Behind Closed Doors

“We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about but try to be yourself while you’re doing so.” – B.B. King

There is much truth to the axiom “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” Why do we assume that people in high positions don’t have realproblems? Lacking perfection ourselves, I believe we have a psychic need for perfection in important people.

From OJ to Robert Blake… from Britney to Lindsay… from Rep. Mark Foley to Senator Larry Craig… it’s amazing the things we plebians are discovering about what goes on behind the closed doors of the rich and famous.

The topper for me in this regard was the revelation that Tom Wolfe’s “right stuff” people – our astronauts – aren’t perfect after all. That door opened to the whole world when astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested last February and charged with the attempted kidnapping of U.S. Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, the girlfriend of astronaut William Oefelein.

When Tom Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff, I don’t think he had valedictorian/astronaut-turned-stalker Lisa Nowak in mind. And he certainly didn’t have wigs, diapers, rubber tubing, and serrated knives in mind.

What would cause such an all-American woman to flip her wig? (Pun intended.) The first thing that comes to mind is Buddha’s admonition that “all unhappiness is caused by attachment.”

It’s healthy and wonderful to fall in love… no argument on that point. But when a person’s love is so desperate – so irrationally based – that she is willing to commit acts of violence in order to keep the object of her affection in her clutches (which, of course, wouldn’t work anyway), her psyche is definitely in outer space.

It is somewhat self-evident that anyone who would go to such extremes is lacking in self-confidence and self-esteem. Again, love is wonderful. But when it becomes a life-or-death matter, I believe it reveals a neurotic – and possibly psychotic – insecurity.

Your happiness should never depend on how another person feels about you. Happiness results from feeling good about yourself. You cannot hold anyone emotionally captive, and you should never allow anyone to do it to you.

But, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem aside, Lisa Nowak’s antics should again remind us how true it is that “no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” In this vein, I recall being on a national talk show in the late seventies, hosted by a well-known television personality (“Mike”). We subsequently became good friends, and often socialized together.

Mike and his wife (“Barbara”) were portrayed as the ultimate glamour couple, often appearing on magazine covers together. They were the poster couple for the media’s idea of “beautiful people,” and were frequent guests themselves on other major television shows. Their specialty? Giving advice on how to sustain a healthy marriage.

On one occasion, my wife and I went with Mike and Barbara to a concert at the Greek Theater. I remember the evening vividly. After getting out of the car, Barbara and my wife walked ahead of Mike and me, giving us an opportunity to chat privately.

At one point, I made a comment about what a lucky guy he was to be married to such a beautiful and nice woman as Barbara, and how happy they seemed to be. I was stunned when he replied, “Robert, I’m not happy at all. In fact, I’m miserable. I thought when I built the house for her (a little $5 million+ extravaganza in Beverly Hills), it would improve our marriage. But, instead, things are totally unraveling.”

Soon after that evening, rumors began flying around Tinseltown about Mike’s catching Barbara in bed with a ski instructor on a vacation in Aspen – followed shortly thereafter by his finding her in bed with their gardener! Pretty ugly stuff.

Mike and Barbara have been divorced for many years now, but their sad situation still has an impact on my thinking. I’ve long taken media hype with a grain of salt, and I’m not overly impressed with titles, awards, commendations, and the like. (Remember, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Yasser Arafat and Kofi Annan!)

But it’s not just famous people whose personal realities are often far different from the perceptions they convey. There are many people in everyone’s micro-world who are perceived to be important – civic leaders, church bigwigs, school officials, wealthy individuals, and those with impressive titles (e.g., “doctor,” “lawyer,” “judge,” “director”).

It’s fine to show respect to those who have earned their way to top positions in society, but it’s a mistake to assume that they live pristine, automaton-like lives when out of public view.

Whenever I hear a sordid tale – like that of an astronaut’s psyche being stranded in outer space – it confirms my long-held belief that many people in the highest stations (e.g., those who have the authority to press the nuclear button!) may very possibly have less emotional stability than you or I.

Not much you can do about that. But you can do a lot about your own psyche by not being overly impressed with the elites around you. And by never losing sight of the reality that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

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