Mary Beth Writes

I was emailing with my very smart cousin about heroes. He wrote (in a longer email): Are there heroes left? It seems like some of us have been pretty busy debunking our heroes, and if taking the varnish off is the objective, they’ve been very effective, IMHO. And the follow up question, what are the consequences of a hero-less world? 

 I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. So instead of posting the 17 pages I have written, let me say SEVEN things about heroes.

 1. Yes, heroes are awesome people who risk themselves to rescue and assist others. Many (all?) of us owe debts of gratitude to various heroes in our lives and communities.

 2. Nope, despite how easy it is to see the extraordinary negativity all around us - I don’t think we are in danger of losing heroes. Anyone who is on social media knows that stories of people doing brave things pop up constantly. Almost every news show lately ends with a story about a person who did a heroic thing. Did Walter Cronkite end each news cast with a story about nice people risking themselves to do nice things for other nice people?

 A couple days ago on Facebook I watched some Siberian guys rescue a deer who had fallen in the ice. Awesome story… https://www.facebook.com/thedodosite/videos/1371820603006663/

 I think people are hungry for stories of heroes who go above and beyond- such as rescuing a confused and dying deer. Heroes seem to portray human morality at its best. People save what needs saving even, or maybe especially, when it’s hard. Becoming a hero, or just paying attention to hero stories, seems to make us better people.

 3. I do question our predilection to call ALL soldiers, law officers, and fire-fighters heroes. Some are, of course, but it’s disingenuous to attribute heroic attributes to a person we don’t even know yet because they wear a uniform. As people of color and women and poor folks have been saying since, ah, the dawn of time?

 4. Have you noticed how we go out of our way to tell hero stories to little children? Lordy, how many times did Len and I read ‘Balto the Hero Dog’ to our kids? (Balto was a Siberian husky who led a dog team to bring critically needed diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska. Today’s Iditarod is the same route in honor of that heroic team.)

 We paint a world for youngsters where ethical choices are either right or wrong. Even though we know they will grow up into our world where right and wrong can be amazingly murky. Heroes are sort of the training wheels we need first as we learn how to behave around each other.

 5. Heroes are like good endings in stories. We love them because they tie up loose ends. Heroes punch the lights out of misery and cruelty by putting a saved-the-day story at the end of loss or brutality. Heroes divert our attention by saving some of the people some of the time. We all sigh a sigh of relief and turn away and have a good night’s sleep.

 I think it was Aristotle who first wrote that we humans are story-driven. If we can watch a play or read a book or hear an anecdote in a conversation about a bad thing that was ‘fixed’ by good circumstances and good people - we relax. Good ending. Now we can sleep.

 Its why people read detective novels, mysteries, romances, science fiction and most of the other genre novels out there. Bad or aggravating people get their comeuppance. Protagonists (the ones we have been identifying with) get rewarded. The tangled web gets untangled. Now we can sleep.

 And that’s why we should be leery and careful when we laud heroes. With heroes as our Paragons of Virtue we can still believe that war is a sensible response to enemies messing with our stuff. Or that it makes sense to be nice to nice neighbors and to be charitable towards people who deserve charity. Heroes save mothers and grandmothers from fires. Once they are saved, we don’t have to wonder why those ladies were living in crap apartments in underserved neighborhoods in cities where there are billionaires wearing $5000 outfits to charity balls. The hero did his or her part. We sigh our sighs of relief.

 6. Heroes make sense of the way we experience our lives until we are stuck in something a hero can’t rescue us back out of. Someone we love dies. We have to flee our country with our kids, and we might get killed along the way and the only place we can go are places that say they won’t take us. Our own child is in harm’s way and we can’t protect them. There are so many things that can’t be fixed, not even by heroes.

 7. Too many of us use religion as our personal hero system. Like, “The situation I am in sucks, but my faith says I don’t have to feel too bad because ‘this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through. If heaven’s not my home, oh lord what will I do?’” (A weirdly ironic rendition of this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wokQ5bhXVW4 )

People claim everything will get eventually get fixed and righteousness will reign when their hero, God, decides it’s time to Show His Might and Power. Like, if we don’t have a religion that promises eternal life and “the just and the unjust will get their rewards” – then we don’t know why we are choosing the religion we have. For way too many people, faith is confused with saying “this will all work out okay on the other side.”  As if just saying the words until one believes it IS the same thing as living a life with spiritual faith.

So I’m skeptical about heroes. We too easily let the heroic actions of some lull us into an admiring comfortableness. We confuse heroic acts with the ongoing need to be awake, figure out the conundrums we are in, choose as best we can what is just and kind, and figure out how to live those values in our real world.

 

 

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Hmmmm. Haven’t thought about heroes in awhile. Nor has anyone rescued me lately. Hmmmmm. Food for thought.
Mary Beth's picture

Curious. Stereotypes portray women as needing heroes. My real life observation is that women don't look for heroes very much at all.
Leonard's picture

I love "Heroes are like the happy endings in stories." A friend (he denies this, but takes the compliment, anyway) once told me that the best writing in a newspaper is usually in the Sports Section. They create drama and narrative out of something that is essentially vacuous. What you wrote about heroes reminds me of this, when you say it isn't what they always do that makes us admire them, but the way they make us feel. Like their actions don't really matter as long as we end up feeling right with the world. There is a poem that captures this, and it's by William Carlos Williams, "The Crowd at the Ball Game." You can read it here (you have to copy this link and paste it into the address bar of your browser): https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45498/the-crowd-at-the-ball-game

I don't believe in heroes and never have... I tend to wonder if perhaps it's because I grew up in an abusive situation... When one can't trust or rely on those who are supposed to protect and care for you it's hard to believe in complete strangers... I'm sure that the refugees seeking a better life in this country would consider us heroes if we would welcome them with open arms... Instead they get told they don't belong and that they should go back to where they came from... I agree that we live in a world that stamps the label on just about anyone we can just to make ourselves feel good... I know in my heart that there are people deserving of the term. They are usually the ones who refuse to accept the label saying that they just did what anyone would have done... Maybe we should try to be heroes by letting our allected officials know that we should let the refugees in... I wonder how many heroes are being turned away at our borders...

Another thought provoking post. I think we have a cultural obsession with heroes,The Avengers kind. We are looking for the sweeping rescue, the one that will change everything and make it better. I am looking for ordinary heroes, those that live with integrity, and own their behavior. There are no sweeping rescues, just small ones. But, the small ones add up. And the small ones begin with me. In this world. Now. Grace to you, Patricia.
Mary Beth's picture

I noticed this years ago: when we represent heroes - show photos, make movies, draw heroes, talk about heroes - the people we feature are big strong (usually) men. But look at folks who save others - ordinary looking, not super-strong, no capes. Rescuing and above-average helping others is about compassion - and noticing what's going on - and having good ideas.

YES!!

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