On Admiration

I heard over the news, on this southern tip of Africa, that Kylie Jenner had become the world’s youngest teenage billionaire. And it’s all done with make-up. I thought how appropriate it was that her cosmetic business and celebrity status should make her a star for the age. It really is a sign of the times that she and her family should be so ‘successful’. I’m not detracting from her business acumen and the penchant for publicity that her family displays, or the number of ‘likes’ that she scores on social media, but I think that the whole scene needs interrogation.

It reminds me of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in which Daisy, one of the shallowest characters ever created, said that her ambition for her daughter was that she should grow up to be ‘a beautiful little fool’. Except that Kylie is nobody’s fool, but a product of this century, nearly a hundred years later. 

We need to ask ourselves: ‘What do we find admirable?’

Whatever happened to humility, the love of use, and attributing all the good things of life to the Lord? They do exist, but finding them in popular culture is becoming exceedingly rare. Strutting self assertion has taken centre stage.

I heroine-worshipped the Prime Minister of Myanmar for some time. She won the Nobel Peace prize, so I wasn’t the only one. She wore exquisite fresh flowers in her hair to offset her singular beauty and seemed the epitome of grace and poise. Myanmar was opening up to democracy and the benefits of a human rights culture. That was then – she was a worthy heroine for our times. It all changed when the Rohingyas Muslim minority left the country in waves of human misery and she did not curb the excesses of Buddhist populism. Nor has she since.

In our own country, South Africa, Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the fabled Nelson, became a national heroine. She endured painful years of harassment and solitary confinement at the hands of Apartheid thugs to keep the name of her husband alive while he was in jail. She became political royalty in the first post-Apartheid government, despite a messy divorce and some highly questionable behaviour over the years. After she died she was elevated to ‘Ma Winnie’, acclaimed as a heroine and practically a saint by the populace at large. Any mention of her less sublime actions would label her doubters as ‘traitors’, unfit for the human race. It was astonishing. Her funeral was notable for its bile and hate speech with her husband being labelled as a ‘sell-out’ by the most extreme of her devotees. It was actually a disgrace.

This all leads me to conclude that as human beings we have a deep-seated instinct to worship at a shrine.  However, we have to be very careful which shrine we choose.

About Verna Brown

Verna Brown was born in the north of Scotland in 1942 and followed the sun with her parents and grandmother to Durban, South Africa in 1948. She joined the New Church at 20, and was married to Kenneth Brown in 1964 in the Musgrave Road Church. They have 4 married children and 8 grandchildren. Verna has a DLitt et Phil degree, as well as a further degree in education. She has taught and lectured, and loves her lively Sunday School class at Buccleuch in Gauteng (Transvaal) as well as the classes she offers in her own home for U3A (the University of the Third Age: i.e. retirees). She looks forward to contributing to New Christian Woman as a mature (?) member. Greetings to you all.

3 thoughts on “On Admiration

  1. Well said, Verna. I think you’re right, that we need to choose our ‘shrine’ very carefully. And we need guidance before making our choice, too; I guess the Lord’s guidance is the most reliable. The two mature women you used as examples shifted radically in their behaviours and I’ve had to rethink my previous admiration for them; disappointment is the feeling I have now. “What do we find admirable?” – a good prompt for my own reflections about people and issues. Thank you for articulating the necessity of being willing to question things.

  2. A refreshing piece and very thought provoking. In a culture of ‘social media’ we are drawn to admire and compare and aspire to false idols. I loved the reminder to think about “what do we find admirable?”, particularly in bringing up children in this day and age. Growing up in Scotland I had a simple, uncomplicated by technology, childhood; playing outdoors with no idea who most of the ‘famous’ people or pop stars of the day were. That innocence was perhaps a good thing. However, as you said, even those we admire, who have fought for change, can be false idols. A reminder to aspire to be the best person I can be to grow closer to the Lord and his teachings.

  3. Wow, yes — ‘yes’ to what you said, and ‘yes’ to the affirmations of the commentators before me, too! It can be discouraging to look at the world around us, these days: I like to believe that it’s slowly getting better, rather than worse, but sometimes it’s really hard to find convincing evidence! 🙁 It definitely seems that real honest-to-goodness values are falling by the wayside, anymore. Where indeed are humility, love of use and God-worship?? -Perhaps only more hidden than the other, predominant characteristics (-as by definition ‘humility’ ought to be, anyway 😉 ) which monopolise our planet. I must remind myself that these virtues ARE certainly still around, and they WILL win, in the end. And anyway, it’s myself I should be most concerned with, not others; and for those virtues I will continue to strive! ~Thanks very much for this thought-provoking piece, Verna, I enjoyed it. 🙂

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