Has Society Killed The Hero?
What Is A Hero?
I have been thinking about this idea for a while now; about the characteristics of a hero. What spurred the thought was this semi-recent fiasco with Olympic athlete Michael Phelps; a kid with a vision, and poor foresight. In my eyes the need for heroes has never been greater; our kids and grand-kids seem to be locked in a battle with self-esteem, when they should be imagining their heroes, tangled in epic battles of integrity, character, and courage.
When I look back at the heroes of my childhood, there are very distinct images of right and wrong; there was simply a "bad guy" and a "good guy." The bad guy embodied all that was unjust, evil, or just plain mean. The good guy was larger than life, the apex of courage, morality and virtue. A hero had no time for internal struggle; he stood his ground, and never wavered in his beliefs. A hero's efforts were concentrated on repelling evil and the temptation of corruption, unless a kitten needed to be plucked from the highest branches. Those were my heroes; those were the guys I wanted to be; that was the image of a man.
Heroes alone, however, are only half the picture; being grounded in reality is the other half. My grounding came in the form of a hard-working father, a devoted mother, and a family unit, even though it was far from perfect. We were the very reason heroes existed. We needed the protection of soldiers, policemen and firemen. We were the motivation that kept heroes going.
Where Are All The Heroes?
Heroes are all around us. Maybe not in the dynamic form that I remember, but heroes nonetheless. We still have soldiers, policemen, and firemen. We have seen courage and those that laugh in the face of adversity, but heroes have been whittled down to size. The days of capes, masks and super-human power are gone. The family unit, the very reason for a hero's existence, has been diminished, and our definition of virtue and morality is being smeared.
I remember the "good 'ol days" of good versus evil; a time when villains wore black, and bound helpless damsels to railroad ties; a time when good guys wore white, and arrived in the nick-of-time to whisk them away from danger. It was a simple concept, but very effective. There were only two sides of the fence to choose from. Nowadays the lines between good and evil have been blurred. We look to those that are reasonably good, not-so-bad, or we settle for the less terrible There seems to be a margin of fuzziness that is easily accepted; acceptable degrees of goodness or badness.
We are constantly bombarded with messages of disregard. Disregard of the law, disregard of the family and disregard of morality and personal responsibility. Again, I refer to Michael Phelps. He won eight gold medals; a new single, Olympic Games individual record; he has sixteen overall. Surely he has to be a hero of legendary stature. A role model for every kid that swims with the dream of someday taking a stand in some foreign country listening to their national anthem. He came close; a moment of indiscretion and poor judgement cost him. He even missed the Wheaties box. Has he truly lost his hero status, though? I don't think so. I have heard debates and arguments. There are those who will just as quickly forgive his "little slip." I wonder if my generation would be as quick to forgive Superman, or G.I Joe, if he was seen hitting a bong. The line in the sand has been crossed too many times.
I'm not picking on Michael Phelps; he just happens to be the most current, blatant example of my point. I will acknowledge his talent and accomplishments, but I will not (I cannot) elevate him to hero status. The media, whether it be TV, newspaper, radio or the Internet will run a story about a "hero," but will just as quickly, if not faster, run a story that sensationalizes shortcomings. I think our society has lowered the bar on basic values to a level where heroes make us feel bad about ourselves; instead of inspiring us, they shame us. We no longer wish to achieve heroic standards, we would rather believe that heroes are no better than us.
Is All Hope Lost?
I don't like being a "doom-and-gloomer," but the simple reality is that we are in trouble as a society. I don't think it is any coincidence that heroes are disappearing with our values. I believe we still have the ability to revive our heroes and put them back where they belong; in the hearts and minds of children. It's going to take some serous societal CPR to resurrect the hero.
As I stated earlier, I think having a hero is only half of the story. A hero only exists in those places deserving protection; we need to make our society a place deserving. Why would heroes want to hang around, and risk life, with people that don't value the very things that heroes stand for, like virtue, morality, and honor? Is it so hard to admit that life is trying, and that we need heroes to help us through, and inspire us? Lack of honor will make a society weak, but choosing paths that embrace the lack of honor will surely destroy it. History has shown it.
I think it's about time we embraced our heroes instead, and we can do that by fixing our own houses first. Forget the hype that we must make others smaller, so that we may feel bigger. Discard the idea that watching others sink is the way to rise to the top. I still believe in heroes, and I still believe they serve a greater purpose. I only hope that heroes still believe in us.