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How Would You Like To Be Famous?

David Langness | Jun 3, 2024

PART 1 IN SERIES Fame, Renown, and Celebrity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Jun 3, 2024

PART 1 IN SERIES Fame, Renown, and Celebrity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Recently, a 12-year-old surprised me when I asked the standard adult question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Excitedly, she said, “A YouTuber! An influencer! Anything that makes me famous!”

Among the generations raised with social media, this desire for fame has become an increasingly clear trend. 

Polls and surveys have identified it, too — one recent psychological journal research study found that children aged 9 to 11 now identify fame as their #1 value. In 1997, when social media was just getting underway, fame ranked 15th.

RELATED: The Illusions of Fame and the Pursuit of True Greatness

In an interview with the Palm Beach Post about his conference paper “Power, Fame, and Recovery,” the well-known American psychiatrist Reef Karim said, “Little kids today don’t want to be doctors or lawyers. They just want to be famous.” Yikes.

Because I’m interested in this celebrity-obsessed trend — and kind of horrified by it, too — I’ve started to ask the “what would you like to be?” question to all of the children and young people I know, and guess what? The results of my informal polling reveal that a whole bunch of young people, with only a handful of exceptions, would really like to be famous. Some won’t immediately admit it, but when I drill down a little, the desire for fame seems to be present in most of the older children and adolescents I encounter.

Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Obviously, we live in an age which worships fame. A great deal of Western culture now centers on celebrity — just witness the endless glorification of those we think of as famous, across all media and for whatever reason.

Yes, we would all like to be seen, to be valued, to be loved — but how can that best happen? The Baha’i teachings offer an enormous amount of wisdom on the subject, so let’s delve into it.

Abdu’l-Baha — the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith — gave an important speech in Paris in 1911 on the subject of seeking earthly fame:

Some men’s lives are solely occupied with the things of this world; their minds are so circumscribed by exterior manners and traditional interests that they are blind to any other realm of existence, to the spiritual significance of all things! They think and dream of earthly fame, of material progress. Sensuous delights and comfortable surroundings bound their horizon, their highest ambitions center in successes of worldly conditions and circumstances! They curb not their lower propensities; they eat, drink, and sleep! Like the animal, they have no thought beyond their own physical well-being. It is true that these necessities must be dispatched. Life is a load which must be carried on while we are on earth, but the cares of the lower things of life should not be allowed to monopolize all the thoughts and aspirations of a human being. The heart’s ambitions should ascend to a more glorious goal, mental activity should rise to higher levels! Men should hold in their souls the vision of celestial perfection, and there prepare a dwelling-place for the inexhaustible bounty of the Divine Spirit.

Let your ambition be the achievement on earth of a Heavenly civilization! I ask for you the supreme blessing, that you may be so filled with the vitality of the Heavenly Spirit that you may be the cause of life to the world.

So rather than seeking fame — which is destined to inevitably fade away — the Baha’i teachings suggest that we hold in our souls “the vision of celestial perfection” and set as our primary ambition “the achievement on earth of a Heavenly civilization.” These lofty ambitions focus not on the individual, but on the mass of humanity. In a way, they’re the exact opposite of wanting to be famous — instead, they urge us to strive to be humble, compassionate, and centered on the greater good.

RELATED: Comparison: the Thief of Joy

Worldly fame, the Baha’i teachings point out, is ephemeral — it never lasts. By its very nature, and because of the fickle whims of what’s popular at the moment, almost all fame is fleeting. So instead of expending our efforts seeking something so temporary and therefore meaningless, Abdu’l-Baha recommended in his writings that we should all seek a more permanent and lasting source of honor:

Every soul seeketh an object and cherisheth a desire, and day and night striveth to attain his aim. One craveth riches, another thirsteth for glory and still another yearneth for fame, for art, for prosperity and the like. Yet finally all are doomed to loss and disappointment. One and all they leave behind them all that is theirs and empty-handed hasten to the realm beyond, and all their labours shall be in vain. To dust they shall all return, denuded, depressed, disheartened and in utter despair.

But, praised be the Lord, thou art engaged in that which secureth for thee a gain that shall eternally endure; and that is naught but thine attraction to the Kingdom of God, thy faith, and thy knowledge, the enlightenment of thine heart, and thine earnest endeavour to promote the Divine Teachings.

Verily this gift is imperishable and this wealth is a treasure from on high!

This imperishable gift — your own heart’s enlightenment, your inner knowledge, your faith, and your abiding love for others — will last forever, Baha’u’llah promised:

Just as the conception of faith hath existed from the beginning that hath no beginning, and will endure till the end that hath no end, in like manner will the true believer eternally live and endure. His spirit will everlastingly circle round the Will of God. He will last as long as God, Himself, will last.

Who would trade a temporary and fleeting fame for an eternal one?

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