We could pose the question from a variety of angles and in a number of ways. Who do we admire? Who do we look up to as examples? Who are our heroes?
In reflecting on a recent remark that mentioned an influential grandmother, and a reference to Katherine Hepburn as one of my icons for many reasons, I realize this: I no longer have heroes. Certainly not among our contemporary public personalities.
And I wonder – do you have heroes, and if so, who are they? Or, like me, do you look back and see that you had many when you were a child, but time and reality have changed that perspective?
Are Heroes a Thing of the Past?
I can’t help but ask myself if we are past the age of heroes – though we are certainly not beyond heroism, which I believe exists in spades. But the concept of looking up to someone as an inspirational figure seems tarnished. Do the Lance Armstrongs and others who fall from grace disavow us of this tendency to idolize?
In asking myself about heroes, Nelson Mandela is the only name that came to mind. And yet, until I went off to college, I know I had many heroes – from astronauts to prima ballerinas when I was very young, to film stars and brilliant writers as I began to grow up. But those days, for me, are long gone.
Curious to see if I am not alone in this conundrum, not only am I posing the question, but I offer this presentation that tells us that heroes in American 21st century life
… are subject to fluctuations in peoples ideologies and values… The lives of heroes are [under] much more scrutiny than ever before…
In other words, we’re fickle. And, those in the public eye are subject to constant media monitoring and potential negative PR. Heaven forbid that a hero should be human in his or her failings!
Where Do 21st Century Heroes Come From?
So where do our heroes come from now? Since our attention span is compromised by a constant barrage of competing messages, those we plug as heroes may be perceived as such for a shorter period of time, and in a narrower context. Is this part of the reason that we are more likely to view those close to us as heroes?
Perhaps we know an incredible teacher who stays late each day to tutor the child that struggles, a child in whom she sees promise. Perhaps we have encountered the piano teacher who gives free lessons to the financially strapped student. What about the weary manager at the local café who carries all the end-of-day leftovers to the local homeless shelter – walking four city blocks, come rain or shine?
Are these “good behaviors” that seem to be growing rare? Are these precisely the sort of selfless and affirming actions that we most appreciate, worthy of being deemed small acts of heroism? Must heroism exist on a grand scale to be perceived as significant?
Family Members as Heroes
Family members can become the personal heroes in our lives – for what they teach us, how they love us, how they may even “save” us in a way, from circumstances we might not otherwise be able to understand or escape. At the very least, the influence of a grandparent (for example) can be powerful. As this reader explains in a recent comment:
My grandmother… was the biggest influence in my life, in every area. She was a grand lady, no matter her means. The style, behaviors, presentation of one’s self, the vocabulary, the posture, the decorum, the laughter, the wit, the intelligence, the personal grooming… all taught by her have become “normal” to me.
Our mothers, our fathers, our grandmothers, our grandfathers – are they our truest heroes if we’re fortunate, because of the role they play in our lives? Are we more able to view family and acquaintances as heroes because they aren’t subject to the harsh light of the media? Or is it because we appreciate more grounded, consistent, and enduring actions – newsworthy or not – for the value they add to quality of life?
Who Are Your Heroes?
Who are your heroes? Can you name them?
Speaking for myself, there are people I admire – people in my life, people I encounter, people I observe. I admire them for their talent, their intelligence, their style, their perseverance, their humor, their compassion.
There are accomplishments I admire, achieved by people I may know, even peripherally, or those in public life. Again, I admire the achievements – and perhaps the person within the context of what they have accomplished.
As for heroes, this would be my list: The friend who manages her way through one storm after another, retaining her big heart and sense of humor; the neighbor who continues to care for her extended family without complaint, through her own medical inconveniences; the entrepreneur who seeks to market environmentally safe, sustainable products – and educate the rest of us in the process.
Heroes of a more conventional sort?
I still struggle to answer.
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