I just completed all 6 episodes of ‘Wild Wild country’ about Rajneesh Osho, Netflix originals. It’s a very lengthy documentary which could have been very well cut to half of its length. It’s a platitude ‘love hate story of Americans/Westerners towards an Indian Guru’. I am not going to review the program and judge what is right or wrong, but I am petrified by the “dangerous obsession to a fellow human being” in the name of a master/Guru.
There is no doubt history has claimed such cult of personality, in the name of a politician, reformer, spiritual guru, a movie star, sports person… and the list goes on. There’s no dearth for celebrities who are so popular that their fans don’t merely like & follow. They go the extent of revering and worshiping their heroes. And this hero-worship is so absolute and blind, that everything else, including shortcomings and even crimes are ignored by the fans.
Is that even humanly possible to yield to someone, get totally obsessed and start hero worship? Many times, it’s an elite crowd who take that path. How does this work?
It is not new – attitudes toward heroes and role models start from school textbooks and listening to renditions from elders. Since olden days common people were worshipped in real life and mythology like Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha and many more.
Psychology says, humans tend to worship someone or something “greater than” themselves. It could be worshipping a God figure (like a saint), or a hero figure from a comic strip or movie or a music band, or the movie stars themselves. The concept is same. Heroes and tales fulfill important cognitive and emotional needs, including the need for wisdom, meaning, hope, inspiration and growth.
We look up to someone else, someone other than ourselves, as “better than us” or “higher” than we are in our esteem and opinion.
I’ve been contemplating the concept of what constitutes such a hero lately. At least we know there are certain traits which are glorified or adorned by people, like brave/strong/courageous, moral integrity, reliable, conviction, self-sacrifice, protecting, honest, selfless, intelligent, determined, savior, inspiring, and helpful.
It is believed that heroes give wisdom;
They enhance/reform the mass;
They provide moral modeling;
And they offer protection.
Does it mean someone is born with these qualities, or is heroism something that can be learned/developed?
A leader, heroes in modern days are established by social engineering techniques of mass media, propaganda, patriotism, art and government organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic and worshipful image of a leader. Often through unquestioning flattery and praise.
Cult leaders’ charismatic personalities, fringe beliefs and lust for power have inspired hundreds to follow their unconventional philosophies which are socially deviant. People blindly succumb for such personality because it gives them a sense of illusionary comfort, and they believe they’re being offered solid, absolute solutions for many unanswered questions in their life and wipe off the misery on the go.
Heroes are treated as saviors, while cult leaders give a solace from everyday despair. It is an outright mind control by offering plausible-sounding ideas. Unfortunately many members do not even realize they are part of a cult and are extremely loyal, they miss to notice their leader’s shortcomings as well. There are various types of cults “Destructive cults vs “Supposedly benign cult” – Religious cults, Eastern cults, Political, Racist, Terrorist, Multi Marketing cults, New Age Cults, Black Magic/satanic and many more.
What I am still amazed at is the total supplication before the leader. Modern Guru Phenomenon takes unpleasant elements of Western cultist mentality and Hindu tradition of surrendering & complete devotion to the master who in their eyes look as divine or semi divine figures. Likewise a political leader who supports downtrodden will get unstinted support and respect but that does not imply we have to overdo it by changing respect to fawning submission.
In many nations, monuments to such heroes/leaders shoot up to100 feet or more; their portraits stretch across walls of buildings; movies extol their brilliance. Books/biographies are overblown and glorifies their personality. These images usually distort reality, making the leaders look younger, wiser, and stronger than they are. Sometimes it makes me think, the history we read today could be in similar lines, scriptures could have been exaggerated and inflated to please their leaders too.
Are heroes essential for a society?
Heroism is something that is deeply valued across cultures. Heroes are a necessary and play an important role in our lives and critical to a society. Stories of real people who perform amazing feats of power and valor by saving other lives inspire us and will set a good role model for children to emulate. Heroes embody collective ideals and values and they personify popular aspirations for a good society and for leading exemplary lives. Heroes and role models stand out as anchors of motivation.
It is highly important to commend the leader and felicitate him for his good work as a token of encouragement. The public yearns to acknowledge and ensures the news of his/her noble effort is disseminated down to the grassroots to learn and follow the suit. The might commit to it in good faith to set them as role models.
But this recognition of the leader when it runs into the arena of holy worship, will ruin the democracy and bring very nasty results. So what start as a need base heroism shifts over time from initial attraction to heroes to later retention in the spell of ‘cult’. The next step is Apotheosis – adoration of the person to divine like, treating them like God.
I also feel these mad adulation towards a celebrity/Hero/ leader will empower them as invincible, totally resistant and unassailable to public criticism. At this stage there is no room for improvement or public opinion for the leader himself and his mistakes will be merely dismissed as paltry by devoted followers. Members with prolonged toadyism become totally dependent on the leader, unassertiveness. Such people are so deep-rooted with someone else’s ideas and stifling their own creativity.
There is none as a flawless leader/hero. People are fallible and humans make mistakes. While respecting a hero/leader for his extraordinary values are needed, praising them just for flattery and approval is the first step of downfall. If someone thinks whatever the leader says and does is right, and everyone else is wrong or does not even want to listen to other people, probably that means he is already in a cult, putting himself into a peril without his knowledge.
Remember, good teachings and ideas can come from anywhere & anyone. World is full of unsung and unnoticed heroes. You might come across them every day right next to you.
Respect heroes but don’t plunge into hero worship and there by fall into the trap of cult culture. THINK!!