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Why Do We Hold Boris Johnson To A High Standard?

Society seems to be bizarrely obsessed with holding public figures to a higher standard than ‘regular’ people. It seems that in order for one to be in the public eye, you have to be practically ‘whiter than white’ in order to be accepted. Even stranger, people seem to be shocked – and angry, even – when those public figures that they idolise make mistakes and bad decisions, as humans do. We must learn not to impose our values on public figures, and stop being obsessed with every decision they make, or risk being disappointed when we discover that public figures are people first.

Boris and His Multiple Baby Mothers

In late April 2020, Business Insider released an article about Boris Johnson and his children, after his fiancée Carrie Symonds gave birth to his son. It was reported that this was his seventh child, and went on to list the names of all his other children and who their parents were. The article mentioned that Johnson has historically refused to answer questions about his private life, and delves deep into his entire history with women, even going so far as to mention that he “fathered a child outside of his marriage.”

The British public seem to be obsessed with the number of children that Boris has, with Insider calling it “a topic of fascination among London’s political media.” Boris Johnson himself has come under fire for suggesting that single mothers were “producing a generation of ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children”; with a implication of hypocrisy on his part due to one of his own children being as a result of an affair and the child being raised by their mother who is now a single parent herself.

Reading this article, one cannot help but feel as if the article is loaded; a carefully written piece to imply a stain or flaw in Johnson’s character. Whilst it’s understandable that the British public would like to know more about our Prime Minister – and he’ll always get extra scrutiny due to him being a public figure – there is a distinct suggestion that he is not a ‘good’ person due to the number of children he has through marriage and affairs, and therefore is not fit to be Prime Minister.

LBC’s Nick Ferrari grills Boris Johnson on his comments about single mothers. Video credit: LBC

Even The Best Of Us Can Fall

Of course, Boris Johnson is not the only public figure to have been caught with his pants down (pun not intended). Years ago, golf legend Tiger Woods admitted to multiple affairs and infidelities, which led to a messy and uncomfortable divorce and a decline in his career. Of course, we know that he made a remarkable comeback and achieved redemption in many people’s eyes, but at the time it seemed as if all was lost.

The fallout was terrible. At the time, he was on course to be one of the world’s highest-paid athletes. Forbes reported that he was the world’s first professional athlete to earn US$1 billion in a career. After the affair, things changed. Sponsors dropped him. In 2017, Woods was arrested near his home in Florida for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The man essentially imploded and, for a period of time, was a shadow of his former self. The deterioration was uncomfortable to watch, with many believing that his career was over. Things looked bleak.

No human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption.

Mahatma Gandhi

Is Tiger Woods the first person to have an affair? No. Is Tiger Woods the first person to turn to alcohol and drugs to cure his depression and sadness? No. He is a human being just like all of us, susceptible to the same issues that some of us may face. This is not to condone his actions in any way shape or form, but there does need to be a reality check surrounding the idea or concept of ‘hero worship’.

There is nothing that we can do that public figures can’t. They have the same flaws as we do. It is illogical, inaccurate and unhealthy to hold them to a seemingly higher standard. They aren’t deities; they’re humans. We should treat them as such, instead of holding them to a standard that we couldn’t live up to ourselves.

Tiger Woods awarded Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump. Video credit: NBC News

It’s Dangerous To Idolise People

Let’s be clear about this. There is no suggestion whatsoever that people should not have a basic moral standard. As a society, it’s important that we do have a standard by which to judge what is right and wrong. This is even more true for politicians and elected officials, whom the public have every right to hold to account. If we had no moral standard, we would have moral relativism, which would be catastrophic.

Having said this, it’s dangerous to idolise people. We, as people, tend to hold public figures to a higher (and somewhat unrealistic) standard than ‘normal’ people. We have a way of imposing our personal set of values and morals onto them, fooling ourselves into believing that they are faultless and incapable of wrongdoing. The idea is that it’s bad for normal person to do something wrong, but somehow worse when a public figure does it.

It is therefore confusing and counter-productive for us to be disappointed and devastated when public figures make bad choices. By expecting someone to be incapable of doing any wrong, we basically make them untouchable. We somehow have our worlds destroyed by public figures for the crime of being human.

Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolised.

Albert Einstein

We see this especially with politicians. Certain elected officials who represent a certain party have been shown to be hypocrites, shattering any false illusions that a person may have about them. An example of this is Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Abbott had previously praised the standards of state schools in London, yet decided to send her own children to private schools. She said she did so, so “her son wouldn’t end up in a gang.” The Independent reported that people had labelled her “a sellout” for doing so, as it reeked of hypocrisy and classism.

Diane Abbott challenged on sending her kids to private school on Sky News.

Whether we believe that Abbott was a hypocrite or not, should we really expect more from a person? Should we really be surprised by this? Do we really think that highly of our politicians that we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that they are above hypocrisy? Do we honestly believe that, if faced with a choice, they wouldn’t look after their own interests before anybody else’s? This mindset will lead to disappointment.

The harsh reality is that public figures are as human as ‘normal’ people. It’s dangerous and pointless to see them as otherwise or more. By seeing them as ‘more than’ human, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. We cannot think so highly of them that we think they’re ‘better’ than us. They aren’t.

Let’s Treat People As People Instead Of Gods

Bill Clinton’s infamous lie about his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. Video credit: AP Archive

They say ‘never meet your heroes’, and that’s sound advice. The image that public figures give out in the media are often nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion; a manufactured and fake persona that we as a public are more than happy to lap up. When we find out that this person has been lying, or at least find themselves in a sticky situation, we’re surprised. We shouldn’t be.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong at all with having role models or being inspired by a particular individual, especially when they overcome challenges, adversity and low points in their lives. In fact, those kinds of stories are often the most motivating for a person, and makes us recognise our fundamentally flawed characters as human beings.

Society’s obsession with perfection won’t end well. By trying to impose perfection on public figures (not the same as moral relativism), we set ourselves up for failure. Being a politician, celebrity or otherwise in the public eye does not, should not and cannot separate them from their basic humanity. Do not expect the world from them, otherwise you’ll be disappointed by who they really are.

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Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field.

Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

Aaron Fenton-Hewitt
Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field. Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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