Topic: Society

Paris Bennett
(May 2006)

Paris Bennett, the amazingly poised seventeen year old singer with the tiny speaking voice and the huge singing voice, got the ax on “American Idol” last night. It was no surprise; though many believe that a decade from now she will be the only one of this year’s “Idol” contestants with a professional singing career, she was too obviously a work-in-progress. Youth is not always served, especially when those text-messaging votes are older than you are.

What was more impressive than Paris’s talent, however, was her grace. When Simon Cowell would criticize her singing, she always said, “Thank you!” “I appreciate all comments,” she told M.C. Ryan Seacrest. And when she was told that she had been eliminated from the program, Paris smiled, hugged her competitors, and then belted out one last song without any hint of self-pity or despair.

It is a temptation to minimize her good spirits, for she is unusually gifted and will probably have many more opportunities to follow her dreams. But this is a teenager who has been on a long, stressful quest for stardom on the most watched show in America, and her elimination could not have been more public. The network jackals who run reality TV would have loved to see an emotional meltdown, or pitiful tears, or some other extreme reaction that would have been “great television.” Paris Bennett, however, seemed to be governed by the definition of character, virtue, courage and manners put to verse long ago by Rudyard Kipling. They don’t read Kipling in schools very much anymore; it’s even possible that Paris Bennett has never read “If.” But she knows the poem by heart nonethelessĀ…

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And-which is moreĀ…

Well, Kipling’s Edwardian era final six words, “you’ll be a Man, my son!” hardly apply to Paris Bennett. The preceding lines define, not “a Man,” but a true star, someone who can guide the rest of us in times of turmoil, disappointment and failure to keep a firm hold on the human values that are really important, and to remember that the richness in life lies not in winning, but in living hard, well, and generously. That is Paris Bennett, not an American Idol, alas, but an Ethics Hero who should inspire us all.

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