Heroes Are Hard to Find

Jeff Spectoraccountability, Culture, families, Government, Leaders, media 29 Comments

With the recent revelation of unfaithfulness of some of our politicians (not that this is all that surprising), it seems that the circle of people that we can look up to is getting smaller and smaller.

I was wondering who your heroes are these days?

We glorify celebrity and sports figures, who make millions of dollars with little or no contribution to society other than to provide fodder for the tabloids.  Some look up to business leaders but they sometimes turn out to be giant frauds, like Bernard Madoff who rip off people and tend to put themselves first instead of their companies and employees.

We have religious leaders who exemplify righteous principles, but we’ve seen just as many of those have issues as well with moral problems, money problems, abuse of power, etc. We can also look up to characters from the scriptures, but many believe those weren’t even real people.

Many of us had excellent parents and view them as our heroes and examples for our lives, but there are also many who suffered at the hands of their parents.

Maybe the concept of having heroes is out dated in our modern world?  What do you think?

Do you still have heroes?  Who are they and why?

Comments 29

  1. It’s funny you should post this, because just yesterday I was at a research presentation regarding personality and the question of personality formation was brought up. The presenter, who is reasonably well known in the field of personality research (Brent Roberts, University of Illinois–if you must know) indicated a few things: first we don’t know much about how personality are formed. Second, heritability of personality is exceptionally low (the modal zero-order correlation between parent and child personality on specific facets is no higher than .1, if I recall correctly). Third, he was looking at (and now I’m getting to the point) personality formation as an anchoring issue from role models. That is, instead of our personalities being most tied to our genetic patterns, it is more closely tied to the person that we choose as a hero-archetype ideal. He said he actually asked a group of students who their hero was while in Tulsa, AZ and got back mostly surveys about Jesus (low variability in hero selection, which is of limited use, although I have an idea of how you could still use it…).

    My point? Hero selection matters! I think that, even though the research is still WAY out on this, we DO pick up strongly on the traits that we personally find most salient about our heroes. I think it’s also easier to select a deceased figure that has been thoroughly vetted by history if you don’t want to be disappointed. Someone that has few historical records OR whose life is extremely well known. It is, I suspect, the reason it is easier, at times, to give credence to a deceased prophet than one who is living–living prophets make errors, but the dead are no longer going to make a new mistakess.

  2. Benjamin – excellent points.

    I think heroes, or role models, fit better into an individual paradigm, than a general one. Individually, we have people that influence our lives (parents, grandparents, teachers) and one reason they are a good influence is that our intimate knowledge of them allows us to better separate their humanity from our image of them. What I mean is, knowing them personally lets us place their mistakes in better context.

    General heroes, athletes, astronauts, presidents, are too easily defined by their flaws and it’s too difficult to look past these flaws. Jesus had an ability to see God in all people, but humans still struggle to do so.

    The people I don’t know personally, but consider heroes, are not those that are not flawed, but those who sacrificed for others on a large scale (Gandhi, MLK Jr) or a small one (Dan Choi, Dennis Johnson). They can be applauded, at least by me, for their accomplishments, rather than there mistakes.

  3. I live in Los Angeles and in ’88 there was a terrible fire in the First Interstate Bank building that started on the 12th floor and burned upward all through the night. This was before 9/11 and the WTC disaster and I had never seen anything so dramatic. I stayed up all night watching as brave firefighters carried their heavy equipment and oxygen tanks up 12 flights to just begin their work.

    That’s when I formed my concept of heroism — people who do their jobs no matter how hard, no matter what recognition they’ll get just because people are depending on them. My husband is a hero to me. The ordinary people who responded because people were in distress on the morning of 9/11 are my heros. Those first responders who worked for weeks to recover bodies not asking about their own safety who now have terrible respiratory illnesses are my heros (and I’d rest a lot more securely if I thought they were getting the medical care they needed now!). Teachers who work in inner city schools trying to make a difference. Nurses who do the hard work and let doctors take all the credit. You get the idea.

    Naturally, there are people in extraordinary circumstances who respond with the conventional larger than life behaviors that we think of as heroism. That’s selfless too and I don’t mean to discount that. But in overlooking the everyday heroes, I think we miss the opportunity to think that we could be doing it every day ourselves.

    Meanwhile, the ones who go for the glory — the sports celebrities, politicians et al — rarely are thinking about others. Maybe once. Maybe occasionally. But not so much today. Looking up to them is asking to be disappointed and disillusioned.

  4. Just to answer the question of who. I have levels (of my making) of heroes. I have those I don’t know and will never now, (none these will be a surprise) like Hugh Nibley, Lowell Bennion and Eugene England. Then I have those I do know: my step-father, my old boss, one of the members of the stake presidency. Maybe these later group aren’t heroes because i know them and their flaws. But i respect them enough to want to emulate the good they have. The ones i don’t know I still respect for different reasons.

    I think being disappointed and disillusioned in the person is part of the stature of the hero. For example, my step-father is one of the best people I know. yet i know that he has some flaws and yet i still choose to have him as a hero because of certain parts of his personality or certain things he says or does that for me are more important. I can certainly apply this, for example, to Hugh nibley (if he did abuse his daughter then I would still love some of things he said and wrote).

  5. This post reminds me of one done by Carter Hall last year: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/09/18/superman-vs-spiderman/

    IMO, heroes should be admired for their great qualities and don’t need to be perfect. I prefer Spiderman heroism to Superman heroism. Also, I like to see the heroic and admirable qualities in every day people around me, qualities like grit & determination, compassion, and courage. You don’t have to be in extraordinary circumstances to have heroic qualities. But people of earlier generations (and some now) expected perfect heroes, which is one reason for so much white-washing of history, including people writing their own histories. To me, mythologizing heroes makes them less heroic, not more.

