Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.


Build up, tear down

Q: How hard is it to stay grounded when you've had as much success as Oprah? Kitty Kelley's new biography discusses her charitable giving and her big-time indulgences. Should anyone begrudge her $500 mink eyelashes or $365,000 Bentley? And why do we love reading about the foibles of the rich and famous?

There seems to be a human tension between needing a hero or heroine and liking the model of power, wealth and greatness that such figures represent, while also liking the democratizing process of pulling such heroic figures down to the ground.

The rich, successful and powerful give us all something to aspire to and reach for and they remind us of what is possible (and we love them for it). But they also are reminders of what we are not and will likely not become (and we hate them for that).

In today's media-on-steroids environment, this "build them up to tear them down" process happens quickly, often and publicly. This week, we see that Kitty Kelley --someone whose skills are more honed on the tearing down side of this equation -- is throwing Oprah into the media meat grinder. While throwing mud and knocking the mighty down a peg or two is always a good way to get a few viewers and sell a few books, Kelley will likely not have as much luck tarnishing Oprah Winfrey's image or reputation.

Years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who favored tax cuts for wealthier Americans when he (my friend) was not wealthy and stood to gain nothing from the new tax laws.

When I asked him why he favored tax cuts for the wealthy, he said, "Maybe one day I will make that much money, and if I can, I don't want the government to take it from me." The hope and aspirational element of my friend's reply is a common theme we find woven tightly through the American character. While it is materialistic and perhaps even selfish, it is also driven and optimistic.

Another story Americans love to hear is one of the self-made woman (or man) -- the person who comes from nothing and through scrappiness, talent, energy and daring -- all of which Oprah has in great abundance -- earns great power, money or fame.

The United States has a history studded with great rags-to-riches stories, but this story stars a powerful woman, an African American, a person who was born with every reason to believe (if she listened to history or played the odds) that she would do nothing but live a second-class life. Instead, Oprah has become one of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world. Who could fail to be impressed with that?

For over 25 years, Oprah has been a trusted personality, a global benefactor, a force of empathy and healthy communication, and a good-faith arbiter on the issues that face our culture. Unlike recent sports figures leading double lives and politicians engaged in blatant hypocrisy, if not criminal behavior, we may have just learned that Oprah likes expensive eyelashes and cars.

More power to her--I hope she enjoys them. I think if we decide to satisfy our human need to feed our egos by pulling someone else down, we could do better elsewhere. I hear Tiger Woods is playing golf again, and isn't Sarah Palin giving a speech somewhere?

By Hile Rutledge  |  April 22, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  The lush life Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The article seems to based on the assumption that people either:

- Desperately admire and want to be just like the rich and powerful. They forgive them transgressions because they imagine themselves above everyone else doing the same things. These are the same people that are fascinated by the British Royals.

- Desperately hate the rich and powerful because they are jealous.

This is where the post falls down. Hypocrisy is what really bothers people. If they project a populist image, then are exposed as being totally out-of-touch, we feel like we've been duped. Think Oprah's eye-lashes, Sarah Palin's wardrobe, John Edward's haircut.

Posted by: eeepc | April 26, 2010 2:23 PM
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A thoughtfully written piece that takes the reader to a more compassionate frame of mind instead of needlessly riling them up.

Good post!

Posted by: MDey | April 26, 2010 1:22 PM
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i concur.

Posted by: ninnafaye | April 25, 2010 4:31 PM
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Dear Hile,

Great post! I find it interesting (and disturbing) that some of us seem to feel the need to tear others down in order to build the self up. Thanks for inviting us to consider a better way, to be inspired by others' examples (and, if I may say, to look at how we can be our better selves, make a positive difference,...), rather than actively seeking things to criticize in others. There is a Persian saying (based on a poem) my mom always shares: A peacock is such a beautiful being, yet some look at it and can only say "it has ugly feet." Thankfully, there are many wonderful people who choose to do quite the opposite and recognize and highlight the good in others.

Thank you for this thoughtful post!

Shahrzad A.

Posted by: careerconsult | April 21, 2010 7:48 PM
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