Heroes… perched on pedastols, enthroned, enshrined… And suddenly one day they come toppling down, to be charged with heinous behaviors, to be run out of town on a rail in a suit of feathers and tar… Or we just tear them down on principle, for daring to rise above the ordinary, pitching stones at anyone someone else has elevated to the Hero’s height.
I have a theory about Heroes.
First, they don’t make themselves. I have heard of many a celebrated hero who didn’t want to hear it, who denied the charge outright. Why? Because they know themselves what they are made of, all the flaws and foibles that make them no more than human. They know that the moment that made them Heroes was a fluke, an unthinking response to emergency. Or that they took that crown from some other, nicer person who simply didn’t get noticed. Or that they actually cut some corners, even cheated to come to the event they are praised for. They know the whole story. And they have their own human issues.
So, why do we make Heroes? Why do we want Heroes so badly?
I believe it’s because we miss our parents. Not the ones that deprived us of candy, or made us come out of the pool, forced naps on us as kiddies, and grounded us as teenagers. Particularly, not the ones we discovered were not all-knowing, all-wise, after all, and could not beat up the bully next door in our defense, would not trust our judgment, our choices, our opinions…
When we discovered that our parents were merely human, we mourned the loss of the Parent we had believed in, trusted, enshrined in our hearts from infancy when they were our sole means of survival, well-being and comfort.
The Hero is the replacement for the lost Parent. And the cycle of recognition, veneration, and disillusion is the same. The problem lies in our self-deception that we are perpetual Children who need someone bigger and stronger to assure our safety and happiness in a world of threats.
We have to stop expecting other human beings who do remarkable things to be that perfect lost Parent. We can recognized their extraordinary deeds, their above-average accomplishments without expecting them to be demi-gods on all fronts. We can throw them a parade, put them up on stage in spotlights, praise them for a season… and then let them return to their own quiet homes, their privacy, their humanity.
We can spare them and ourselves the anguish of cleaning up the pieces when they fall crashing from the pedastol, we can spare them and ourselves the need to punish them for failing to be perfectly what we wanted and so imagined them to be.
We can warm to their humanity when they prove human, after all, embrace and comfort them when they fumble; even love them because of the many ways they are not better, stronger, grander than ourselves. We can release them from the popular expectations that they will be heroes every day, all their lives.
We might also think better of ourselves, our own competence and potential for the extraordinary: We might forgive our parents, and accept our own adulthood.