Editor’s note March 17, 2017: The Premium Members of The Good Men Project met on our Call with the Publisher today, as we do on every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The subject of the discussion today was one Lisa Hickey has brought up several times in my almost-two years of GMP Premium Membership and the focus of out Social Interest Group (“SIG”) “The Disposability of Men”: “How do we get men to be heroes without dying?” As has been the case on every one of the calls I have attended, Thaddeus Howze spoke up to share his perspective, this time on heroes. I wished that I had recorded him. His passion for the subject and his powerful message was, as usual, enlightening. At the end of the phone meeting, I asked him if he would write a few paragraphs on the subject. Within minutes, he shared a link to a Note he had previously published on Facebook. Please enjoy and share your own perspective in the Comments section, or submit your own essay to us. — LMB
Is it really that simple?
Should we leave the big answers to life’s problems in the hands of other people?
Should Barack Obama speak out for Black people killed by over-enthusiastic, rebellious, dangerous or even racists police officers?
Is he heroic for doing so?
Is the mark of heroism what you have to lose when you take a risk?
My streak of personal heroism was the idea of making the world a better place. I recognized I had no superpowers, no technology which would make improving the world easy or magical. Thus I would be forced to improve the world, one person at a time; literally the slowest way anything can be done.
Having grown up under less than ideal circumstances, I learned to make due with almost nothing. Given nothing I could still make something out of it. Adaptability was one of the gifts of my childhood.
My journey to change the world, one person at a time, would take me into high school; a prestigious school you needed to take a test to enter.
A test everyone told me I would fail.
I didn’t have the academic chops. I went to an ordinary junior high school. I came from a disadvantaged neighborhood. My parents were unremarkable people of color. Uneducated, one a truck driver, the other a nursing assistant.
I didn’t have a chance in hell.
But you see, that is my superpower. Excelling when others are certain of my inevitable, inescapable failure.
I passed that exam. I went to Bronx High School of Science. At least fifty people got to learn something different about the world that day.
At least fifty people learned that it wasn’t wise to underestimate me simply because I came from a disadvantaged background. That I could do with the force of will, what could not be done with money. My innate talents were greater than the sum of their realizations.
Heroes do that. They redefine the playing field, making something from nothing, rewriting what you knew as reality, until that moment when they do the impossible.
I have spent my entire life redefining the boundaries, again and again.
I joined the military, served with distinction, performed above and beyond the call of duty. There were many nights I regretted my decision. Nights of cruelty, because no matter what the advertising says, the military can be a cruel place.
Didn’t matter. I fought when I was forced to and earned the respect I was due.
I left that life without so much as a backward glance. No idea where I would end up but I knew I could do better than the military would offer me; a life of robotic, decision-free living, doing what I was told for some as yet unrevealed military purpose, the living hand of a government whose goals I would never know, whether I lived or died accomplishing them.
I could not abide such a thought, one more day. I left. With offers to attend college at the behest of three letter agencies interested in my continued service to our nation.
I wanted to help people. I wanted to make the world a better place. I knew I could do better than a three letter agency.
I staked my future on it. You see, that future was assured. Go to college, get a degree, join the agency, serve well, be a member of a three letter circus for the rest of my life. You never leave such organizations. You can know too much. Thus I had to resist the temptation to join them.
I love to know things. I would want to know TOO much
So I resisted myself, the first temptation to real power. The military was a taste of power, but you are the instrument, not the wielder of that power.
I knew such power would prove irresistible to me.
The wisdom goes: “Know thyself.”
I knew myself. I stepped off into a world without a net. Without a place to live, without resources of family or friends at the time.
Legends say this is when the hero has to find himself. I did. I went to college, I wrote stories with computers. Something my college had never considered putting together.
I wrote papers in half the time, corrected them in seconds. Used the free time to write other things and master computers.
This decision was not made idly. I spend a year poring over the potential work I could do in the world. I wanted to help people.
I worked as a computer technician. Each person I helped had a face and a name. I was clear that I helped them and taught them how to help themselves in the future.
I worked in a computer lab, then in a corporate office as part of a help desk. My plan was working. I was helping people every day. It was not enough. I wanted to increase my footprint. If I could help five in a day, why not fifty?
I took over the department. The previous manager didn’t want the job anyway. Then I had five people who I trained, upgraded their skills, and we helped fifty people a day. The ten I helped directly and the forty who I helped indirectly by training my team.
I realized this was my future. Finding, training, preparing a team to tackle bigger problems than I could handle alone.
I created a mentoring program at a local community college when the organization I was a member of refused to consider computer training that didn’t consist entirely of programming software. There are plenty of things you can do with computers besides programming. I wanted to teach those things and the organization said no.
I left. I founded my own mentoring group where I taught desktop design and art, web design, graphic art and prepress design, introduction to computer science, and computer hardware and network design.
