Unwarranted Heroism

The hero moniker is overplayed.  If you digest any amount of news you know that everything that everyone does is heroic and that every profession outside of Wall Street financier or porn star agent is filled with heroes.  If someone jumps into a heated four-foot pool on a summer day to help a kid having trouble swimming to the side, she is the Hero of the Day on 9news.  I was jokingly thinking that instead of honoring “heroes,” we should shame the extremely small percentage of people who wouldn’t jump into the four-foot pool.  Maybe call it Coward of the Day.  But on a more serious note, while watching the local news the other day, with its blind, unconditional praise of members of the military and sufferers of unusual diseases, it got me to thinking about what exactly they’re praising.

A little disclaimer before I proceed: I am not—and I repeat NOT— bashing people in the military or dismissing people plagued with horrific diseases.  I simply see different realities that run counter to the standard boilerplate news coverage of such topics.  The news and common public opinion: everyone in the military is brave, heroic, and expressing a deep-seated desire to protect and serve the country.  Everyone with life-threatening or odd and unlucky diseases who hasn’t died is brave, heroic, and doing something courageous by getting involved in efforts to eradicate the disease.  I don’t see it that way.

Let’s look at the military.  Obviously, what you do in the military is serve your country.  But that can be miles apart from why someone joins.  Is it heroic of an individual to join the military, not to defend the country per se, but to make money or pursue an interesting career (self-interested reasons)?  I don’t think it is.  At that point, it’s based on the same reasons why someone might want to become an accountant or play football or start a business.  There is nothing wrong with that, but spare me the heroic allusions.  For instance, I contemplated joining the military (along with about every other possible thing one can do) after college.  But to be honest (and I probably shouldn’t admit this), I wasn’t motivated by a desire to serve my country.  I was looking for an avenue to give me experience, education and skills, something interesting to do, and prestige.  Would I have been a hero if I joined for those reasons but unfortunately got sent to war? I don’t think so.

There’s a similar dialogue with disease sufferers.  The news eagerly pushes the feel-good story of the wheelchair ridden, exotic disease sufferer who is active in the leading said disease fighting organization, attempting to inform the public about the disease.  But truthfully, if you’re not going to kill yourself or give up, what else are you going to do?  Of course you’re going to undergo the necessary procedures to survive and possibly become involved in organizations and efforts to raise awareness and funding to fight the disease.  To me, it seems more like a situation of someone reacting to his new reality, not of him necessarily doing something extraordinary.  You live within the circumstances of your life.  A rich person contemplates whether to buy a Ferrari or Lamborghini.  A poor person contemplates whether to buy groceries or pay the utility bill.  I like to run races.  If I lost both of my legs in a freak accident, I wouldn’t be concerned with running anymore and would probably get into wheelchair racing.  I don’t think I’d necessarily be more of a courageous person than I was when I had legs; it’d simply be a painful new reality.

Spare me the cheesy local news stories about people who are basically just coping with their new unfortunate realities.  Spare me the blanket “hero” statements about a line of work that millions of people do for millions of different personal reasons.  Spare me the hero talk of actions that 95% of other people also would have taken if in the same situation.  Let’s save the hero talk for people who really are heroes, for people who really choose to do extraordinary things.  They do exist and should be honored.

Philosophy, Rants

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