(About a 2 minute read)
To many people John McCain, who died yesterday, was a hero best remembered for his refusal when a POW to accept the offer of his captors for his personal freedom because it meant leaving his brothers behind.
To many others, McCain was the best of a bad lot — a politician who at least somewhat rose above the norm for politicians to show some political integrity and courage. I myself will always remember him as the man who rightfully stood up for the humanity of Barack Obama, his political opponent when he was running for the presidency.
It speaks volumes about our age that McCain’s act stood out as exceptionally courageous and decent.
I do not mean to distract from McCain’s accomplishments, nor from his character, when I say that I think our tendency to make heroes of politicians speaks more to our human need for heroes than it does to their heroism. I believe McCain deserves the recognition he will get for the things he did and the man he was.
But I note that many others also deserve recognition — and yet it seems one must pretty much be a war hero or a political leader to be recognized. There are notable exceptions, of course. Edison readily comes to mind, as do a few others. But the bulk of men and women in our society who are widely recognized as heroes seems to be made up of warriors and politicians.
Maybe it’s because we kid ourselves into believing heroes are old-fashioned. But what is old-fashioned is only the childish belief that a man or woman must be all good to be heroic. That is, to set a standard for excellence in some area of life.
If you are truly realistic enough to grasp that everyone is “flawed” in one respect or another, then you are realistic enough to grasp that there are indeed Einsteins in this world who do in fact excel at one thing or another, who push the envelop for what it means to be human — who affirm our potential as a species.
We might even ask, whether a society that denies it has any genuine heroes will inevitably be reduced to the admiration of mere fame, power, or riches. And furthermore, whether the admiration of fame, power, or riches can ever be more than a sort of junk food substitute for the much deeper inspiration that genuine appreciation for an honest hero might bring us.
This post was inspired by a post on Abbie’s Tree House, which can be found here.