On Heroes: The Need For A Varied Approach

I recently viewed a Ted Talk by Professor Philip Loring titled “No More Heroes”. The link to the talk can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgna0zPUNwE. In the talk, Loring made the case for ceasing to strive for being a hero and relying on heroes to save us. He advocated strongly for a more collective effort, with more achievable ambitions and highlighted the hero myth as extremely attractive to Western individualism, and also as a barrier to solving a lot of the world’s current problems.

His talk took me back to the song “Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay which I initially liked. Here is the first verse and the chorus to remind you:

“I’ve been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
Spider-man’s control
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

But she said, where’d you wanna go
How much you wanna risk
I’m not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gifts
Some superhero
Some fairy tale bliss
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can kiss”.

Now, that song was attractive at first because I didn’t see myself upon that list and because the idea of a woman not looking for a superhero in a partner was comforting on some level. Yet as I thought more about it, I realized that it was a false comfort. I don’t want a partner who will settle–I want a partner who is looking for a hero, who is encouraging me to strive for the stars just as I would encourage her to do so. And as I’ve reflected on many of our hero myths, I’ve also questioned my assumption that I don’t  belong on that list.

Yet I see Loring’s concern: if we are waiting for heroes to save us, or are holding out on acting until we’ve got vast powers at our command, we’ll simply stand by while the world crashes down around us. But rather than swearing off of heroes altogether, I think we need to recognize and hold in tension the various ways of being a hero.

A Time For Small Things and A Time For Big Things 

One thing we need to hold in tension is small scale action and large scale action. In The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein Gandalf says this: “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” I personally find this largely true, though I would argue that large scale action like World War II, the cooperation in building the International Space Station, the recurring Olympic Games, etc. are examples of large scale action that has been necessary to hold evil back. Yet even World War II was marked as much by the small acts of kindness in occupied territories as the larger conflicts of vast military forces. So then, we should not wait for large scale change, but focus on small everyday acts of kindness while also joining larger movements when we can (ie. Amnesty International, MeToo, etc.).

Dream Big and Act Now 
The other thing we need to keep in tension is our expectations and aspirations. What I find helpful about the hero myth is aspiring to be heroic. In every choice we make, in every decision we face, we should ask ourselves what is the most courageous, compassionate, honorable and just thing we can do and then do it. Everyday there are millions of small choices, actions, and decisions we face and react to. If only we always strived to make the most loving choice in those small situations we might have a much better world. So I think we should aim to be heroic but not wait for the big opportunities to do so–start small and the cumulative effect might end up being greater than we can imagine.

Heroes: A Closer Look 
Finally, we need to look a little closer at the hero myths themselves. In his talk, Loring talks about the crew of the the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Original Series and finds in them a great example of teamwork. I would argue further that many of our greatest heroes, while impressive on their own, are only shown to be the “good guys’ through their relationships with others. The Avengers, the Justice League, Harry Potter, the Order of the Phoenix, the Jedi, Rebels, and Resistance, Starfleet–all of these may be strong on their own but they are even stronger when united with friends, family, and loved ones. In contrast, the bad guys are the ones who may have minions and servants and armies but are ultimately isolated by their fear, anger, hate, despair, etc. Voldemort might have Death Eaters and Dark creatures, but he ultimately trusts and loves no one. Palpatine and his various Sith apprentices may command great armies and may cooperate in their explorations of the dark side–but they ultimately act out of self-interest (the power of two Force users being combined for dark ends), and live in constant anticipation of and alert for, betrayal which is what the Sith way is based upon. Over and over again, the heroes in our myths are selfless and draw strength from fellowship and teamwork–the evil ones are selfish and are undone by their fear, anger, despair, and hate which force them to stand alone even when they are ostensibly cooperating.

I leave you with this quote from Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. It serves as a reminder that for all our efforts, heroic and otherwise, evil will continue to recur and we all must stand against it as we are able:

“It is important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay though never quite eradicated”.

So be a hero in ways big and small, in everyday choices and defining moments, and strive for selfless love, cooperating with all those who serve the Light–and only then can we keep evil at bay.

Published by Devin Hogg

My name is Devin Hogg. I was born and raised in Carnarvon, Ontario, Canada. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2009 for university and lived here ever since. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV and movies, going on long walks, swimming, and practicing Chen style Tai Chi. I love to write poetry and blog regularly about topics such as mental health, sci-fi/fantasy series, faith, sexuality, and politics.

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