Fame has ruined Lauryn Hill’s life. The spotlight’s glare has intensified her woes, including her pending tax evasion sentencing and eviction from her South Orange, New Jersey mansion. Hill’s demons are constantly broadcast through blogging sites, television screens and social media timelines, a direct consequence of the 24-hour news cycle.
Many of Hill’s former disciples have discarded the soul singer. We’ve replaced our infinite love for the brown-complexioned beauty with insults about her misfortune. We wonder how she squandered a small fortune and a wealth of talent. We walk out of her shows when her remixes of classic records don’t align with our musical remembrance. We contribute to her demise.
We did it Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson as well. We celebrate the accomplishments of entertainers and also highlight their downfalls, taking pleasure in measuring their flaws against our own.
Mark A. Jefferson, an Urban Cusp columnist, sums up the detriments of discarding geniuses in his piece “Where Do Broken Hearts Go: The Struggle of Genius.” Jefferson writes:
“I believe most people do not recognize true genius until it is far too late – if ever. The problem is that our fast-food, easy bake culture cannot recognize true genius – or appreciate it after it is gone. Too many people treat true genius like the circus, they miss it this year and make the erroneous assumption that it will come around again next year. Sorry. Some stars only streak once – brilliantly and quickly across the sky of human experience. The average person may have had a brush with genius. Sometimes, the best way to appreciate greatness is to be silent and enjoy. You can tell those whose vision is tinted by small-mindedness, because they mercilessly critique what they do not know and stand on moral platforms that were constructed weakly – only to have them break under the weight of their own ego.
Our society is a hostile context for these people and gifts to exist. God gives gifts to the flawed; that is why they are called gifts. Gifts are often housed in cracked and broken vessels, and our society does its best to crush what is left. The 24-hour media hounds, fishbowl existence, and the public’s constant pressure for moral and artistic perfection form a formidable external atmosphere that make true geniuses retreat within. Often, the spiritual and internal sensitivity that allows true genius to connect with others in intimate and abiding ways is shaped through the torment, struggle, and confusion of seeing the world in ways that are painful.”
Though Jefferson penned that analysis after Houston’s death, it is also relevant in the paradoxical fascination and disgust with Hill’s decline.
We have to stop dumping our cultural geniuses when their talents no longer serve our interests. Criticizing is inherent in all humans, but it’s an impulse that can be quieted. We should practice the art of uplifting instead of ridiculing. Lauryn Hill will be our first patient.
Though Iyanla Vanzant has received flack for featuring DMX on “Iyanla, Fix My Life,” I appreciated her insistence on loving DMX instead of belittling him. We should mirror the example she’s set. Instead of bashing Hill this week, uplift her with kindness and love instead. You can listen to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and remember how impactful her music is. You can send up a prayer for her six children. You can share a positive memory of Lauryn Hill on social media. Simple gestures of kindness and love stretch much further than unnecessary criticism.