What does it take for someone to become a real hero?
The word “Heroism” conjures up depictions of masked characters in comic books; highly unique persons who, given or accidentally bestowed with unnatural powers and abilities, strive to better the world and all those around them.
Heroism evokes thoughts of remarkable bravery and extraordinary selflessness; men and women who soar above what is simple and expected. Heroism is gloriously embodied during times of significant challenge and duress.
Heroes recklessly place their lives and well-being in peril, in spite of the obvious danger. Heroes are unduly dedicated to the greater good. Heroes fight for what is right. Heroes are brave and steadfast; they dedicate themselves to others.
When we consider Heroism, we tend to associate what it takes to become a hero with the ever-elusive ideal of near or total Perfection: a radically supreme example of limitless human potential; a flawless and idyllic embodiment of Good. It seems as if, for an ordinary person to become a real, live hero, he or she must pursue human Perfection. But outside of the realm of fantasy, real Heroism oft and ironically begins with flaw, fault, and setback: hero stories are actually written in natural human Imperfection.
Of Heroism and Imperfection
The embodiment of Heroism in real life — outside of the pages of comic books — is rarely ever exemplified through Perfection. Quite to the contrary, heroism is most often exemplified through the efforts of ordinary men and women who persistently strive to overcome their natural imperfections: individual shortcomings, social disadvantages and personal demons that render all human beings far from perfect creatures.
Human beings are naturally imperfect; it takes as little as to flip on the television or read the newspaper to be reminded of the flaw, sin, and corruption that grips humanity. The feats of strength and courage from real heroes are implicitly routed in their natural imperfections: the shortcomings, failures and mistakes that make them human and challenge them to relent their dedication to bettering themselves and those around them.
Striving to overcome our natural imperfections — to persistently strive to rise above and beyond life’s challenges — is what makes ordinary men and women truly heroic. But, if the real embodiment of Heroism begins with Imperfection, then how could heroes ever be worthy of society’s respect, emulation or adoration? We must make an important distinction between Heroism and Idolatry.
When Heroes become False-Idols
Our collective, societal reaction to the perception of an exemplary embodiment of Heroism is that a heroic man or woman is subsequently deserving or worthy of individual emulation and collective adoration. However, a naturally-imperfect human being who we admire for his or her embodiment of Heroism must only remain such; for, far too easily can our respect and appreciation for Heroes suddenly become Idolatry.
Popular culture and the mainstream media often elevate mere human beings — all of whom, however heroic, are naturally flawed and imperfect creatures — to the echelon of Idolatry. Those who willingly subscribe to or are seduced by the apparent embodiment of near or total Perfection are all too likely to be disappointed.
A recent and notorious example of a flawed human being who was elevated to the stratosphere of Idolatry because of his amazing athletic feats and his deliberately crafted public image was none other than the billion-dollar international golf sensation, Tiger Woods. Woods’ heroic style of play on the golf course certainly made Tiger’s unique athleticism, sharp focus and champion spirit deserving of respect and emulation by golfers and other competitive athletes. But Woods’ off-the-course debauchery would have had little relevant connection to his hero status as an athlete on the golf course if Tiger had not been elevated (by the media, by fans, and by his own “TigerInc” corporate backing) to the level of a global idol.
Regarding Heroism, we should appreciate the feats of the individual who strives for greatness in spite of limitations and his or her imperfections, if only to emulate his or her refusal to quit. Idolization is a recipe for disappointment. Other examples of naturally flawed human beings who persistently fall from grace in the public eye are those of elected politicians, many of whom spend lifetimes crafting polished images of themselves as straight-laced family persons who are selflessly dedicated to public service and devoid of ulterior motives. Politicians strive to mold an image that is a flawless embodiment of Perfection, and for the sake of electability.
Should we really be surprised when any human being, however polished in appearance, is ultimately revealed as Imperfect?
Rethinking the Embodiment of Heroism
Misconstruing ordinary human beings as near-perfect representations of Heroism — elevating someone to the level of Idolatry — can hold severe and detrimental consequences if we neglect to take resulting lessons to heart. False-idols who fall from grace can spur resentful sentiments of disdain, distrust and cynicism. But equally as much, the rise and fall of false-idols can serves observers with important reminders: human beings are inherently flawed and naturally imperfect.
One increasingly recognizable pop culture figure, Duane Chapman, stars in his own reality television program called “Dog the Bounty Hunter” on the A&E Channel. A Hawai’i-based bail bondsman, Chapman and his amiable family of bounty hunters track and arrest fugitives across the tropical Islands where crystal methamphetamine use is notoriously high. Chapman is credited with 6,000 fugitive captures over the course of his 27-year career, and, along with his wife Beth, have received recognition from the State of Hawai’i for their efforts to combat drugs across Hawai’i.
For all of the Dog’s heroic feats and impressive crime-fighting efforts, he remains far from perfect, and hardly an idol. In the 1970’s and while a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang, Chapman was charged as an accessory to murder and incarcerated for 18 months in a Texas prison. Some thirty years later and now a well-known crime fighter, Dog suffered a major career setback when an audio recording of him using racial slurs was sold to a tabloid magazine, costing the famed bounty hunter his reality TV show contract and spurring sentiments of disappointment and anger.
Heroes are not Idols
Hardly an idol that a parent would point out to a child as a figure whose mistakes and shortcomings (in the past and the present) would make him worthy of emulation, Duane Chapman embodies the essence of Heroism because of his striving overcome the circumstances of the disadvantaged life he was given, as well as his persistence to rise above the ranks of an outlaw and ex-convict to become an internationally-revered bail bondsman and a figure of inspiration to other ex-convicts.
A born-again Christian, Chapman doesn’t just arrest fugitives on the run, but persistently looks to provide hope to those who need it the most — as exemplified in his bounty-hunting motto, “Find ’em and Fix ’em.” The distinction between Idolatry and Heroism is that Heroism is less about reverence and unequivocal adoration than it is about the respect, appreciation and emulation of a naturally imperfect person’s spirit of hope — his or her refusal to quit.
Write Your Hero Story
As naturally imperfect beings, what does it take to become a hero? Whether you realize it or not, hero stories often begin when you’re at the bottom. Heroism isn’t exemplified through Perfection; it’s actually rooted in natural human Imperfection. Heroes are made by striving to overcome failures, mistakes and life’s disadvantages. Are you faulted? Imperfect? Good, it’s all a gift; your hero story begins by admitting, recognizing, and striving to overcome your shortcomings. Our Hero stories begin with our failures.
Though we humans are naturally imperfect, we also have unlimited potential. And while forever imperfect, if we choose to always strive and never quit, there is no limit to the heights we can reach. The lower you start, all the higher the view will appear when you reach the top. Your hero story awaits. It’s your choice alone to write it.