Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hero Worship

Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Mike's work with Habitat for Humanity involved excavating new caves for poor Neaderthals, there was a great Beetle Bailey cartoon that showed Beetle and his friend Zero (who's not too bright) watching a show on television. Zero watches intently and asks Beetle, "Who's the guy with the bad manners and the cigarette hanging out of his mouth?" Beetle replies, "He's the hero." They watch a while longer, and Zero asks, "Why is he driving his car down the sidewalk and shooting at people?" Beetle answers, "That's the line of work he's in." Zero then asks, "Why is he beating up that pretty girl and kicking her down the stairs?", to which Beetle replies, "That's the way he finds things out." Zero thinks about all this for a minute, then turns back to Beetle and says, "I think we need another word for hero."

I used that cartoon years ago as the basis for a Toastmasters Club speech on the qualities of heroism, and thought about it just this morning when I read this article by Alan Webber and the accompanying online chat on the Washington Post website: Hero Insanity.

The fundamental question Mr Webber asks is this: "With so much muck and mud hitting so many men and women of prominence and celebrity, isn't it simply reassuring to have an individual with no prior claim to fame act in a decent, competent, and courageous fashion?... But is it leadership? Is it even heroism?"

Have we "dumbed down" our expectations for what constitutes heroism, simply because there are so few traditionally "heroic" figures any more? We have a 24-hour a day news cycle that feeds on scandal and the exposure of the dark clouds straining to escape from their silver linings, that always seems to say, "Yes, he's a good guy, but..." Yes, Capt Sullenberger landed his crippled airliner safely on the Hudson River without a single person killed, but wasn't he just doing his job?

So, what does it take to be a hero?

Is it the soldier who single-handedly saves a wounded comrade while under fire, at the risk of his (or her) own life? Or is he just doing his job? Is a police officer a hero when she faces a drug-crazed man waving a knife, knowing she'll be criticized for using "excessive force" if she takes the Indiana Jones way out and just shoots him? Or is she just doing her job? Is the fire fighter who goes back into a burning building searching for the child who isn't accounted for a hero, or is he just doing his job?

Does it include the single mother working two jobs to take care of her family? Or the person who is fired from her job for exposing dangerous malfeasance on the part of her employer?

Can we be heroes just for doing our jobs?

As children, our first heroes are our parents. We depend on them to feed and protect us, and to teach us the lessons we need to build lives of our own. Yes, it's their job, but we don't think of it in those terms when we're little children looking up to them. Looking back dispassionately, I don't think I was a parent who was consistently heroic...but I'm trying to make up for it by being a good role model as a grandparent.

Are we all heroes in our own way, or is the real hero the person who does something extraordinary? As Zero asked, do we need another word for hero? Or do we need men and women who can live up to the meaning and expectations of the perfectly good word we have?

Perhaps Will Rogers said it best when he commented that, "We can't all be heroes, because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."

Have a good day. Be somebody's hero. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

My Dad, who as a Ranger landed on Normandy on D-Day and fought the rest of the war, always disdained any praise with these words "I was just doing my job". I realize his particular job after the landings was as Adjudant (an admin job) but nonetheless he was in the Battle of the Buldge, etc. I do think that people doing their job without looking for praise or expecting reward is to be admired. It is "heroic"? Perhaps not. But certainly something we should all strive for so in that sense, it is akin to heroism.

Bandit said...

We all have done heroic acts at some point however small that act may be. Firemen ,police, soldiers, etc. do heroic acts when they go beyond their job description. Sometimes we are applauded and somtimes we are sitting on the curb applauding.

Anonymous said...

Bandit got it exactly right. Heroism is when you exceed the expected job description, whether being a parent or jumping on a grenade to save your squad.

Eminence Grise

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A great Bailey story. Very sharp.

Mike said...

I do think the word hero gets a little over used these days. And by doing that, it minimizes the acts of actual heros.

Mrs. Geezerette said...

There are many unsung heroes in everyday life. People do extraordinary things of benefit and no one sees it.

Bilbo said...

Katherine - good thoughts. Your dad's a hero, no matter what he thinks.

Bandit - yep.

Eminence - I agree!

Jean-Luc - it was a great cartoon. I got both a speech and a blog post out of it!

Mike - I think we can agree that there are various degrees of heroism, can't we?

SuzieQ - Just right!