Athletes, actors, revolutionaries, musicians, politicians, leaders of men or your own parents – we’ve all had an idol or a role model. Or for those like me who refuse to “idolize” another human, this may be a fictional character – Howard Roark from The Fountainhead in my case.
Christiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi, Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer, Mahatma Gandhi vs. Nelson Mandela, the debate of the biggest idol in their own field will always go on. And to each of us, the answer is different. I wonder what is the psychology that goes behind who we idolize, and why we choose them?
I have tried to categorize these idols into 5 broad buckets, each that appeals to certain inherent characteristics of the human psychology.
- The Gods or the Immortal Legends
If tennis was a religion, Roger Federer would be God, if football was a religion, Lionel Messi would be God, if music was a religion, Mozart would be God – you get the idea. These are the idols that stem from the inherent need to worship a higher form of being, the desire to see the embodiment of perfection, that is beyond reach for the common man.
This is the person who is the gold standard in their field and a level of expertise that almost elevates them to the level of a demigod. These individuals are often gifted with innate talent or skill that is often seen as “God’s or nature’s gift” and their art comes naturally to them.
You may love them or hate them, but there is an undeniable effortlessness associated with them, so much so that it is almost unfair.
They don’t have fans, they have disciples. You can’t as humans aspire to be them, because they’re immortal legends and all you can do is draw vicarious pleasure from seeing them excel at what they do.
- The Warriors or the Mortal Legends
These are individuals who are in most cases equals to the Gods in their own right, but they’re not really Gods themselves. They’re warriors and mortals who have by the sheer strength of their determination and hardwork, been able to overcome what they lack in natural talent. They cater to man’s need to “believe they can”. These are admired because these are one of us – they give the belief that if you set your mind to something you can achieve anything.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Tennis, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli in Cricket, Christiano Ronaldo in Football. You can aspire to be them and noone will blame you for dreaming. They’re within reach yet on their own pedestal.
- The Revolutionaries or Rebels
These are men and women who had the courage and strength to stand against the norm, against the collective, and were brave enough to challenge social conventions. The Che Guevaras, Mahatma Gandhis, Nelson Mandelas, Rani Lakshmibais, Malala Yousafzais of the world.
They are the embodiments of that revolutionary spirit and that rebel that lives inside all of us. They are ordinary men and women who stood against the world – alone, and won against all odds and changed the course of history.
- First-Generation Heroes
Self-made success is the kind of success that everyone strives for and looks up to. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than a true rags to riches story, a champion who won the battle of life against all odds and circumstances. These are truly heroes and again, much like the warriors, give you belief. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Barack Obama, and many others are admired because their success is their own and they built it from scratch.
- The Idols at Home i.e. Parents
This discussion would be incomplete if I did not mention the first idols every child has – the parents. To a child, the parents are the true embodiment of everything that is right and desirable in this world. That notion may change or the conviction may weaken as one grows up, but to many of us, our parents will probably always remain the biggest idols.
The natural explanation for that is sheer love and respect, of seeing up close every struggle, every triumph and the fact that most parents devote a majority of their lives in bringing up their children. And so the admiration, and desire to be just like them stems from this love and respect.