Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Makings of A Hero

by CWK

Here's my definition of a hero, and then some details on what makes a hero.

The hero, emboldened by a grand narrative, with the light of his/her individual conscience, takes responsibility for self and others in a great cause, and perseveres on through hardship, willing to risk everything, and willing to stand, if need be, completely alone.

I. Responsibility.

Heroism is an issue of character: what kind of person you are. And, the character of a hero can be reduced to this: they take responsibility.

Responsibility means: the ability/desire to respond. The sense that you CAN do something, and even more, that you WILL do something.

So, heroes feel they can/will/must do something. This is the difference between the heroic and non-heroic. The hero does something. The non-hero does nothing.

But, if you ask WHY?... why does the hero do something while others just stand around? Then, we are led back to the character of the hero: and that is the character of one who is responsible.

II. Responsibility for self.

The hero's sense of responsibility begins with self. Heroes have a ‘sense’ of playing a part in the world: they have gifts to offer; they have something they (they particularly) need to do.

We can call this ‘sense’ individual responsibility.

The hero's sense of individual responsibility causes them to ask, "Why don't I do something?" ... while the non-hero asks, "Why doesn't someone (else) do something?"

In other words, the hero sees him/herself as individually accountable for what they do/know/see.

An interesting side note: this individual responsbility also shows itself when the hero fails. He/she is the one person most willing to say, "It was MY fault. What could I (myself) have done better?"

For a moving display of such individual responsibility in Nazi Germany see chapter 8 of the book, “The Fabric of Faithfulness,” by Stephen Garber.

III. Responsibility for others.

The hero, having a sense of moral accountability for their own life, is quick to take responsibility for others.

This sense of responsibility doesn’t mean, “doing other’s people work,” nor does it mean, “feeling guilty for other people’s problems.” It is, rather, a desire to do other people real good. It means the hero does not ask, "Am I my brother's keeper..." but, "How can I keep my brother?"

This sense of responsibility for others arises from several sources:

1) A sense of kinship with all humanity.

We see other people as being basically LIKE us -- that is human beings who deserve justice and compassion.

2) A sense of sympathy.

Sympathy = to feel with/alongside. This is the ability to feel the same feelings as another, even if you are not in the same position.

Example: A man escapes a burning plane crash. He sees another man, crippled, trying to crawl to safety. He sees the pain and fear on that man's face. He feels in his bones what that man must be going through... he feels what this man is feeling... so, he rushes back into the inferno, picks the man up, and carries him to safety.

The hero often says, "If I were in that position I would want someone to help me."

3) A sense of duty due to our position.

Our position itself sometimes calls us to heroism because we stand in relationship to others who is, by virtue of our position, especially responsible for them.

-So, the general makes sacrifice his life for his troops (they are HIS troops, and he is THEIR general).
-The mother sacrifices a career advancement for her children (they are, afterall, her children).
-The owner of a business sacrifices profit for his employees (He feels he must take care of HIS employees, those who work hard for him).
- A captain goes back to the ship to save sailors (He is the captain, and these are HIS sailors).

IV. A Meta-Narrative.

A meta-narrative simply means: an above/beyond story. A meta-narrative is then, a bigger story, a grander history: a grand narrative which informs your life.

A person who embraces a meta-narrative is choosing to take a grander view of their lives. They have a sense that their life is about more than just a few years on earth because they view their own lives from beyond the earth; they have an eternal perspective. They have a sense that they play an important part in a big story. The story is bigger than them individually, and thus it is worth their effort, their undying devotion.

In short, a meta-narrative gives us a cause. The hero is not a 'rebel without a cause,' but more often, 'a rebel with a cause.'

The hero is one who does noble things, but these nobles things are possible because the hero has a meta-narrative. To put it simply, we only do noble things if we have noble views of our lives.

One of the best examples of this is from the movie, "Gladiator," when Maximus emboldens his troops with this meta-narrative, "What we do today echoes into eternity."

V. Training.

Again and again those who take heroic turns are those who have some kind of military training. Why is that people with military training often turn out to be heroes? The answer is: they have been trained to be heroes. They know what to do when things go wrong. They have heroism instilled in them through constant training; they have developed the habits of heroes, and these habits naturally come out when the occasion demands it.

Everybody would like to be a hero, but the idea of training scares many away. Here, we have to remember step 3: the hero takes responsibility for others. The hero is motivated to get training BECAUSE they take responsibility for others.

-Thus, a man who lives in the inner city, and feels responsible for the defenseless, will take a martial arts class.
-Thus, a woman who works the front desk at a nursing home, and feels responsible for her patients, will take a CPR class.
-Thus, a couple who lives near the beach, after hearing of a drowning, will take a lifeguard class together.

Of course, we would all rather not be in a position where we witness a tragic accident, or have to rescue someone, or have to administer CPR... but, the hero is one who is ready for such an occasion, should the occasion arise. They are ready because they have trained.

"For the man who is prepared, there is no emergency," is a Chinese proverb that every hero embraces.

VI. Inspiration.

Heroic individuals model there lives on other heroic individuals. They find inspiration from the example of heroes who have gone before. So, if you want to be more heroic, it is worth your while to read about heroes. This 'step' is related to the importance of 'meta-narrative (Step 4)' because we find kinship and strength from others with a similar meta-narrative.

