Image(“Editorial” always means this was written for the magazine I work for; the blog post is a reprint.)

Have you noticed how lonely it is at the top? That occurred to me recently, as I read a biography on Elizabeth II, Queen of England. Since she is the monarch, there is no one “equal” to her in status, which means at all times she must exhibit a diplomatic sense of distance, even among her peers. Her closest “friend” from what I can tell (or at least her favorite Prime Minister) was Winston Churchill. For years, they laughed and discussed horses together. His sessions with her lasted longer than the usual twenty minutes. With everyone else, including the equally reserved and diplomatic Margaret Thatcher, these sessions were “all business.”

I understand that, to an extent. It’s like being a CEO… at the end of the day, you are the boss. If you want to maintain respect, you can’t be friends with employees. I am friendly with my writers but I’m still their editor. If I stay in that lonely position rather than becoming a “close friend,” fewer feelings get hurt when I have to do my job. I didn’t choose that role, but I’m stuck with it.

In our culture, there is a lot of emphasis on “fame.” Everyone wants to be a star, and with the invention of the internet, it isn’t that hard. You can have a blog, be a movie reviewer, or do “how to” videos on YouTube. Instant fame! People “follow” you! You start to feel important. As a result, we face increasing emotional isolation. We surround ourselves with people, without any sort of meaningful interaction. This is, in part, the result of social networking’s emphasis on adding “friends.” Just because someone adds you does not mean they are reliable, or trustworthy, or even your true “friend.” It gives you a false sense of reality. Feelings get hurt if you decide to “cut” some of your “friends.” That leads to even more self-analysis. Why were you cut? Don’t they want to be your friend?

Recent studies have found that our culture is the most “in touch” with peers but also faces the most social isolation, because so much of their time is spent online and focusing on themselves. Fewer people than ever have anyone to confide in or turn to in times of trouble. There is a reason suicide is so high among teenagers; they feel totally isolated. Even though they have thousands of people at their fingertips, they are lonely. When you elevate yourself to a position of supposed “importance,” you no longer have peers. Who is left to befriend?

True humility is rare, and fame is often false. Princess Diana is famous for her mistakes and insecurities. The same week as her death, Mother Theresa died in India. Diana might have brought awareness to causes, but it was Theresa who did the most good. Diana loved the spotlight. Theresa only used it for a greater cause.

One of my favorite films is The Queen, a look at the aftermath of Diana’s death. Elizabeth II baffles the press, because she is so stoic and self-contained. As the masses go into a full-fledged meltdown, she responds as she always has to a crisis, with calm. It isn’t what they want from her, and she is forced to make concessions. In doing so she reveals what I admire about her most. Earlier in her reign, she got criticisms in the press. Rather than be insulted or hurt by it, she considered the points made against her, decided they were valid, and changed. Her concessions for Diana’s funeral show similar humility.

In life, we can be humble, or we can be humbled. The greatest people in history have known that humility is worth far more than fickle fame.