A Harder Heroism
Somewhere in the last half-century, hero became a dirty word in popular culture. People enjoy hearing about the failings of those marked as heroes, whether dirty secrets or opinions that don’t abide by the current standard or memes Maybe even worse, heroes are looked at in some kind of contempt. And the word is further cheapened by being used for anyone famous or sucessful as if wealth is a measure of value or worth. We say that riches aren’t the most important thing, but act like getting rich is a virtue.
What you do with it is the virtue. And I’m not talking about the vanity charities started by actors, politicians, or athletes. Those are PR, something the make them look better or get a tax benefit. Does the famous sponsor stay involved in a real way? Do they put any time in the trenches for that cause? And does this vanity charity actually accomplish anything useful? I have seem many foundations and charities falter when the sponsor moves on to other things. Charity watchdog organizations, like Charity Navigator are both useful and disheartening, as the money and resources that people give in good faith get wasted.
Heroes do the right things, the hard things, without the cameras. Encouraging others to support a cause or charity, makes you a good example and someone to be admired. But a hero does something when it can and does cost them. Playing a helicopter pilot hero in a movie doesn’t make you a hero, flying an injured hiker out of the wilderness and unstable conditions does. Firewomen, policemen, and soldiers routinely risk injury and death to help others. And they will go back the next day to do it over again. It is the risk and cost of their actions than changes that helicopter flight from stuntwork to heroism.
Now heroism isn’t all about the burning building or knocking back an assassin, the more subtle kinds of heroism require a moral fortitude to face down people who don’t want to do the right thing, or who use their position or majority to force their beliefs on others. The hero may lose the battle to make a camp for kids or land a faltering plane safely but they don’t roll over. (The hard thing sometimes is in choosing the right thing. Bullying and abuse is easy to oppose, but free speech and anti-censorship is not as easy to support when a speaker is a mean jackass.)
People have been saying that freedom isn’t free, but costs cuts both ways. If you want freedom from offense by people who have different beliefs, you must grant the same to others for your beliefs. ‘Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’ Disagreement on political and social issues is rarely evil and it’s petty childishness to demonize your opponents over opinions. Too many have no empathy or the ability to walk in another’s shoes. Are people that self-centered or getting off on leading the howling mobs? Great leaders and heroes do more than destroy by feeding the riot’s flames, they make the compromises where everyone feels it’s an improvement. Grinding those who disagree with you into paste by riots or social media pile-ons, isn’t peace, it’s abusive.
I think that may be why we are foundering lately, we don’t have enough heroes who compromise and defuse the situations, we get leaders who want it to burn.