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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Face of Heroism

Alas, the greatest accomplishments in life are not necessarily discoveries, inventions, corporate success, political achievements, or conquests of war, but rather often simply offering nurturing or personal attention to one's own children, family members, and others in need. Pasteur and Salk made their significant far-reaching contributions, MacArthur and Churchill helped save us from a worse fate, Hughes and Gates reached great heights and influence with their empires, but all of their efforts were no greater than the contributions and sacrifices that a mother or father make to their family. The greatest accomplishments go relatively unnoticed by everyone except those who they impact most. Keep the Nobel Prizes — there are more important things at stake, which curiously have no public awards.

If one were to generate an arbitrary list of the supposed one thousand greatest people in history, there wouldn't be much acclaim for women, since the female sector historically hasn’t been in the limelight, but I'd dare say that moms deserve to take up well over half that list. Parents should be heroes. If they apply themselves, they are. Do you make a difference in someone’s life? If so, then you’re a hero.

Enter mass media to warp our view. It has turned celebrities, rock stars, professional athletes and the like into pseudo-heroes. We typically idolize these people because they are universally known — they’re everybody’s friend. You can go to Wichita, Kansas and they’re known there. You can go to Duluth, Minnesota and they’re known there. They’re a seeming reference point for us all. You can say their name and everyone knows who you’re talking about. They bring a sense of objectivity to our lives. If we can rub shoulders or get a glimpse of them for just a small moment — get their autograph or have our picture taken with them — it elevates our sense of identity, and we feel like we've had a brush with eternity. We want to be somebody, and we have the misconception that celebrities are somebody, since they constantly get that validation from people all over the world. They assume the part of everyfriend.

We’ve seen the celebrities play out dramas that we’ve identified with and lived with them. We’ve seen their many faces in their various roles. In that way, they’ve transcended normal life. They’ve become otherworldly to us in many respects — they can romance us off our feet, and then another time they can make us laugh till things come out our noses, and then another time they can intrigue us beyond compare, all the while defying tremendous odds against them in their antiseptic script and overcoming their neat little pseudo-world. Indeed, a litany of screenplays allows these portrayers on film to be so multi-faceted. And to top it all off, we don’t even have to smell them. Talk about the best of both worlds…

Likewise, we’re convinced that celebrities are transhuman enough to be immune to the difficulties of life that the rest of us face. And if there were any doubt, they have their millions to spend on mansions, they don’t have to go to work in general, they travel all over the world, and they have to turn people away who want to be their soulmates. Those portray the pinnacle, don’t they?

The news media raves when there’s a person of fame who’s kind and caring, as if those were some extra-terrestrial traits. But if there are 27 people reading this, I’ll bet half of you are just as kind and caring. (the rest of you we’ll need to work on, wink-wink…) We seem to be programmed to admire someone who has become famous and yet has still retained the decency of a genuine human being — regarding it as some remarkable achievement. But what about those who aren’t in the public eye and who have just been doing it in quiet obscurity sans all the accolades? Is their decency any less notable because they haven’t also taken on the burden of fame and wealth? You know, if I were Tiger Woods or Tom Hanks or Bruce Springsteen, I believe I could still find time to be nice too. They all seem good people, but are they a level above us, as they are depicted? Why should they automatically be so on the mere fact that they have certain high profile talents? The renown paints for us a dastardly illusion that what we admire is found less around us but rather more in the publicity engine where character is marketed to us.

Here’s to the real heroes in people’s lives, those who might have a cheering section of only a few, but whose quality more than compensates for the lack of quantity. In a just world, you’d be on the cover of magazines for the type of person you are. You’d get interviewed on the talk show circuit. Charlie Rose would ask you intently for the details of your life. Anderson Cooper would get your opinion on world matters. You’d be Oprah’s friend for life. In short, you’d be validated — at least publicly. Which then begs: does public have anything over private? Not in my estimation.

Fanfare, a delightful energy in its own right, still isn’t much of a yardstick for internal efficacy. Promotion is just part of the larger machine, representing the subjective ability to advance a persona. This is not to say that a lot of well-known people haven’t necessarily attained a level from having leadership-type qualities which may be honorable. While their dedication to their craft can often be exemplary and they may possess specific qualities which could have propelled them to rising in their field, we still need to remember that famous character is not superior to unheralded character. It’s just that fame in the entertainment business or other areas of promotion can and do operate effectively many times while having more form than substance. The prevalence or absence of paparazzi around a person defines nothing. In other words, you can’t judge a book by how much it’s covered.

Meanwhile, there are people in your very own home and elsewhere who may look to you as a celebrity in their corner of the world. The nice part is that when someone knows you up close and personal, that celebrity status is not such a bad thing, because there tends to be a genuine depth to that admiration. It’s conversely when we overly project celebrity on nondescript caricatures like showbiz icons where it can tend to become misplaced.

Bringing this full circle, it’s both exhilarating and humbling to contemplate that you could truly be someone’s idol, who they look to in reverence and awe. Who they think of for inspiration. Who they gauge their life by. Who they thank their lucky stars for. Who they draw upon for strength. Who they see God’s light through. Who they reach toward to make themselves better. Who they invest many of their emotions in and receive dividends. Who gives them a mirror to see themselves in. Whose shoulder they may borrow during storms. Who heaven seemingly uniquely blessed them with. And who filled a particular niche the way no one else could have.

Isn’t it clear why this is so much more important than the historical benchmarks we so often read of? Of course those things are important in their own way too, but without the backdrop of the personal touches, those notable events and figures of the human timeline would carry precious little meaning. Albert Einstein’s contributions mattered because there was already a life going on worth living, with people worth living it with. Without the bit players doing their parts, there would be nothing for the stars to build on.

We’ve all had unusually qualified individuals like this in our lives, to some extent or another and at various times, who we’ve highly regarded. The law of supply and demand would also dictate that if we’re actively in the food chain of offering life all around us, a number of people may have regarded you in somewhat of a similar fashion. As such, you’re a hero. You. The one with the finger pointing on your sternum right now. Nice job, by the way… and keep up what you’re doing, because people are watching. People who are young and impressionable. People who are old and discriminating. People who are in between and just soaking life in. All who are desperately in need of heroes, because that’s just the way life is. And that hero is unfailingly you. Yes… you.

1 comment:

snackboy said...

Nice read Rusty. I will say though that we must careful not to conflate heroism with the fulfillment of responsibility and / or leadership. To me, just because someone is a good person or adheres to their civil / family duties doesn't in of itself qualify a hero; otherwise, hero loses it's lingual elevation.


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