Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Hero

Superman, Spiderman, Batman. We all grew up reading their comic books, watching their cartoons, collecting their actions figures (I was a Ninja Turtles girl myself). Super heroes fascinate us. We all want to be a hero, but when we reach a certain age we find out that kryptonite, mutating ooze and bat-utility-belts are not real. Most of us realize that values that those cartoons were trying to teach us. Integrity, honesty, hard work, compassion, sacrifice are the qualities of heroism. As we grow older we begin to look for these qualities in others to admire, our parents, teachers, community leaders. And every once in a while there are those that embody these qualities on a large scale for a large number of people. These people are deemed heroes. We look for these people, for better or for worse as an inspiration in troubled times, as someone to look up to and admire and ultimately strive to be like.

The trouble with finding real life heroes is that these people are not super powerful mutants or aliens. They are not superman; they are human. Human beings have flaws, it's part of what makes us both horrible and wonderful all at the same time. When we expect our heroes to be above this, to never make a mistake, we will ultimately be disappointed. There are those that thrive on this disappointment. Humanity as a whole has a history of ripping heroes down from the very platform we raised them up to. No one has ever withstood this scrutiny.

The story itself has been the cornerstone of western philosophy. The fate of Socrates and Plato's allegory of the cave suggest that it is human ignorance and fear of enlightenment that cause society to turn on their heroes. More significantly, the story of Jesus and his life seems to be one of human nature. The same people who demanded his crucifixion had once hailed Jesus as a hero. This is part of our western mythology, and has been taught to us for generations, and yet at every turn we find another human being to build up as our saviour and ultimately tear down when they do not meet our expectations.

One of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons is the one where Lisa is doing a report on Jebodiah Springfield. He is the founder of her hometown, Springfield, and renowned as a hero. When researching she discovers that many of the facts about Springfield were actually just myths. The stories had been embellished and Springfield was actually a murderous pirate. Lisa find proof of all this and decides to inform the town on "Jebodiah Springfield" day. But when she sees the town people gathered together celebrating, the children excitedly participating in activities and how happy everyone was enjoying the myth she decided not to tell everyone the truth. I suppose the episode is suggesting that ignorance is bliss, but if that's the case I wonder why more people aren't happy.

In any case, I'm not suggesting that we should stop exploring history, and you know Columbus was a pretty big asshole (aha, I knew my professional style of writing wouldn't hold up this entire entry). But maybe we need to stop using these people as scapegoats for our own unwillingness to try.

I am sure most of you are aware that I am writing this in response to the recent attacks on Lance Armstrong. A tabloid in France is reporting that Armstrong used banned substances to increase his red blood cell count in 1999 to win the Tour de France. Now putting aside the fact that that was six years ago, and the reason he had substances in his body to increase red blood cells might very well have been related to his battle with cancer, let's say he did use this drug. There is no evidence to suggest that he ever used it again, or that he used it for any other reason that to help him gain the edge that had been taken away from him by this horrible disease. He's a human being. Just like you and I. He suffered through cancer, he battled and survived, but he's still human. People make mistakes, and we need to learn to let each other make those mistakes.

Rather than expect Lance Armstrong to be superman, why not take some inspiration from someone who has fought a hard athletic battle and shown tremendous strength in the face of adversity. We should let is help us look at the adversity in our own lives and say "I can overcome this, I can make this a strong positive thing for me". If he turns out to be imperfect then take that as good thing. Let it be a reminder that all of us are capable of greatness, flawed as we are.

None of us are Superman, and we shouldn't expect that of others or ourselves. But the ideals that he stands for, the life that he leads, like all of our heroes should be something that each of us work towards in our own way. Rather than look for "What would Lance do"? Why don't we look at "What can I do to over come the situations in my life" or "What can I do to help another human being"? Have heroes of your own who inspire you and move you to be better person, but know that they are flawed, and that others will try to rip them down. It is the qualities of a hero that make someone great, not their infallibility.

"You are who you choose to be"-The Iron Giant

PS: In the future this blog will be neither preachy, nor in essay format... well at least not in essay format...


Andrew J. Root the First said...

Heroes are important because they show us what we little people can accomplish if we put our minds to it.

Just so long as we have radioactive mutant abilities. Otherwise we're all doomed.

Liz said...

I agree totally about showing us what we're capable of.
I think it's important too to realize that we don't have to go through life with out making mistakes in order to accomplish things.