I taught ten students first. They learned about the things they were interested and cross-trained in a variety of other subjects. The program started off as something fun. We met every Friday at first to play video games. Laughing and joking we would compete against each other. In some games there were people who could not be touched. In others we competed more equally. What I was most proud of was they were all different members of society, different races, religions, genders and while there was ribbing, there was also camaraderie.
This program would grow until there were easily fifty members over the next three years. They would train each other, learn how to run the lab, make it a place they personally took pride in. They didn’t see what I saw, a means of bringing new minds into the workplace. Divergent minds, minds in brown bodies, who were told there was no place for them.
Until I taught them how to carve one for themselves.
My greatest sadness is to know that program died a senseless death, not for a lack of love, but for a lack of vision on the parts of the college leadership.
I left soon after. More than a little heartbroken.
What is the mark of a hero?
Is it the striving against impossible odds, knowing you will most likely fail, (or that your detractors hope you will), or is it the tiniest sliver of hope that matters?
Should you be driving yourself forward because it is the only reason we are here at all? Nothing maters until we decide it does?
Or is all we do part, of a self-aggrandizing program where at the very end of our life, we can look back upon the bodies of all the people we used for our success and take into our death the regrets of the people we used poorly; the people we stole opportunities from, drove into early, suffering graves, so that we might know one more yacht, one more change of furniture at our Hampton’s estate, one more overpriced, hand-build automobile we can never drive anywhere near its top speed?
Is the true meaning of life the number of people you suck dry along the way? (It sure looks that way from where I am sitting…)
I have chosen the foolish, heroic route. Where I try to make the world a better place, one foolish effort at a time. Convincing people to join me in tilting at the windmills of racism, of classism, of separation, of honor killings, of dispelling LGBTIQA hatred, of environmental protection and the belief in people having an intrinsic value whether they be beggar or mathematical prodigies who can eat Einstein theories for breakfast.
This is what it means to me when we say All Lives Matter. That the life of the lowest peasant sitting in an alley in Dubai, has the same intrinsic worth as a prince living in the tallest building there and never have their eyes met.
I have failed to make the entire world a better place. I have made tiny corners of it better. I have left many students across the world who may secretly, still aspire to the same heroic ideals, but they never tell anyone.
I told them not to.
People don’t trust you if you tell them you want to help them. They assume you have the same plans they do, to use them to your benefit for as long as possible.
I told them to go on through life, helping people, secretly if you must, because only by helping each other can we truly save the world.
It is a never ending task.
There will always be more to do. There will always be one more species to save (goodbye, beautiful eastern mountain puma), one more life that could be made better, one more cause in desperate need of a champion.
There will always be a surfeit of bastards in the world.
People who believe it is the most important thing in the entire world that they be richer, more powerful, more connected, have better yachts, have prettier trophy wives, enslave more third world nations, create richer corporations, strip mine the largest swaths of the Human populace for their last penny.
These bastards will always exist. And often, they will be sitting at the highest point in the land, with the most power, with the money, the police, the government padding their larder.
To the hero, they mean nothing. The hero remembers two things:
One: It is a never ending task to make the world a better place. There will always be something that needs doing. There will always be a need to make something right. There will always be people in need of a light in the darkness.
Two: No one wants to do those things. Heroes do what they do because it is their contribution to a thankless world filled with bastards.
There will always be more work ahead.
When you are filled with doubt, ask yourself: Are you making the world a better place?
If the answer, the real answer, the one you know only to yourself to be true, is no, you still have time.
It is never too late to make the world a better place, one person at a time, if necessary.
You are not alone. There are plenty of people out there who want the same things you do. The trick is to find them. And cherish them.
The road ahead is a rough one. You will be called crazy. You will often be alone. You will find no one recognizes your efforts, even when they are wildly successful.
Helping people in a world filled with selfish, self-obsessed people is often the least gratifying work you can do.
Remember the alternative: A dark world where everyone has given up, a world where no one is concerned with their fellow man except in how he can be served up to your benefit in the future. Think of a world without kindness, without support, without grace or humanity. Imagine a world where everything that exists serves only to strip away the last vestiges of your humanity, for profit. Or for religion, or for ideologies which punish anyone who isn’t a member.
If you turn away from the idea of helping others, this is the world you enable.
I am tired. I am worn. I have been beaten.
But I will never give up. There is too much work still left to be done. I don’t know any other way to be.
So listen up, you bastards. I know who you are. I know where you live. I know everything about you. You have no shame. You treat people as disposable resources.
You don’t know me. I am unpredictable because I have nothing left to lose.
I am unable to be stopped. Because I have nothing left to be tempted with. I will rally my people around me one more time. This time, it will be my final effort. The effort built of my life’s blood. This last effort will be built to last.
I will change the world, just like I always have. One person at at time.
Until one day, your work vanishes like the smoke it has always been. A distraction to what we should really be doing.
Saving each other.
Photo credit: Pixabay