Sunday, March 06, 2011

We Can Be Heroes

"I want a hero: an uncommon want..."
                                ---Byron


The age of hero worship appears to be past.  The "Great Man" theory of history is seen as too neglectful of the contributions of the people plural, if not outright dangerous after its manifestation in twentieth century Germany.

I have written before about the concept of the hero as example for personal conduct.  There is a distinction here that I think is often overlooked.  The "Great Man" was never meant to be emulated, how could he be?  His circumstances, his opportunities were unique.  It would be foolish to follow the example of a Napoleon.  The circumstances of history have changed, and the opportunities are not ours.  We may ask ourselves what we may have done in the same place, but the hypothesis can never be put to the test.

Nevertheless, the value of heroism should not be discounted outright.  Where would we be without imitation?  Our parents are the first we come to respect, and through their example learn to perfect our own.  But as we age and move into the wider world I think the only safe heroes are dead ones.  Lives that have been fully lived, have a beginning, middle, and end like a work of art.  Those who still live may live to disappoint us.  But we should always be mindful, and ready to take issue with them when our own judgment is at odds with theirs.  So, heroes are not to be worshiped like dogma, but exists for us like signposts to guide us on our way through life.  An active engagement, or dialogue, with the past's best exemplars serve as reminders of what even the lowliest among us may achieve given opportunity and time, and sets for us the task of being heroes ourselves, if only for the ones we love.

Even Napoleon had predecessor's he admired.  Had he only learned better from past examples he would have known that no man's good fortune is inexhaustible, and human glory must bend to human frailty.


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