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Why Do We Seek Fame?

David Langness | Jun 9, 2024

PART 2 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 9, 2024

PART 2 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.

Who seeks and desires fame — and what drives them? Well, if you’ve ever lived in Hollywood like I once did, you might start to believe that being famous represents a universal desire common to everyone. 

This may explain why large concentrations of fame-seekers congregate in our entertainment capitals, for the obvious reasons.

When I lived and worked in Hollywood, encountering many people enmeshed in the pursuit of public celebrity made me wonder — why do those who relentlessly pursue fame have such a burning desire for approbation, for renown, for the thunderous roar of approval and applause, all from large crowds of total strangers? What motivates them to so single-mindedly seek fame? Why do people so desperately need love, approval, or validation from the masses?

RELATED: How Would You Like To Be Famous?

A successful actress who teaches acting in Los Angeles once told me this illustrative story about seeking fame: In one of her classes, she asked all 17 of her young students to honestly explain why they wanted to be actors, and every one of them gave some variation of “because I’d like to be widely known.” 

She then asked, “How many of you came from dysfunctional or alcoholic families?” 

Sixteen of them — every student but one — raised a hand. Then everyone who had their hands up looked askance at the one remaining student, who said “OK, busted” while making it unanimous by slowly raising his hand.

Might it be possible that we all seek love in different ways and that some who make fame their chief goal seek it from everyone? Could the lack of childhood love and attention from parents or others contribute to a strong adult need for fame, honor, and the wholesale “love” of many?

Both of those questions can be answered with a resounding yes, experts say. The psychologist Alfie Kohn, writing in Psychology Today magazine, defined fame-seeking behavior as a quest for social validation:

Fame, more than wealth, is about social validation, and that fact underscores the sad irony that people who crave it are likely to feel isolated and alienated from others. Like a performer’s hunger for applause, the self-worth of a fame-seeker depends on how he or she is seen by others. 

This kind of external validation — seeking the acclaim, visibility, and renown we think fame and celebrity will bestow — drives and motivates an increasing number of people in our celebrity-obsessed culture today. That lure — if you’re famous, everyone will love, admire, and envy you — acts like catnip for people who feel unloved and abandoned.

But acting on that desire alone, the Baha’i teachings warn, will inevitably result in an unhappy outcome. Baha’u’llah wrote:

Beware lest ye cling unto that which ye possess, or take pride in your fame and renown. That which behoveth you is to wholly detach yourselves from all that is in the heavens and on the earth. Thus hath it been ordained by Him Who is the All-Powerful, the Almighty.

In that same vein, an early Baha’i publication called True Belief quoted Abdu’l-Baha as saying:

All human beings are earthly; their hearts are connected with this world. Day and night their thoughts and occupations are earthly; all belong to this world. They think about the honours of this world, or about the riches and wealth of this world, or of name and fame in this world. Their days and nights pass in this way. The guidance of God makes it evident and plain when the way of the Kingdom, the divine path, is opened, that this is the road of the Kingdom.

It is not sufficient only to distinguish the way of the Kingdom, only to discover the heavenly way: you must travel upon it until the end is reached.

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

The Baha’i teachings ask each one of us to develop a higher horizon, a more lasting vision, and a deeper goal than fleeting worldly fame. Abdu’l-Baha counseled all people to focus not on seeking the admiration and approbation of others, but on seeking the true and lasting love of God:

The light of this love is kindled, through the knowledge of God, in the lamp of the heart, and its spreading rays illumine the world and bestow upon man the life of the Kingdom. And in truth the fruit of human existence is the love of God, which is the spirit of life and grace everlasting. Were it not for the love of God, the contingent world would be plunged in darkness. Were it not for the love of God, the hearts of men would be bereft of life and deprived of the stirrings of conscience. Were it not for the love of God, the perfections of the human world would entirely vanish. Were it not for the love of God, no real connection could exist between human hearts. Were it not for the love of God, spiritual union would be lost. … Were it not for the love of God, discord and division would not be transmuted into fellowship. Were it not for the love of God, estrangement would not give way to unity. Were it not for the love of God, the stranger would not become the friend. Indeed, love in the human world is a ray of the love of God and a reflection of the grace of His bounty.

As Abdu’l-Baha wrote in his Tablets of the Divine Plan, this means detaching ourselves from temporary worldly fame while doing our utmost to seek the permanent, eternal fame offered by the “heavenly treasures” of spiritual illumination:

… rest ye not, seek ye no composure, attach not yourselves to the luxuries of this ephemeral world, free yourselves from every attachment, and strive with heart and soul to become fully established in the Kingdom of God. Gain ye the heavenly treasures. Day by day become ye more illumined. Draw ye nearer and nearer unto the threshold of oneness. Become ye the manifestors of spiritual favors and the dawning-places of infinite lights!

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