eye, that time is spent on the wrong end of jokes and slander, deserved or not.
They are watching and saying, “That is the price of fame.”
“You are held to a different standard because you have the ear and eye of so many.”
“Willing or not, by design or accident, you are a role model. We expect perfection.”
When high-profile cases play out, they go big — websites, magazines and television channels that would never give time to the person as they were climbing up the ladder are suddenly very interested in the descent.
They are watching, and one slip-up, one public gaff, can discredit and ruin someone’s life work.
But the worst thing that can happen when someone reveals a character flaw or makes a mistake and must learn to do better has nothing to do with public visibility.
As parents we work hard to raise our kids with our values; to teach and nurture them to an adulthood like ours, only better.
They are watching.
When we choose our most hateful language to challenge a call in a sporting event.
When plans go wrong and we only find fault with others.
When we talk about people behind their backs in a way that we wouldn’t to their faces.
When we steal.
When we lie.
When we slander.
When we rage.
When we act in hate instead of love.
When we say and live by the creed, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
They are watching.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.