In 1982 while being interviewed for entry into a presumably exclusive christian high school I was asked a question that still echos, resonates and reverberates within my brain. It is a question that makes me think, even unto this very day. The question was “who is your personal hero?”
The first thing that I should point out is that my answer was a fabrication based on unfounded hopes and the knowlage of what I was attempting to obtain versus what I thought that the administrators would like to hear, in other words a lie.
You see, I didn’t and still don’t have what I would consider a personal hero. I’ve had plenty of people that I admired for their intelligence and inginuity. I respected lots of people for their abilities. There were people that I wished to emulate in certain areas. There were even others (quite numerous infact) that I considered to have done something quite heroic in a particular situation. But none that I considered a personal hero. In fact I don’t have a personal favorite.
Perhaps it is because I am not sure quite how to quantify “Heroism”.
What makes one thing an heroic act and another thing not? Things that I consider heroic, others might simply shrug their shoulders at and say ~meh~, what’s the big deal?” I’m sure that the inverse is also true.
For instance, I don’t find it particularly heroic for a person who is in a position to influance a government, for a person who rubs shoulders with major world leaders on a daily basis to speak out against landmines (or social injustices).
Sorry, but I just don’t see it. It is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t particularly heroic. In addition, landmines exist because they work. They do the job that they were designed to do, namely to deny use of an area by enemy forces. Yes, they main and kill (often years after the conflicts in which they were utilized), It is what war is all about. War is a mean dirty thing that is essencially one people or government trying to forcefully impose their will apon another people or government. That is why war should be the last resort of any government. Ideally war would be something kept between the offical combatants forces. Just as ideally the horrors of war should effect every single member of the societies of the groups or countries that choose to wage it, ie Nobody gets out without being touched by it in some way. Neither of which occurs however.
I do not in any way shape or form consider myself a pacifist. If somebody is trying to hurt you, you hurt them right back…and harder than they hurt you. Make the bastards think twice before ever attempting that again.
But using the platform that you are given, to point out (to your own peers I might add) the problems of a particular thing, and using your influance to say “we need to find a better way of doing things” is not particularly heroic.
Mirriam-websters defines hero as the following
1.a. a mythological or legendary figure often of divine decent, endowed with great strength or ability.
b. an illustrious warrior
c. a man admired for his achievements and nobel qualities
d. one who shows great courage
2.a. the principal male character in a litterary or dramatic work
b. the central figure of an event, period or movement
3. an object of extreame admiration and devotion.
By the strict definition, Winston Churchill, General George S. Patton, Adolph Hitler, and Mother Teresa all qualify as heros. As does Martin Luther, Martin Luther king jr, Gengis Kahn, Pol Pot, Mahatmah Ghandi, Siddhārtha Gautama Buddah,Karl Marx,Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Joseph Stalin, William the Conqueror, Jesus of Nazarath, Hercules, Thor, Socrates, Pythagorus, Galileo Galilei, Alfred Bernhard Nobel, Albert Einstein, Nicolaus Copernicus, Thomas Paine, “Abbie” Hoffman , and The Beatles.
So, It would seem to me that the term/title “HERO” is just a tad bit vague, and relative. To know what anyone means when they say that someone is a hero, you have to know their referance point. You have to know exactly what kind of hero they are thinking and talking about. It is quite possible infact to have two “heros” who are diametrically opposed.
I admit to being a bit confused as to why exactly I should have some sort of personal hero. Personally I have never felt the need or desire. The idea itself is as foreign to me as speaking martian. Certainly many people have skills and atributes that I would like to learn and emulate.
Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. F. Scott Fitzgerald
Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a bum. Major Gregory “pappy” Boyington Commander USMC VMF 214 “Black Sheep squadron”
I think that in a very real way, both statements and what they imply are true. In our “need” for heros we tend to gloss over certain facts about the people that we raise up apon pedestals. We bypass certain incongruities and gloss over others in our need to simply things both for ourselves and the masses. I think that the same thing is often true in politics as well. I know that it is certainly true in the history class. Just think of how much history you learned in your primary or secondary education, that you later found out was not all the story, or even was a fabrication, a commonly held belief. People and circumstances get simplified for the general consumption, and the expediting of teaching. It allows us to cover more topics in a short range of time, amnd still get the general information across to the student.
