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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 8-4-23 – Holding Up Our Heroes

We're not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” ― Joseph Campbell

Heroes are important in our narrative as humans. People who do amazing things that we ourselves can aspire to. Doing things like saving lives, winning a cause, or overcoming adversity to achieve a goal that benefits us all. In America, George Washington was such a leader, who after leading the continental army through the revolutionary war, set the standard for peaceable transition of power. Leaving the halls of power and be a citizen instead of a general or president. His farewell address in 1796 is a favorite, including this section where is talking about the dangers to our form of government set up in factional parties:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

People who give themselves to causes, often ones in which we still benefit, as we do the warnings of our first president 227 years ago. The mark of a great leader is the capacity to see things that are timeless, this speech is worth reading as Washington achieves exactly that. There are so many other heroes across our history, I just picked one that was central to the formation of our nation. One who, like us all has deep flaws and profound attributes.

I have personal heroes. School teachers who saw things in me I did not see in myself. Mentors who freely gave of their time and expertise to help me on my journey. People who stood up for me when I could not stand up for myself. Some who I had not ever met and had done things working to pass laws that helped me, even decades before I needed the thing that they had fought so hard for. It is important to hold these people up for what they achieved. My own life is a case in point. I am the sum of what people did to help me as much or perhaps more than any other thing.

Heroes are human, and in our era, we drag them down, not hold them up. It is my impression that in earlier eras, we did not pull apart our heroes in quite the way we do now. In my head, as I was writing this, I was thinking about larger than life people over the course of human history. Everyone I could think of also had deep flaws. The point is they did well despite these deficits. We are all imperfect; some of us do great things anyway. More our so capable.

We should accept that all people are human. We have egos and ambition. It is typical that any major success in human history are incomplete ones. This is the nature of such things. For some reason, in these times we live in we focus on the deficits of our heroes rather than the prizes they achieved for us. We pull down our heroes. It does to us what it does to them. As the Campbell quote above notes, when we strive to be better, we do so for our world. Attention flows to where attention goes, and we pay far too little attention to our capacity to achieve good. In this way, we are dragging ourselves down into the quagmire of our worst qualities, not our finest attributes.

By taking down heroes, we jade ourselves. We begin to see everything, and everyone as only being motivated by self-serving interests and by so doing set ourselves up to do the same. This generally does not lead to a sense of life satisfaction. I suspect that all of this contributes to a sense of hopelessness and a prevailing sense of dissatisfaction everyone can feel in this era. It is so thick it could be cut with a knife.

We have capacities for great things and for profound destruction. The only way we aspire to do great things is to remind ourselves of our capability to rise above our frailties to do great things, despite of ourselves. This is why we have heroes; they help bring out the better aspects of ourselves. They remind us we can rise above our own baseness. I can’t think of anything as a society we need more now than to do just that.

Today, I honor heroes in all of their flawed humanity. We need more heroes not fewer. Maybe it would help us all to hold them up rather than focusing on their deficits, of course they are imperfect, so are we. I am grateful for heroes large and small. The truth is that each and every one of us, and especially you and I are capable of doing better and being better. Do you have heroes to share?

What are you grateful for today?

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