These are just a few of the rumors in magazines, blogs and books about people we call heroes. But what if the rumors are true? What if they are much worse? What if Gandhi regularly beat his wife to near death or MLK raped women? Are persons capable of being heroes or are they simply in possession of certain characteristics we deem heroic? Textually it may seem like splitting hairs, but emotionally and socially it can mean the world.
We encourage each other to “go big or go home” whether it’s with dreams or dollar bills. This mentality also infiltrates the questions we ask: “What does it mean to be a hero in 2012? Who are your personal heroes?” But maybe we should step back a bit? Maybe we should go small and embrace heroic characteristics rather than drape the hero banner around entire persons?
I’ve been hurt and I’ve seen countless others hurt through worshipping people in their entirety as heroes. I’ve hung pictures of unnatural bodybuilders on my wall and became a slave to weight-gainer protein shakes. I’ve experienced the pain of admiring someone (the idea of them) for years only to finally meet them and realize they were total a-holes. Hero-worshipping seems rosy but it often leads to unhealthy lifestyle changes, depression and even a sort of personality mimesis whereby you act not like yourself but how you think the hero would act. W. B. Yeats had it right in his poem The Second Coming when he wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” But what about the things that make up the things? Should our hero discussions be more about the acts themselves rather than the person(s) who orchestrated them?
In his article, Mourning Joe Paterno, a flawed hero, LZ Granderson asks: “What do you do when a wonderful man who made a terrible mistake dies?” This is the problem of viewing an entire person as a hero. When they falter it’s easy to turn off our admiration button. Maybe it’s best to have short-term realistic heroes? Or even better, why not find heroism in moments? Let the feeling rush through us after we read about Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang, Laos. Or tap into the moment in Lance Armstrong’s book where he talks about pushing himself to help fuel us to get out of bed and into the gym. Thanks to memory, moments can be long-term. If we fully exploit the potential of this to enrich our lives we could then use heroism as a supplement, and get our daily dose by sprinkling it wherever and whenever we need it.
Let’s not forget: Grand heroism involves luck. Lots of it. Many of the major figures we now believe are heroes had loads of luck on their side. They happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills as orators or writers or politicians. As a child, the 14th Dalai Lama was selected to be the Dalai Lama and then groomed accordingly. There’s no doubt he’s made a tremendous positive impact on the world, but it was blind luck that led to his even having such a chance. Realizing the importance of luck in heroism can help us lower the pedestals we place our heroes on. This is safer for us as admirers and for them in case (and when) they slip. Heroism is all around us. It’s sustainable. Can the same be said for heroes?
Check out the rest of our “Men and Heroism” section.
The “Men and Heroism” section was run and edited by Dave Kaiser.
—Photo UggBoy♥UggGirl [ PHOTO // WORLD // TRAVEL ]/Flickr