On the theme of 'inspiration,' here are some reading suggestions:

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt (By David McCullough)

1776 (By David McCullough)

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (By Alfred Lansing)

The Character And Greatness Of Winston Churchill: Hero In A Time Of Crisis (By Stephen Mansfield)

Through Gates of Splender (By Elizabeth Elliot)

Stepping Heavenward (By Elizabeth Prentiss)

Missionary Patriarch: The True Story of John G. Patton (by John G. Patton)

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why (By Amanda Ripley)

Greek and Romans Lives (By Plutarch)

The Story of My Life (By Helen Keller)

The Diary of Anne Frank (By Anne Frank)

Foxes Book of Martyrs (By John Foxe)

VII. Risk.

I am not advocating foolish or reckless behavior -- but there is a common theme with heroes: they take risks. They are willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, their reputations for a worthy cause. And for them, it is always 'worth' the risk because the cause is 'worthy.' They gamble with small things because they have their eyes on grand things.

Perhaps this is the difference between heroic and foolish risk: heroic risk is risk for a worthy cause; foolish risk is risk for an unworthy cause. So, when the hero 'loses' possessions, reputation, etc. they are always willing to say, "I didn't lose anything. It was worth it. I would do it again."

I should emphasize again that I am NOT advocating sheer recklessness, which is actually un-heroic because it may endanger others/ourselves unncessarily. The hero, from one perspective, is the least reckless person in the world because they take responsibility for themselves, and others (See steps 1-3). The General who endangers his soldiers lives needlessly is reckless and most unheroic; the General (like Leonides the Spartan) who is willing to sacrifice his life because he loves his country is a hero.

To be more specific, the hero is careful in regard to duty (the right thing), and careless in regard to consequences (what will happen if I do the right thing). They do their duty and 'let the chips fall where they may.' The hero says, with Queen Esther, "If I perish, I perish."

I am advocating the heroic perspective that there are some things more important than money, reputation, security, etc. There are some things worth risking it ALL for, and the hero is willing to risk, to put valuables on the line, and gamble with consequences, good or bad... in service of such things.

VIII. Love of Challenge.

The un-hero opts for the easiest life possible, away from trial and turmoil. The hero marches into and through difficult things.

The un-hero shrinks from challenges; the hero welcomes challenges.

The hero agrees with Francis of Assisi, "...the fiercer the conflict, the more glorious shall be the victor’s crown." ... and with Thomas Paine,

"Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain to too cheap, we esteem to lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value."

IX. Being willing to stand alone.

This doesn't mean being different just for the sake of being different. The willingness to stand alone must be considered within the full definition of the hero, which is:

The hero, emboldened by a grand narrative, with the light of his/her individual conscience, takes responsibility for self and others in a great cause, and perseveres on through hardship, willing to risk everything, and willing to stand, if need be, completely alone.

Now, 'standing alone' is only heroic if it is in service of the heroic ideals we have already mentioned. Many villains stand alone. In fact, villainy often isolates people. So, the goal is not to simply stand alone, but to stand alone for the right.

All the same, 'standing alone,' is an important feature of heroes -- sometimes the distinguishing feature. The hero has the capacity, like Athanasius, to take on the whole world (Athanasius Contra Mundum: Athanasius against the world).

-The hero is willing to question 'conventional wisdom.'
-The hero is willing to be the outsider.
-The hero is willing to rock the boat.
-The hero is willing to go against the grain.

This is why so many heroic figures seemed out of place in their own time; this is why som many heroic figures were persecuted. They refused to move along with the herd. They refused to accept things as they WERE; they preferred to think about things as they SHOULD BE.

A tragic mistake often occurs at this point. People, naturally, want to be heroic. They want to persevere through trials, and win a hard won contest. But they make the mistake of thinking that heroism is essentially 'standing out.' So, they dress/talk/act in odd ways because they don't want to be 'part of the crowd.'

What we need to understand is: heroism is not being odd for the sake of being odd -- it is being odd for the sake of a great cause. If you have a great cause, it may make you odd. However, being odd is not itself a great cause.

X. Tested-ness: This is a test.

See obstacles as a test, and an opportunity. See obstacles as a chance to prove your mettle. Many see obstacles as road blocks. Heroes see obstacles as stepping stones. Heroes ultimately even see their own failures as stepping stones:

Why would God allow temptations? They are divine testings that reveal our hearts. Isn’t it true that we really don’t know ourselves until we are put to the test? Some mild-mannered people display heroic courage and strength, while the person who seemed to be tough as nails freezes at the first gunshot. Our true natures are revealed when they are tested. Anyone can be kind when shown kindness, but what if someone cut you off while you are driving or slanders you behind your back? These are not pleasant experiences, and some of them come at the hands of evil people who should be rebuked. But God is over them all, revealing us so that we can be led to more wholehearted trust in him. For the person whose heart does not pursue the temptation, there is joy and thankfulness that the Spirit of God is doing his good work (like Joseph). To the person whose heart is attracted to the temptations there is opportunity to know forgiveness and be strengthened for future battles (like David, Peter) (From Addictions, Banquet in the Grave, Ed Welch).

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