Hollywood and its younger viewers like fantasy heroes because so few exist in real life.
A Word (or two) about Heroes and Myths
(with apologies to Joseph Campbell)
Times are such nowadays that many people, too many of them young, are living lives devoid of personal heroes who, although we may never know them personally, help us to make sense out of a seemingly crazy, often harsh, illogical world.
Simultaneously an ironic twist exists whereby contemporary films and literary fiction virtually brim with all manner of heroic figures, both super and otherwise. A troublesome dichotomy has evolved wherein the problems of the real world are increasingly viewed as unsolvable, while those who crave justice and the triumph of Good over Evil -- as a fleeting substitute -- routinely defeat the imaginary villains of escapist fiction.
Unable to find living, breathing people who can compare to their literary or Hollywood heroes, many folks have resigned themselves to a cynical appraisal of peers, politicians, and would-be leaders of societies and nations alike. The opinion is widely held that most persons are more or less equally flawed and given to impropriety in one form or another, to one degree or another.
Although it's true that celebrities can represent a type of role model, for better or worse -- more often an example of a certain level of success to which one might aspire -- it is rarely the case that someone famous can indefinitely sustain a ranking of unflinching integrity, decency, and good character. Or as a hero to be admired and emulated over a long period of time.
Rather it's more often the situation that many such individuals typically disappoint us, falling short of our expectations and in some instances revealing themselves as antithetical to almost everything we hold near and dear. Which can be downright depressing when those same people portrayed heroic characters in some of our favorite films.
But what does it mean to be a hero? How is the term even defined in today's world? And why again is it important that people adopt one or more ethical, moral "champions" in their life?
Essentially a hero is classically defined as a person of exceptional courage, nobility, and strength (of character). A more modern and realistic definition could easily drop the word exceptional and replace it with consistent. Consistent, unwavering courage, nobility, and strength. Granted such persons are indeed exceptional in contemporary society, the qualities themselves no longer need be extraordinary. Depravity, corruption, perversity, and degeneracy are at such high levels nowadays, that the standards for courage, nobility, and decency can be set fairly low. Or rather at a minimum level, let's say.
And still, when I talk to people, relatively few possess personal heroes who are, as they say, beyond reproach. Someone whose integrity is so solid, whose beliefs are so undeniably compatible with their own, that they willingly adjust and revise their world views in favor of a chosen hero's personal positions on almost everything.
This is not to be confused, however, with fanaticism or zealotry, which are defined by their intolerance of others' views. A modern-day hero who manifests the qualities to which I refer, is the most tolerant of individuals. Even a mentor is often more to do with the teaching of life skills and abilities, than are they an authentic philosophical or moral guidepost by which we can judge the virtue of many if not most things, including other people.
Finding heroism is a lot like finding love. And equally difficult. As opposed to infatuation which doesn't discriminate between propriety and sex, true love is a reflection of ourselves in the eyes of another person. When somebody possesses the same values, attitudes, ideas (or ideals), opinions, and especially beliefs that we ourselves embrace, we tend to like that person a lot. And when the feelings are intense and genuine enough, we fall in love with them. Which is a little (or a lot) like falling for ourselves, as if we fell for our own clone in a way. As silly as that sounds, the notion itself is psychologically sound. Consider the opposite for a moment, and you can quickly appreciate how it is we might hate someone -- instead of love them.
Consequently, only one of the reasons why it's so difficult to find a hero is immediately obvious when one realizes that, whether our personal standards of behavior are set high or low, we are voluntarily submitting our beliefs to the presumed (and superior) wisdom of another person. That's a lot to ask of ourselves under the best of circumstances. And it's all the more reason why it's so important that we do so.
A strong temptation exists otherwise, where we tend to think that our understanding of the world is pretty much as good as that of anyone else. Maybe we don't have all the collegiate letters after our name, but basically we get what's going on. Or we see the abundant ignorance (and stupidity) the same as any other.
We need to have heroes precisely so we don't consider ourselves as the final authority on life's most important issues. Even more so, that one is rarely an autonomous authority about anything. Humility is among the greatest of human attributes, but it can only be achieved by the recognition of things greater than ourselves. Of people both smarter and of greater goodness of character.
Worth repeating is the acknowledgement that while it's fairly easy to find such individuals within a historical perspective -- meaning those who have come and gone and left an enviable legacy for the rest of us -- acquiring a living, modern-day guru poses a particularly persnickety challenge.
Whether your personal favorite from history is Jesus, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King or one of a thousand others, active and contemporary heroes are conspicuously vulnerable to mistakes, lapses of judgment, and fringe beliefs that may conflict with one or more of our own. Rarely does some relative stranger espouse ideas that for the most part, are in complete and utter sync with our own opinions and beliefs. When those same beliefs support our deepest and most important core values that give meaning to our life, there's a good chance we've found a hero. It's not a certainty by any stretch, but such a person deserves our additional time and attention.
