JuicyLesson #96: Heroism: Substance over stylin’ purdy

According to wiki.answers.com, the following are some of the terms which are used synonymously with the word hero: ace, adventurer, celebrity, combatant, conqueror, daredevil, demigod, diva, exemplar, gallant, god, goddess, great person, heavy, ideal, idol, lead, leading person, lion, martyr, model, paladin, person of the hour, popular figure, prima donna, principal, protagonist, saint, star, superstar, tin god, victor, & worthy.

Do the names Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber fit in or resonate with the images conjured up by these designations? Maybe they do as in our notions of “tin god”, “diva”, “heavy”?, “star”, “superstar”, prima Donna and descriptions of the like which define the notion of hero in a way and originate in a place which is antithetical to what we mean when we label another member of the human race a “hero” or when we describe his/her actions as “heroic”. There is an intrinsic value in the term “hero” which is lost when we define heroism in terms of star, superstar, diva and/or tin god qualities.

Sometimes heroes remain nameless to the general public, ex. the guy standing in front of on-coming tanks in Tiananmen Square holding bags of groceries in both hands, the guy who rushes into a burning building to save another person, or a woman who saves a person from drowning by administering CPR to the victim after plucking her out of the water and dragging her, by now with the help of passersby, onto the shore. Heroes one and all!

Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut famous for his rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity” while space traveling, has a million twitter followers while Justin Bieber has about forty-seven million. Can’t imagine how many of today’s youth follow Miley Cyrus, One Direction, Rhianna,or for that matter Katy Perry and our movie star/celebrity du jour. Why is that? For the same reason that I felt the need to use a qualifier to describe Mr. Hadfield’s accomplishment and not any of the others. Youth. The young. Fame is relative sometimes to place, sometimes to space but almost always to age.

The celebrity element, the star quality if you will, does not define my “hero”, instead, being a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities most certainly does. (Courtesy of the Gazette) In other words, in my mind, heroism does not equate with terms like celebrity and prima donna. Bravery and distinguished service are not necessarily related to “divaism” and fame, especially when the latter exists only for its own sake.

So what marks the boundary between being a hero and being one of the “countless unknowns” out there who may be heroes but unsung ones, known only to a limited circle of friends and acquaintances, and not even, in many cases I’m sure, to themselves? Unabashed heroism?

It is, quite simply, the age of the observer and, in certain cases, the type and quality of that observer’s experience that resonate in our idealization of certain elements of our cultural, social and professional working lives. “Youth” is the essential determinant in our decision to anoint the very few as heroes and the very many as those we consider to be little more than average or slightly above. Youth (and in certain cases I mean the pre-teen) today is into Bieber, Cyrus and Perry; the adults among us not so much. We enjoy and may even go as far as idolizing the feats of Gandhi, Mandela and Eric Clapton; the young not so much. Sports figures, however, seem at first glance to be crossing the divide between the young and the rest.

In today’s (Saturday’s) Gazette, I noticed a photograph taken of a crowd demonstrating against the PQ’s proposed Bill 60, the so-called Charter of Quebec Values – which will be the one and only time during this particular discourse that I dignify that piece of shit proposed law with the use of capitals. You can quote me on that and I will fine myself $250 if I (or you) find me using big letters in reference to the so-called charter of Quebec values – money to be donated to the charity of my (or your, depending on the situation,) choice. (BTW “Quebec” is a different case and therefore I will do so, use upper case that is.)

Anyway, as I was saying, upon perusing a photo of a demonstration against the values charter, what struck me was the absolute dearth of young people pictured among the more than fifty demonstrators. Young people, as we did at their age, have other concerns which extend beyond the spheres of economics, politics, and history. Being accepted by peers is one of the more challenging facts of life as far as adolescents and those, shall we say, under the age of twenty-five, are concerned. We, as adults, have mostly been there, done that.

There is also the matter of achieving success, another great challenge for today’s youth to reflect on and then to pursue. For the most part, we, as adults live the lives which we have determined, to a greater and lesser degree again depending on the situation and the person – by us, ourselves, by virtue of certain choices made or not made in our earlier lives. By the time we reach the age of thirty, choices have been made or not made; now is the time to live with the consequences, both good and bad, of our action or, in other circumstances, our inaction.

My mother was a fairly wise woman in her own way; she certainly never hesitated to call ’em as she saw ’em. One of the things she used to say remains with me to this day and it is this: “You’re only young once but you can be immature forever.” I accept the logic which underlies what I like to think of out of love for my mother as a tongue-in-cheek remark: that once we have become of a certain age, a corresponding degree of maturity also should and often does ensue which precludes us from having to continue to grapple with what may be characterized as “teenage” identity issues along with the “adolescent” angst that often accompanies many of us into our mid-twenties.

By the time we hit thirty years of age, our worries about being respected and liked by the people that we respect and like (and sometimes even by those whom we don’t) have been dissipated, for the most part, as a result of intelligent personal growth and development – both on our parts and theirs. In addition, by this time in our lives, we should have already defined our goals, our ambitions and possibly even at least formulated some notion of what our life’s work will look like – all things being equal – as well as having laid out some kind of mental path to success, however we have defined and continue to define that notion for ourselves.

That’s a very important point about success as defined by whom in that any definition of success that comes from outside ourselves may at times work, but the odds are heavily stacked against this happening.

I remember that I got into an argument with a student on the issue of who should define success – the parent or the progeny – and plan to get into this incident in tomorrow (Monday)’s JuicyLesson.

So then, by the age of around thirty (and this number varies: nowhere is it set in stone), we should be well on our way to defining for ourselves how our success should look and then pursuing it, one day at a time.*

*Sometimes it’s as important to know when to slow down as it is to know when to go faster.

Realizing and understanding that such is the way of a successful life is an important step in our evolution as mature humans which is, of course, not to say it’s the last. We should always strive “to be the best we can be” and never stop. Never! Also, nothing including the path we envision for ourselves should be impermeable to alteration.

Even on those mornings when we don’t fucking feel like getting out of bed, the striving must always continue. “Get yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” Courtesy of Peter Tosh.


More on this in Monday’s post.

Enjoy the day.

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