For instance, I dare to say that almost American knows the story of the puritans comming to the Americas. The commonly taught story is that they fled England to America to seek out religious freedom. VERY simplified. In reality a great many of them fled to the Netherlands before being chased out of there (how intollerant do you have to be to have the Dutch chase you out?), many stayed in England while some few went to Ireland and Wales. Apon ariving in the Americas the puritans began by dividing their time between work, church and fighting, either between themselves or the local natives. They frequently repressed any belief that was not their own, encouraged superstitions and were singly responcible for more people being tried, prosecuted, and burned alive, hung, dunked, crushed with stone or left to rot in ad hoc dungeons (the bottom of an icehouse, which was in reality little more than a 6-10 ft deep pit with a house like structure built on top of it) than any other group of it’s time in the American colonies.
Now I’m not saying that it didn’t take some incredible amounts of courage and stick-to-it-tivness to even want to carve out a new life in a new land full of strange people and animals, with the nearest help 3 or more months away. I’m merely pointing out facts. For me at least none of these facts diminished what they did, but then I don’t think of them as heros, merely people, doing what people do, namely trying to improve their lives in some way.
I think rather than putting any one individual up above others, it is important instead to recognize the thing about them that we admire for what it is, without embellishment. There really is no need for us to try and make them out to be saints (heck, most of the “saints” weren’t what I would call “saintly” anyways) or other than what they really were/are. By doing this we set for ourselves, unreasonably high expectations of our heros as well as ourselves.
While I will agree that setting high goals and expectations is a good thing as it inspires us to work harder to achieve it, there are few people indeed who can completely immulate their hero.
I will never understand math and physics as much as Steven Hawking. I can hope to inspire an awe and wonder as well as a desire to learn more, much like Carl Sagan. I can try to maintain an honesty and personal integrity in my writing like Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain). I can try to be as brutaly honest with myself and my audiance as Christopher Hitchens, Oh to be able to debate a subject with as much calm aplumb as Richard Dawkins. The fact is, that as much as I would like, there will always be people who are smarter than me in some way,People who are stronger than me, people who are much more glib of tongue and people who have more skill than me in any one particular area.
Instead of a personal hero, I try to live my life as much as possible by the ancient greek word/philosophy Arete.
~”Arete ( /ˈærətiː/; Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means excellence of any kind. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential. Arete in ancient Greek culture was courage and strength in the face of adversity and it was to what all people aspired.”
~”The most articulated value in Greek culture is Areté. Translated as “virtue,” the word actually means something closer to “being the best you can be,” or “reaching your highest human potential.”
By choosing to live by the philosophy of Arete, I can accept defeats when they occur without losing heart. I can accept failure without discontinuing my quest to better myself. I can accept that I have limitations, and still keep on trying, without the need to beat myself up about them, or allowing others to beat me up about them.
I used to be a very self abusing person. I saw every set back as failure, and every failure as a permenant mark against me. I often accepted the goal and standards of performance that others set for me, even when they were completely unreasonable. Iwas attempting to please everybody but myself. I was miserable.
By accepting goals and standards that were not my own, I had hobbled my own development. In many cases they were goals and standards that would never be my own. It was when I began to rebuild myself, that I began to really examine my motivations for doing things. Was I doing something because I wanted to do it? Was I doing it because “it is the right thing to do”? OR was I doing it simply because somebody had told me that I should be doing it?
Okay, I really don’t have an ending for this. So I shall just leave you with this question…Why are you doing what you are doing? Do you have a personal hero? if so, why? Do your actions bear out your stated beliefs? or have you merely accepted the beliefs, goals and standards of others?