    As to why so many celebrities and politicians let people down, well, they aren’t really heroes. They are either entertainers or public servants. People look to them for what they want from them: entertainment from the one, advocacy from the other. That’s why they are in the news–the public is interested in people who serve their interests. Of course they are lousy heroes. They were never heroes in the first place. Fame without merit = recipe for ego-driven personal tragedy.

  6. I probably am in the minority here, but personally, I don’t have heroes. (It makes it tough for interviews when I have to just pick someone at random and justify it.)

    Basically, heroes are asking for trouble. The idea of a hero is assuming too much out of any individual, so when one picks a hero, inevitably, one is setting oneself up for disappointment. This is especially the case with heroes that have been seen as “safe” in the past — MLKJr, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Joseph Smith. Each of these people, at face value (or based on elementary or junior high or high school knowledge) seems very heroic and very worth believing in…and sure, each person did great things…but each also has skeletons in the closet.

    Being more realistic seems to make sense for me. MLKJr is just a guy. Gandhi is just a guy. Mother Teresa is just a (female) guy. and Joseph Smith is just a guy. The problem is that that last one bothers people, because even when people will accept he’s just a guy (and all prophets are just guys), they still psychologically want to put something more to guy status. So, Joseph Smith isn’t “just” a guy after all to many. He is Prophet. “Praise to the Man who communed with Jehovah,” etc.,

    I guess I would agree then that hero selection matters. So, because I don’t select heroes, it does definitely affect the way I view things.

  7. I have no heroes. Anyone I’ve attempted to place in that category has disappointed. Or maybe my definition of heroes is too lofty.

  8. Perhaps it works backwards: We pick an admirable trait, and then try to find someone that exemplifies that. For instance, we value honesty, so we pick Abraham Lincoln as a “hero”.

    I suspect we do this because we think that if we make the same decisions they would, we’ll achieve similar results; or perhaps their life experience will help guide ours. Both of these reasons are flawed.

    First, there’s the let-down already mentioned by several when they don’t measure up. (e.g. I pick JS as a hero [or example] of honesty and righteousness, and then discover there were times when he was neither)

    Secondly, the “pattern of life” theory doesn’t work for me. Does anyone think that if they do exactly what GW Bush has done, they will become president? That if they seek to perfectly emulate Pres. Monson, they could be a bishop at 22 and apostle at 36?

    The other problem is that many times, not enough information is available to form a well-rounded picture of how to model your life after. Case in point: Which apostle would you most like to be like, and why? I have such a opaque view of them (either sugar-coated Ensign articles or do-no-wrong biographies, combined with unanimous pronouncements) that it would be hard to differenciate. The same is trueof many celebrities.

    In summary, I admire many men for certain character traits they have, but I don’t hold any as an “all-around example.”

  9. re 11:

    Clark, if we have admirable traits, then why would we need to find someone who exemplifies that then. For example, if I exemplify honesty, then I exemplify honesty as an ideal, even if that ideal is not embodied by a single person. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t embodied by a person or that people are imperfect, then, because I’m not anchoring things onto people. I don’t have to defend the people if I just have the ideal.

  10. I should probably throw Mitt Romney out there too. It’s almost as if the Lord is preparing the way for him to save this country from what looks like it will be four long years of Democratic tyranny.

  11. All joking aside about Bybee and whatever. Everyone knows that true Democrats (and true democrats even) have a REAL hero for OUR times. None other than THE POTUS. In fact, ALL talk about lofty expectations dashed is defeatist rehtoric by spineless Obama voters (as opossed to stalwart ones) who have let Republicans poison there minds.

  12. *Perhaps* Savonarola? There’s no perhaps about it. He’s a no-brainer, like Michelle Obama and Punky Brewster.

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  14. There has be a great deal of discussion about the hypocrisy factor for hero figures like the SC Governor who espouse a set of values then violate them. The thing I like about hypocrisy is that only people who have values and standards can be hypocritical. If you don’t believe in anything, you cannot violate principles, beliefs, agreements, or commitments.

    I did a brief video of one of my heroes last year, a cowboy named Leon Pope. He is person who you could trust your life with. It gets interesting about 1:30 minutes into it. Thanks for the original post Jeff.

  15. Wyoming,

    If you don’t believe in anything, you cannot violate principles, beliefs, agreements, or commitments.

    As there is no such person alive on this planet, it seems we are all hypocrites at one time or another.

  16. I get so sick of the right wing hefer dust that some like to spread. Dick Cheney a hero, please forgive me I must go puck.

  17. I too must puck, just thinking of Dick Cheney. There are no heroes today. My dad is dead. So is Clarence Darrow.

  18. Wyoming,

    Sure. I wasn’t implying hypocrisy as a negative, just pointing out that there is no such thing as a human being who doesn’t believe in anything at all. Thus, every single human being, save Jesus Christ, was or will be a hypocrite at one point or another.

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    I think the responses so far have proved a point I was trying to make which is that one person’s hero can be another person’s worst nightmare. Society can worship people for all the wrong reasons and yet be critical of others for picking people who have done remarkable things but are flawed in some way as all humans are.

  20. Ray (#18) thanks for reminding me of your post about your father. That was one of my very favorite posts I’ve ever read on the Bloggernacle. A beautiful tribute.

    I find myself feeling like Andrew S that I find it hard to think of people who are my heroes. Certainly there are people I admire–lots of them–but considering them heroes feels like I’m just setting myself up to be let down when they reveal themselves to be human.

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