Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where have all the heroes gone?

       Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the noted author and Harvard University professor of history, wrote that "ours is an age without heroes...greatness is hard for humanity to bear."  He obviously had been watching Kim Kardashian.

       We in America seem to have a different kind of hero these days. We drink the same water as Jennifer Aniston, walk in Michael Jordan's shoes, compare ourselves in the mirror to Kate Moss or Ewan McGregor, and anxiously await J. Lo's return to American Idol. Celebrities are our heroes, even if their reigns are short.

       Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "heroism means difficulty, postponement of praise, postponement of ease, introduction of the world into the private apartment, introduction of eternity into the hours measured by the sitting room clock."

       Does that sound like Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez to you? Are Madonna or Lady Gaga postponing praise? If these are the people we admire, follow, look up to, and attempt to model our lives after, have you ever asked yourself why?

        Do these "stars" help us live our lives, or perhaps keep us from living our lives? What do they do for us? Are their values valuable? When a hero stumbles, as Tiger Woods did, are we the ones whose toes are stubbed? Or do we like seeing our heroes stumble?

        According to Dr. Schlessinger, "the common man has always regarded the great man with mixed feelings --- resentment as well as admiration, hatred as well as love".  While we may want to be looked at as one of the Hilfigers and live our lives in the lap of Ralph Lauren, aren't we setting ourselves up for disappointment and perhaps even disapproval?

        Do we really think meeting a Justin Timberlake should be our goal in life? Do we want to be sure we look as much as possible like Halle Berry in case we do meet him? To what degree do the world of fashion and the business of advertising lure us to these hero-substitutes? And if we all have them as heroes, why do we all want to look alike?

        A hundred and fifty years ago, John Stuart Mill observed that "the amount of eccentricity in a society generally has been proportionate to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time."

        I vote for more eccentricity and creativity on our parts.  Let's kick our definitions of heroes up a few notches.


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