Likewise, we need to listen especially close for lies, even small ones. Prevarications that include embellishments which deviate from the truth in some seemingly insignificant way. The heroes to whom I refer never intentionally lie. It's not in them to do so. And it is such people, as the old saying goes, to whom we should lend our ears. And our loyalty. Some money if need be. But our support most of all. They are indeed the champions who fight for what we hold near and dear.
In addition, I should briefly mention how heroics are both passive and active. In our personal and private lives, how we conduct ourselves, how we behave, is a form of passive heroics that are almost never considered as such, but they are, nevertheless.
We are passive role models for those with whom we interact on a daily basis. For most good and decent people, these actions are of a generally positive nature. Especially as concerns children. I always liked the modern parable that suggests we do the right thing even when no one is looking.
Adults and especially parents may, in some ways, find it difficult to compete with the virtuous heroes who populate movies, books, and video games in particular. The one big advantage on the side of grown-ups is that the lines between the good guys and the bad are often blurred in today's fictional stories for kids. Children still need heroes in the real world. And because they are sorely lacking in many instances, we see a certain disconnect, I think, between the young and the old. Among the several different generations that now populate modern-day America.
The cool, aloof separation among these same generations is where a more active form of heroism -- to which I referred earlier -- comes into play. If we as adults do not have heroes in our lives, the chances are likely that neither will our children. And when neither do, we live in a realm of controlled chaos, which is how I believe conditions currently exist in America.
It took many years for me to find my private paladins. Longer than it should have, but mainly because I wasn't in the market for heroes. Particularly after I had adopted a few along the way and was badly burned, so to speak. I voted for Bill Clinton for president when he ran the first time. The reverend Jesse Jackson as well. I loved the guys. I thought they spoke for me and more importantly that they thought like me. This represented the first time I voted in any election and I took it all very seriously.
Needless to say, I was seriously disappointed. Not only did Clinton fail on many of his campaign promises, but ultimately the whole Monica Lewinsky affair, Paula Jones, the charges of rape and so forth left me devastated. Let alone impeachment and later disbarment. This man did not represent my views after all. At all. So much for heroes. There were others here and there who came and went, but it would take me over twenty-five years to find another hero who I could believe in with every fiber of my being.
Worth mentioning, but only briefly, was the farcical presidential bid by Ross Perot. I still belief the whole truth behind his resignation, which snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, remains an unsolved mystery. For the many of us who supported his candidacy, the man reverted, almost instantaneously, from hero to villain.
None of this, by the way, is meant as a personal attack on any of the individuals named. By the same token, I'm also not out to actively endorse the people who have since become my personal role models. Such is not my intent, nor should it be. My aim is simply to encourage others who feel somewhat lost and, other than a church pastor or priest, a close friend or family member, embrace no real heroes in the world. Especially global heroes, if you will, who champion issues on local, national, and international stages.
In my specific situation, based largely on an increased concern over certain activities within the political arena, I consider popular radio hosts, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, as two of my biggest heroes. Texas senator Ted Cruz and other conservatives are also on my list. And maybe a few more here and there. Michelle Malkin, Sarah Palin, Mark Steyn, to name a few.
The point is that these people need to have proven themselves to me, over a period of time, that not only do they rarely lie, but their views remain consistent, sensible, and accurate. Then comes all the rest of it, the honesty, integrity, intelligence and wisdom -- the whole package. It's not easy being one of my heroes. Neither do I come close to living up to the same standards I establish for these other people. But they do. Actor Gary Sinise is in there, too.
I'll end this by saying that I believe there's a lot of really bad people living in the world today. And I mean really nasty, scurrilous, absolutely evil human beings whose presence in the world diminishes the planet as a whole. Because my perception of the world is more bleak than it is for some, less so than for others', I need heroes to help me make sense of it all. I think it would be too much for me by myself. I don't know how other people can do it. Or how I did it for so long. Too long.
Allow me to nudge you to try and find one or two super-friends, people you may never meet in person, and bring them into your life if possible. If you like what they say, then listen more closely and give them a chance. And if you don't feel empowered or strengthened as a result, you might want to move on and find someone else. And should they lie, even a little, you must definitely move on to someone else. Until they try to deceive. I think you get the idea.
Just as in love, you'll know when the right one(s) comes along. Be open to the effort, the promise of what might be gained in the process. Get informed, stay informed. Spread the word, let people know who your heroes are and encourage them to befriend those who celebrate the causes they both believe in.
You'll know your hero is right for you because when that person speaks, they'll be putting into words those same ideas, thoughts, and feelings that you couldn't have said better yourself. But wanted to.