Heroes and heretics

Did I mention heretics a while ago?

I did. Dropped them in at the end of a rumination on heroes.

Heretics deserve more language than a drop-in about something else. Let me confess to my romance with heretics. But I’ve also been doing more thinking about the characteristics of a hero and find I have a few more things to say.

A hero acts in a way that is admirable to most people. Someone who jumps into a raging river to save a child is applauded by all of us. No one condemns someone for saving a child. Maybe some of us shake our heads in a grim wonder that someone would risk his own life to save another’s. Those would be the some of us who wouldn’t never risk our own lives in such a spontaneous action. I’m most likely one of them. I deem myself compassionate but cowardly. I’ve never met a dangerous situation into which I’ve leapt.

But the word “hero” seems to be automatically followed by “worship.” For me, growing up in a family which never referred to or invoked a supernatural being, say, god, worship isn’t really in my psychological vocabulary. I wasn’t trained for it. Therefore, the only people I’ve ever seen surrounded by a shimmering aura were men I had intellectual or, more often, erotic crushes on.

A hero is idolized as a wondrous, larger-than-human creature. Eventually someone will throw up a statue. Statues are made of hard substances; it’s hard to hug a hero.

Also eventually, and in the age of social media quite quickly, the hero’s less than heroic qualities, i.e., his human flaws, will leak out and everyone goes into either an irritable depression or defensive denial.

Yesterday, I read Michelle Goldberg’s column about Lindsay Durtschi, a member of the P.T.A. in bright-red Escambia County, Fla., who is part of a suit against the school district and school board for their excessive book banning. In a tweet, she was described as “courageous,” not heroic. For all the reasons I’ve cited, I’m glad.

Also yesterday, the Times had an obit for Jim Brown, the great football player, a running back. The headline and the lede itself lay out why you definitely don’t want to embrace athletes as heroes.

Jim Brown, Football Great and Civil Rights Champion, Dies at 87. After a Hall of Fame career in the N.F.L., he pursued social activism and a Hollywood career, but his image was stained by accusations of abuse toward women.

One way or another, except when he’s playing his game, a great athlete will always let you down if you insist on calling him a hero.

I think that’s all I have to say about heroes. For now. Next I’ll get to heretics.


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