Friday, April 08, 2005
Heroes and Sacrifice
My wife brought to my attention a trend in American culture, to confuse "survival" with heroism. That is, if somebody survives an ordeal, they are often branded as a "hero" even if they did not perform any act which was even slightly heroic. Now, I'm fine with survival stories, and Readers Digest used to make them a staple of pretty much every edition. ("Drama in Real Life" - do they still run those stories?) And it can take a great deal of fortitude to pull yourself through a horrendous ordeal. But I guess I would like to see a more restrained use of the word "hero" by those who would bestow it without regard to whether the beneficiaries of that label demonstrated any concern for others, let alone whether they engaged in any form of noble sacrifice.
It strikes me as odd that our culture also works so hard to tear down heroes. We celebrate our heroes, real or false, but then seem to hope that they stumble or fall. Perhaps we are more comfortable with false heroes - victims of circumstance who do only what they need to do to survive - because that's the type of "hero" we can most easily imagine becoming. And perhaps we're quick to magnify any stumble, or grab on to any salacious rumor, associated with a bona fide hero because deep down we can't stand that some people truly are braver than us, and even better than us.