Have you ever dreamed about being famous? Almost every person has, at one time or another—it’s a surprisingly widespread desire.

Yes, it’s a common fantasy: everyone would know your name, your face, and what makes you so brilliant. When we feel disrespected, unappreciated, and ignored it’s hard to resist the mild burst of pleasure that comes from fantasizing about fame.

Typically, this desire for excellence focuses on something in particular. We want to be great artists, engineers, industrialists, leaders, or whatever holds our interest. Most of us aren’t looking to be “famous for being famous,” the way some quasi-celebrities are. It’s just that if we’re going to be great at something, it would be better if we were recognized for it.

It is good to hold on to that desire for excellence. But importantly, we need to separate it as much as possible from the desire for fame. A drive for excellence encourages us to develop our capacities and put them into practice. The drive for fame can quickly descend into a whirlpool of ego, vanity, and delusion. One pleases God, according to the scriptures of many Faiths; but the other blinds our spiritual perception.

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is recorded to have said:

Be careful not to parade your righteousness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4.

Here’s the secret of fame: what matters most isn’t what other people think of us. It’s what God, who is the author of goodness itself, thinks of us. When our actions are oriented around God’s approval, rather than human approval, we try to harmonize with the work of divine providence. Whether or not we are remembered for doing so is not as important.

Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:

Would it profit you in the least if, as ye fondly imagine, your names were to endure? … Should your names fade from every mortal mind, and yet God be well pleased with you, ye will indeed be numbered among the treasures of His name, the Most Hidden. – Baha’u’llah, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 46.

These two passages offer so much wisdom, because they’re not only about detaching ourselves from this world, but also about how to effectively engage with it. By separating spiritual excellence from fame, they illustrate spiritual wisdom that gives practical wisdom as well.

vast-networkThe progress of the world is carried forward by a vast network of contributions from multitudes of people who could never be commemorated one by one. No genius remembered by history makes a ground-breaking discovery without the many modest advances of those who have come before. No world-historical conqueror can capture so much as a village without soldiers whose names are barely known even to their commanders. No entrepreneur “builds a company” without the assistance of employees and other partners. Even when we’re very competitive, cooperation is a mode of doing things that’s so difficult to escape that it’s virtually woven into our essence as human beings.

To elevate one person at the expense of everyone else might be a useful leadership tactic in some cases. Fame and celebrity might sell television shows, films and magazines. But it also carries the risk of distorting the perception of how any collective endeavor actually moves forward. The reality: our contributions to the progress and well-being of humanity may endure longer than anyone’s memory. Paying excessive attention to the prominent and to the famous distorts that reality.

The world is filled with unsung heroes. The way we commemorate past achievements and urge each other onto future ones should take that into account. Just because someone is forgotten doesn’t mean that what they do is not valuable. The achievement itself is desirable—but the fleeting fame surrounding the achievement doesn’t last forever.

So the next time we think fondly of fame, maybe we should instead think of honoring the anonymous masses on whose shoulders we now stand, whose countless ranks we may one day be so fortunate to join.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

4 Comments

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  • Steve Eaton
    May 24, 2017
    This article shows again your fame-worthy gift for
    getting to the heart of things, Greg.........but don't worry, lol, we
    will try not to remember you for it!
  • Mark David Vinzens
    May 23, 2017
    "Every cell in the body, when functioning properly, collaborates with other cells in serving a purpose that is greater than both: namely, the healthy functioning of the organ of which they are part. When a cell forgets that -- when it loses connection to its natural intelligence and instead of collaborating with other cells goes off to do its own thing without regard to the higher good of the larger organ -- then it is malignant.
    And that's what has happened to the human race: modern consciousness rests on the false belief that we're here alone, to do our own ...thing regardless of how it fits into the larger intelligence of unfolding life."
    ~ Marianne Williamson
    Read more...
  • Mark David Vinzens
    May 23, 2017
    I imagine that the soul of every human being is like a cell in the body of humanity and the whole planet earth is a cell of the galaxy and our galaxy is a cell of the whole body of the universe. A person lives really happy, peaceful and satisfied when he lives in harmony with the field of existence and fulfills his individual function in cooperation with the Divine Laws (Dharma) of life.
  • Melanie Black
    May 22, 2017
    I found this a helpful article. As I read, I thought to myself that I have never wanted to be famous, which is true. It never interested me. But then I got to Baha'u'llah's quote, and it gave me pause, because I've often worried that because I never had any children no one would remember me after I died. Now after reading that quote, I understand I can let go of my worry. This has been a momentous day for many reasons, and thanks to you another reason has been added to it.