I hope you enjoyed the rest of your Thanksgiving holiday, because NBC’s People of the Year special was a disappointing ending to Thanksgiving night. The annual rundown of people of the year is not particularly earth-shattering or even entertaining, but it’s like so many other lists … we watch to see who made it. The list included an athlete, a singer/actor, an entrepreneur, a real estate developer, a rock driller and a father. You may be disappointed that no one is sounding too remarkable yet. You are not alone.
What if I told you that the athlete was one LeBron James, who departed Cleveland for Miami this year, causing simultaneous celebrations and riots? What if I told you this singer/ actor’s name was Justin Timberlake, whose resume was catapulted to the next level this year with his role in The Social Network? What if I told you the entrepreneur was Kim Kardashian, whose reality stardom has given her opportunities to market fashion and fragrances and ultimately herself as the "it" brand of the year? What if I told you the real estate developer was Sharif El-Gamal, whose plans for an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan have made him this year’s number-one least well-known and most controversial figure? What if I told you the rock driller was Brendan Fisher, who drilled the hole that allowed 33 trapped Chilean miners to return to their families after more than two months underground? What if I told you the father’s name was James Jones, who marched onto his daughter’s school bus and unleashed a tirade of threats against the young passengers after some students on the bus bullied his daughter? If you are still disappointed in the list, you’re still not alone.
With the possible exception of the rock driller who freed the Chilean miners, it seems to me that those on this list who were not given a place based on commercial popularity alone were given their places place based on media buzz. The only problem with this system is that media buzz is created by the some of the same people who create NBC’s People of the Year program. Something just doesn’t feel right about selecting the "people of the year" based on how much media attention someone has captured during the course of the year. Such criteria leave no room for questions of whether any given person on the list has done anything significant enough to be given the distinction of defining a year for all of us.
So how should people of the year be chosen? It’s hard to say, because there is so much work being done that is almost completely unknown and no less worth celebrating. I can only say it seems like someone given the title "person of the year" should have done more for society than fueled our consumerism. For those of us who seek to follow the example of Christ, we know that a moment in the spotlight is not the goal of the good we do.
Who are your people of the year? Who do you believe has earned that title in your life and/or in the world as a whole? Why? I’m still thinking about it. And while it’s possible I have been a bit harsh on the makers of and participants in NBC’s People of the Year special, I want to know such labels, when given, don’t just sound important. I want to know they are important. When we give someone a title such as “person of the year,” our reasons for honoring that person never reach beneath the surface that says something about our society. As we seek to honor the accomplishments and contributions of others in our own lives, let’s look beyond the surface.