Revisiting Heroes

I have written several times about what it makes to be a hero. It is more than wearing camouflage and holding a flag at sporting events — though we are told that our armed forces are all heroes. In a sense they are (or at least some of them are)– in the sense that they are doing something they may or may not like to do in order to foster the greater good.

And we are now being told that doctors and nurses, indeed the entire “health care” family, are all heroes. And they are, though I am not sure we need to be reminded of it every few minutes on the boob tube. But those people put their own lives at risk to help people they have never even met, patients with a disease that can easily be spread to the care-givers and their families. These people deserve the title “Hero.” And it demeans their vital role in these times to make light of the risks they take, to dismiss the whole thing as a political ploy or insist that the danger is over-blown. The danger is very real and moreso for some than others — though we are all at risk.

But what about those who work for minimum wages at the stores deemed “essential,” such as grocery stores and the like? Those people come into contact with a great many people every day, people who may or may not be taking care and people who cannot, under the circumstances, keep a “social distance.” It seems to me that these folks deserve the praise that comes with the designation “Hero.”

To be sure we are verbally sloppy and use words loosely — such words as “tragedy” for example — and this applies to the term ‘hero.” Sadly, this demeans those who deserve our thanks and high praise. If everyone is a hero then no one is a hero.

But some are and we need to acknowledge the fact that there are folks out there in our stores trying to make ends meet on meager wages and risking their health in the process. Those who help others and in doing so take a risk are worthy of the accolades attached to the term “hero.” Those who wear camouflage and risk nothing do not.

Revisiting Heroes

A few years ago I wrote a couple of blogs about heroes and the fact that we are a bit confused in this country as to just what a hero is. At the time I was especially hard on the young people in camouflage who prance about — especially at athletic contests — and who are all referred to as “heroes” by the media. And we buy into it.

At that time I knew of a couple of young men who joined the National Guard for the bribe money the government provides in order to convince them that they can “be all they can be” only in the Army or the National Guard. I knew that one of them only wanted the up-front money to buy himself a truck and he never left the country or risked his life in any way. I tended to dwell on young people like him and to ignore the many who really do make sacrifices. I should know better than to generalize from a few samples.

So, since then I have come to realize that young men and women like him are heroic in that they are willing to do something they don’t particularly like to do for something larger than themselves. Yes, there was the truck, but after that there were days and weeks of sacrifice. I was wrong. Those who are willing to give of themselves for others are the real heroes. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface when we think of those same young men and women who serve in the Armed Forces around the world and, many of them, risk their lives for the rest of us. They are, indeed, heroes.

Why do I say this? I say this because our culture has become increasingly self-absorbed and those who commit themselves to something other than themselves are the true heroes. It takes courage, determination, and a willingness to be different — all heroic traits, I would say.

Thus, to continue, there are also the quiet ones whose lives are heroic as well. I am thinking of a former student who now teaches and who loves his job and the students he works with. Like so many others who teach he works hard for little pay in order to help others realize their true potential. These folks are legion and they, too, give of themselves so others can benefit. And let’s not forget the health-care workers who risk their own health to take care of others — and the emergency responders such as EMT teams and the fire department.

And we must not forget those folks that Jill reminds of us each week who are very special because they do extraordinary things to better their world and help other people who are in need. We are surrounded by these people who go about their quiet lives without making a stir but also making the world a much better place — at a time when there are many out in front who are calling attention to themselves and reminding us that there are also buffoons as well as remarkable people.

The media, which tend to ignore the meaning of words, have mislead us into thinking that folks like the athletes who make millions of dollars are the true heroes and the kids lap it up and want to be like them. But those who should provide the role models are ignored because they are quiet and refuse to call attention to themselves. They just go about their business helping others.

 

Adulating The Military

I have written a number of blogs about what does and what does not make a “hero.” We use the term a great deal these days, usually attaching it willy-nilly to those in the armed forces. But I would apply it to those, in and out of uniform, who choose to do difficult tasks quietly, often daily, and in the face of criticism from others. In fact, I would regard as heroic those few in uniform who risk court-martial by daring to question what they were asked to do as members of the armed forces supposedly in the line of what they are told is their “duty.” I do not choose to apply the word “hero” across the board to those in uniform. Many of those folks, especially those in combat, are indeed brave and risk their lives in the face of fierce opposition. But it is not clear that the cause they fight for is worth their risking their lives or, worse yet, dying for. Cynics might say that the “freedom” they protect is the freedom of corporations to make huge profits and that freedom never actually filters down to the rest of us who seem to wander about in confusion at the bottom of the pyramid of power.

Our tendency to adulate the soldier, to label those in camouflage who seem to be everywhere these days and who are touted as brave risk-takers, is disturbing and a bit stupid. We find them conspicuously present at nearly every professional sporting event; we are surrounded by countless yellow ribbons as part of the “Support Our Troops” campaign; we note the military’s sponsorship of high school sporting events such as the all-star football game every year; and we cannot avoid the countless references to our “heroes” on television in commercials for the armed forces and even for insurance! One might say we are inundated by messages depicting armed servicemen and women as central characters in a global melodrama in which they play a pivotal role in a war that has never been declared. As noted, there are those among the folks in uniform who do in fact take risks and with whom I would not choose to change places. But the vast majority of them do the mundane, everyday tasks of just muddling through and following orders for enough money to get by so they can complete their commitment and learn the skills required to get a paying job when they are back “outside.” Many have simply joined up because they didn’t know what else to do, or because they were sold a bill of goods by the recruiting sergeant (I know a couple of these myself), or because they simply wanted the enlistment bonus so they could buy a new truck (I also know a couple of those). In any event, while it is impossible to question the motivation of every individual who “joins up,” it is possible to attempt to keep a balanced perspective and realize that those in uniform are pretty much like those who are not in uniform — some are heroes, some are not; they are just doing their job and, like the rest of us, they may even hate it. We know, for example, that the suicide rate among those in the armed forces is unusually high and this is cause for alarm. But, then, the suicide rate among college students is also quite high and we cannot draw much in the way of a conclusion from either of these facts, except to find them disturbing. Perhaps it is simply the case that being young and having to face an uncertain future is becoming too great a burden for many in this crowded culture of ours.

But in the end, we would be well advised to remember that those in uniform are not necessarily any more “heroic” than the rest of us — in many cases less so than, say, the unmarried mother of three who has to take care of the house and raise her kids on starvation wages. We bandy about words like “heroic” at the risk of draining the word of all meaning and ignoring the fact that there are those who are truly heroic while others simply wear camouflage and go about in groups while we bow and scrape and sing their praises, assuming that they are all exceptional young men and women. In a word, the mindless adulation of a group who happens to wear a uniform is jingoistic and takes us part of the way toward a militaristic culture that simply assumes that those in uniform know what they are doing and that what they are doing should never be questioned by those “civilians” who must judge their actions from outside the group. It might be wise to remind ourselves from time to time that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (even George Washington) opposed the idea of a standing army on this continent, and with good reason.