This is part four in a four-part series about our country and its relationship to what I perceive to be some of our greatest challenges. In this final installment, we will analyze our hero worship. As we complete the series, I look forward to your insight and thoughts. More than anything though, I look forward to hearing how we can work together to address the toughest issues facing our nation.
In America, we worship heroes. They provide us inspiration and a manifestation of something we can become. We see ourselves in the bravery of soldiers returning home from war. We take notice of the firefighters rescuing families from burning buildings. We topple over each other to share videos of police officers going above and beyond the call of duty. In another vain, we worship celebrities, professional athletes, and titans of industry as if they were placed on a pedestal. Not everyone who is in the public eye nor is every person committed to public service worthy of hero status, but we must realize that we treat them all the same.
We build them up to be larger than life characters possessing something special that we don’t. We ignore their shortcomings. We cast aside their humanity and forget that they too are an amalgamation of successes and failures. We often assume they were built for the times they find themselves in and cast aside any idea of being in the right advantageous place at the right advantageous time. We ignore luck, hard work, and determination. We see the battle, burning building, city street, film, game, and debate without much thought given to the preparation. We pretend as if our heroes don’t bleed. We assume they will never let us down.
Yet, when they fall from the ether after their meteoric rise, we force them to beg for our forgiveness as if they owe us something. This is especially true for celebrities, athletes, and politicians, but can also be applied to those heroes of public service. We make Brad Pitt apologize for picking Angelina over Jennifer. We shame Tiger Woods for liking sex. We tell Bill Clinton jokes to this day for really “having sexual relations with that woman.” We celebrate the bravery of soldiers, police, and firemen/women, but act shamefully when we discover post-traumatic stress disorder, an addiction to alcohol and prescription pain medication. We worship our heroes until we realize they are just like us; they are human. They are filled with flaws and temptations, yet we expect them to be holier than thou. When they do fail by succumbing to the power of their own name or the public pressure, we parade them in front of microphones, cameras, and the public eye for apologies, grace, and forgiveness. All the while, we find ourselves guilty of the same sins. As we do this, we create a sick obsession with celebrity gossip, political mudslinging, and support for real heroes in words only.
But what happens when we become heroes? Would we expect the same treatment? Would we want our every move followed and documented? Would we want people to worship us? Would we love to have our privacy devalued and our sense of humanity ignored? These, of course, are rhetorical questions. We all know the answers to them. Some of us are heroes in our own regard. We may pursue it quietly or boldly, but each of us is a hero to someone. If the seemingly impossible were to occur and our good deeds receive national visibility, we may want to be praised, receive some notoriety, or to quietly return to our lives. Why? Most of us do great big and unimaginable things, not for fame, but because it was the right thing to do. Those who pursue professional sports, movies, or public office, may want to be famous, but I also want to believe they do it for the love of the game, art, and nation. We do these good and noble things for love, not to be followed and harassed. We do these things, because of passion and a need to express, not to have people shape us into false gods. We are called to action or the highest levels of our passions, not because we want our humanity ignored. Yet, this is what we do to our heroes and I am here to say it is not okay.
It creates unnecessary distractions, men/women addicted to power, and hero worship that acts as roadblock to others who feel they will never compete. Of course, fame is a natural byproduct of the stories we tell to glorify the decency we find in others. It naturally follows those who work in fields where the public is invited to look, but why can’t it just end there. Why are sites like TMZ so popular? Why are news stories dedicated to lifting people up one week and then tearing them down the next? Why do we act this way? Why do we act in way that glorifies men for what seems like the impossible, but finds equal pleasure in the fall? For me, these are questions I cannot answer. Someone smarter and better educated will have to guide me here. With that said, there is a positive side to fame that often goes ignored by the masses; a chance to find the hero within ourselves.
My heroes have come in many forms. They are and have been my mother and her tireless dedication to her family, my father and his service to his country, my brother for following in his footsteps, a high school principal who challenged me to be better, a college professor who made me question everything, a friend who I met in college who possesses more dedication than any human being I know, and a partner who has more unconditional love than I deserve. My heroes have also known the national and international stage; President Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Henry David Thoreau, Christopher McCandless, Jon Stewart, Malala Yousafzai, and many more. Each one of these people inspire me. They make me want to better. They make me want to find the hero within myself. I measure my life against theirs to track my progress. For some, I will never be able to compete. For others, the hope was always that I would go further than they ever could. Out of my sheer love and respect for them, I try every day.
But I also know my heroes are filled with flaws. They each have made mistakes; some were private and others occurred on a national stage. Rarely, have I demanded an apology. It was in these moments of adversity that they revealed what I love about them. They revealed their strength, humility, and sense of purpose. They revealed characteristics I could emulate when I made my inevitable mistakes. As they grew and I watched, I did so trying not to judge. I tried to remember their humanity and that we all fall. Heroes falling from the sky doesn’t make the ascent any less magical. It only makes the Phoenix-like rise back into to the air more enviable.
We should take a long look in the mirror and realize we will fall. As we do, we should realize the hypocrisy of judging those in the national spotlight. We can’t wag our fingers at someone and expect grace when we do the same. The world may work that way, but I am here to say it shouldn’t. Instead, we should be slow to judge. We should hope for the best and that a support system surrounds those who need it, because when we fail, we will hope for the same. Without a doubt, some failures are more massive or embarrassing than others, but if we want to improve America then we must end our worship of heroes. Instead, we should find inspiration, commonalities, and lessons to be applied to our own lives. Anything beyond that, should be cast aside.
Be good to each other,