If Everybody’s A Hero…

Posted on February 18, 2012 by

On the heels of a recent conversation in which I was reminded (yet again) by a parent of how valuable our teachers are and how I should never say a bad thing against one, I was reminded of this quote from Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child:

Finally, since the hero stretches our minds and hearts by being so strikingly different from the rest of us, teach your children to hate and suspect excellence. This you can do in two ways.

You can attack excellence itself; a risky enterprise, since if you are going to bring the heroic genius of Michelangelo down to the level , of, say , special effects in video games, you actually have to show your children the work of Michelangelo. One never knows what might happen then.

The opposite strategy seems surer. You call anything and everything excellent. You democratize heroism. Everybody is a hero, and simply for doing (and often not well at that) the ordinary tasks of living as a half-decent person. Does your mother fix your breakfast? She is a hero. Does your father visit you every weekend without fail? A hero. Does your teacher mark your papers faithfully when you make a mistake? Unexampled heroism, that. If everyone is a hero, no one is a hero; and genuine heroes will go unnoticed in all the mindless self-congratulation. (page 147)

Mindless self-congratulation is the perfect description of the society in which we live; one where people expect adulation for doing what they are supposed to do. Or worse, for doing the job they are paid to do.

So no, teachers are not heroes. They are paid to show up every day, teach students, grade papers, and field unruly kids. Yes, the job is challenging but they know this when they sign up for it. Given that they work 9 months out of the year, have summers, weekends, and holidays off, I fail to see how they are any more heroic than the waitress who deals with rude parents and unruly kids for an uncertain payoff. Or even compared to the checker at Wal-mart who has to deal with a level of human insolence and abuse that rivals anything a teacher does for a fraction of the pay. I’m not knocking teachers, should any be reading along. I’m simply attempting to inject some sanity and realism into the meme of teachers as unsung heroes.

Mothers are not heroes, not even single mothers. Once our  babies are inside of us, they have to come out. When they do, it is natural and expected that we are to care for them to the best of our ability. Motherhood is not inflicted upon us. We choose it, and we choose the circumstances under which we embark on it. There’s nothing inherently heroic about motherhood. Our grandmothers knew that.

People who survive horrific accidents or crimes are not heroes simply because they survived. They were fortunate, but not heroic. While I recognize that it takes intestinal fortitude to do the hard work of regaining some semblance of a normal life, it’s not as if they have a choice. Media representation of an accident or crime victim’s “heroic” journey to wholeness further detract from the truly heroic acts that are by definition rare and by our watered down definition of heroism, increasingly ignored.

This may be controversial, but police officers are not heroes either. People who perform high-risk jobs are not heroes simply because they perform high-risk jobs. The idea that police officers protect and serve is a bit misleading since they usually don’t show up until the calamity and carnage has already taken place.

Fathers who guide and provide for their families are not heroes, though in the current culture a man who can manage to raise his children to adulthood while maintaining the respect of his wife and children has certainly completed a feat that puts him in an elite category among men.

Heroes are those who demonstrate uncommon valor and nobility, not those who wake up every morning and do what they are supposed to do. When every kid gets a trophy, there are no winners and losers and every small act of decency is something to be applauded, it’s clear how far we’ve descended as a culture.

Posted in: Book Review