I used to hang my heroes on my wall …
When I was young, I proudly displayed pictures of various actors and famous people, first on my bedroom wall at home and later on various dorm room walls. Being a Boomer, the list included such luminaries as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Milton Berle, although not all at the same time and definitely not for the same reasons.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped posting pictures of those I admired and instead opted for pretty models, exciting products, mystical sayings, and esoteric art. I wonder why …
WALL HEROES RECALLED …
A group in our church is reading and discussing America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis , a fascinating but often difficult to read review of our country’s history of racial injustice from colonial times to right now. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to struggle with complex challenges in our society and who is interested in building a society which more closely lives up to our country’s stated ideals.
In chapter six, Wallis mentions several people, including Clarence Jordon and William Stringfellow, who conducted bold experiments in creating truly multi-cultural communities. Wallis uses the term “Wall Heroes” to tell us that portraits of these folks who he considers personal heroes and inspiration hang on the wall of his office to provide daily reminders and inspiration about what can be done when one dares to do it.
A HERO BY ANY OTHER NAME …
Of course, thinking about this immediately lead me to consider what I mean when I use the term “hero”.
At the risk of going against the current trends, while I think many people should be honored and rewarded for the work they do, such as serving in the military, providing emergency response, or just being a policeman or fireman, without calling each of them heroes. For example, I served in the military as did many others, but in no way qualify as a hero.
Heroes, at least in my mind, are individuals who have made a large contribution to something positive, often while experiencing great sacrifice or risk for doing so.
Heroes are individuals for the most part, to my thinking. While the hero influences and motivates others to act with or support something, the hero usually goes first and alone, leading the way and setting the example for others.
One notable exception to this is like that represented by Band of Brothers, the book and television series about a highly trained and accomplished military unit during World War 11. In the interviews with the actual people portrayed in the film, one of the actors cites one of the veterans:
Richard D. Winters: [real life interview with Winters where he quotes Mike Ranney on how Ranney answered a question his grandson once asked him] I treasure my remark to my grandson who asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?“ Grandpa said, “No… but I served in a company of heroes“. (via IMDB)
I highly recommend viewing the excellent film to anyone who wants to more completely understand what some soldiers experienced during this conflict.
CONTEXT MATTERS, AS IT ALWAYS DOES …
Heroes are not all of one type, nor do they all operate in one environment. We assign different virtues to heroes in the context in which they are found: military, political, social, community. In one place, we look for personal bravery, while in another, restraint and mercy might be more heroic in our eyes.
The montage I chose to illustrate this little post shows five individuals who came readily to mind as I thought about who I might hang on my wall now:
Fred Rogers (upper left): He gave me a model for being a man that was distinctly different from anything else I was getting, one which included gentleness, inclusion, acceptance, and kindness.
Viktor Frankl (upper right): He created a theory of human behavior which continues to quietly impact our thinking, so much so that he continues to show up regularly on lists of highly influential authors and people in the business world, as well as psychology.
Abraham Lincoln (center): Simply one of the most impactful and important presidents of our history, who showed both courage and compassion during one of our most difficult times as a struggling young nation.
George Washington (lower right): The first in a long line of national chief executives who helped create our country and shape our national heritage. Being the first president of a brand new country meant going through truly uncharted waters.
Martin Luther King (lower left): Perhaps the most courageous person on the wall, who dared to confront racially-based hatred at great personal risk and to do so with passion, but a firm non-violent approach during the tumultuous Civil Rights era.
MY QUICK ANALYSIS …
These candidates for my wall were chosen quickly and I continue to ponder whether I should add some lesser-known but equally impactful folks. I notice several things as I consider my wall:
I have NO women on my wall … (this really hit home as an example of implicit bias)
Most of my heroes are from earlier periods of history and all are dead now …
My social sciences background is showing … no business or cultural leaders on the list
Little controversy would probably exist around any of my “safe” choices …
Maybe I need to consider further and think more deeply about what a hero might look and sound like, within varying contexts in our society and our world.
Some heroes are not well-known or historical names or appreciated fully in their own lives. Many heroes are not members of the social or cultural majority in their environment. Heroism may look, feel, and sound very different at one time versus another.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE A HERO?
WHO IS HANGING ON YOUR HERO WALL?
Revising my list of heroes as I continue to ponder all this in the Heartland ….
Images: All from Wikipedia