My wife and I sat down at the Alamo Drafthouse the other day and watched "Man of Steel." It was certainly an entertaining movie, and it contained in it an issue that's plaguing this new generation. Where are the heroes?
The History of HeroesWe've all heard of Bullfinch. He was a smart guy who compiled the myths of heroes from the Greek and Roman pantheon. Hercules. Theseus. Perseus.
What did all these people have in common? They were part god.
There was a time where these heroes were certainly looked up to. Parents would retell the stories of these brave men and women to lull their children to sleep and give them something to ponder: Am I part god? Can I achieve the same level of greatness?
And, for a time, this worked. The story of these heroes, being born of humans, and going on to accomplish something unhuman, inspired children. They would run around in the streets, on the farms, and pretend to slay minotaurs and medusa. They would make believe they were imbued with lightning. Sometimes I like to imagine little families out in the city-states, clashing little wooden swords and throwing little imaginary lightning bolts.
The beautiful thing about the gods and their kids was that they were faulty. They erred. They had emotions just like humans: fear, anger, aggression. Perhaps that is when real heroes began their ascension.
The True HeroHeroes have a legacy, and since none of us here (as far as we know) can punch a three-headed watchdog of the underworld in each of its faces, we have a large burden to bare.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the first of the many qualities of being a hero: your legacy.
Building a Legacy
The true value of man doesn't lie in what he creates in his lifetime, but how what he has created lasts beyond his lifetime. Here we are, 66 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier and we're still talking about him. Albert Einstein's theories of relativity have a permanent bookmark in the gigantic encyclopedia of physics. Alexander the Great conquered Europe. These are legacies. But, I get it, we aren't all pilots, physicist, conquerors. So, if you aren't any of these things, what will your legacy be?
I love this idea of building a legacy, because it gives us a chance to live presently in a way that looks into the future. The first step to building a legacy is to ask yourself: how do I want to be remembered?
Legacy is neutral. You can be downright evil, and people will remember you for that. Or, you can share optimism and positivity, and you will be remembered for this.
Next, ask yourself: who will remember me? Identify those people in your life who make an impact. First, start with your family, for they, your mother and father, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, children and grandchildren grow and mature as well as you do. And, they will have two choices when you leave them, either continue to speak of you as if you were a hero, or pretend you have never entered their lives.
Legacy can be something as simple as setting up new traditions. Perhaps your father or mother read to you before you went to bed, and now you do the same for your child. Now, when your child grows, he or she will sit on the edge of your grandchild's bed and read the same story. Make music together. Bake and cook together. And, I don't mean you have to do this with just your children or children at all. Make some new friends and be there for them. Regardless, people will talk about you after you've gone. What will they say?
Savoring LifeGo on. Jump into a burning building and snatch up the elderly and the infants. Instant hero status.
For a day.
Go on. Jump into a burning building and snatch up the elderly and the infants, then purify water for third-world countries, then save all the woodland animals from a forest fire. Instant superhero status.
But, I'm talking about becoming a true hero. Once in a person's life, he or she may get the opportunity to do something completely off the wall, like the saviors in Aurora, Colorado, or the gallant men and women of Fort Hood. These people are true heroes, and not because of that one moment, but because they lived their lives like they only had one life to live.
Humility: Life is precious. We're reminded of this every day. So, today, the first step is realizing that we are all mortal. We have only one life to live, and any day could signal our last. This is one of the key points in the Hero Toolkit. It goes by another name: humility. True heroes, even the ones that slaughtered the Hydra, didn't go around, telling everyone of their amazing feats. Remember Narcissus? He fell in love with his own dashing good looks he spied in the pond and wound up drowning. Got that? Good.
Respect and Compassion: Every day you walk this earth, be aware that you are being perceived by hundreds of people. Part of being a hero is treating everyone we meet, come into contact with, mention are treated with true respect. We have to recognize that within each and every person is a mind that works and a soul that creates. Each person brings something new to our plate to be sampled and savored. Take the time to ask questions, maintain eye contact, and thank them for their time. When you walk away, they're going to be impressed with your compassion. Remember the old adage: treat others as you would treat yourself.
Fitness: Which brings me to my next point: treat yourself well. In the old comics (even the new ones by Zach Snyder, Joss Whedon, and Christopher Nolan) heroes were fit people. Do that. Get active. Get into shape. It's not necessary, but you'll live longer.
Fortitude: Physical strength is just a small component of being a true hero. But, there is another type of strength that goes beyond just being able to stop speeding trains. I'm speaking of spiritual fortitude. Spiritual fortitude is an essence. It's sticking to your guns. It's finding what your true north is and aligning yourself to it with every decision you have to make. In this case, being a hero isn't too far from being a leader. Do you want to be seen as a General MacArthur or do you want an Antietam disaster a la Burnsides? Spiritual fortitude is acknowledging the people around you need to do well, and you need to help them get there. Be upstanding and others will follow your example.
The StruggleThe heroic icons of the past have fight in them. Look to Theseus, the man who slew the minotaur. His struggle was a gigantic man-bull. Perseus's struggle was a snake-wig crazy woman. Superman fought General Zod. Batman had mortality.
And that's the rub, isn't it. Mortality. It's what makes us human, so we have to accept this as part of being a true hero. Every person has a struggle; it's what we do with that struggle that separates the man from the boy, the woman from the girl.
Whatever struggle you have, you have to take a cue from the heroes before us: win. Win in whatever you do. Fight for it.
There is a way you need to fight. If you look at the heroes that came before us, they never started a fight. They were the ones who defended and fought for the weak or for an idea. Captain America stood on the platform of equality, hard work, and citizenship. And, whenever that was challenged, he raised hell. There would be few people who could argue that real heroes stand for the same principles. And here, I come back to spiritual fortitude. Find your true north, respect, compassion, laughter, and strength, and make every decision based on this.
The struggle, of course, has two sides. First, as I pointed out, it makes you stronger, it's defense. But, there's a hidden agenda at work. The struggle reveals perhaps the most important aspect of being a true hero.
No one likes a hero who always wins or never bleeds. When Batman was crushed by Bane, we shouted for him to get up. When Berbick KO'd Ali, we shouted for him to get up. The correlation, they both got up. They both continued to fight for the side of justice, equality, humanity. Recognize that you may get beat, you may get bloodied, but if you just lay there and wallow in your loss, you've missed the point. Being a hero is standing back up again.
The comic book hero is fiction, but every single one of them is based in reality. Let me rephrase that: every comic book hero has a real hero on whom they were created. You don't have to put on a cape, but that's not going to stop someone from seeing one on you.