Ages ago, when I was in High School, our English class was assigned a project of developing our philosophy of life. I should have realized then that I was a bit of a pessimist and lover-of-failure. Well, its only taken this long to admit it now.
I poured my heart and soul into the assignment. My philosophy revolved around the word and conception of what a ‘hero’ is. And I used the term loosely. The premise was this: we all want to be heroes, the center of our own story of life and to a degree this is true and attainable. But, a hero by definition is someone who is lifted above everyone else and is viewed prominently in the eyes of others. So, in reality, only a few people can ‘make it’ and in order for them to ‘make it’ everyone else has to be under their feet.
I didn’t get a great grade on it–but I thought I had articulated it fairly well for my age. The thing is, the idea never left me. My desire to be a hero–not like superman, nor some celebrity but someone greater, and better and bigger than the masses remained. But here it is: I am average. I am normal. I am ordinary. And I am slowly accepting this. It doesn’t stop me from dreaming, but rather offers me a practical reason for the rejection so often faced in life. Most have to be rejected because only one person can get a single job position.
But it goes further than that as well. They say (in rash generalizations) that in the west everyone wants to differentiate themselves, be better, be greater. In essence a culture supporting the hero model: to be unique is to be necessary. In the east (again in rash generalizations) it is the ability to fit in, help the greater good by being the small, but necessary tool. Not unique, but necessary. Feel free to disagree. So what does that mean for me? A westerner raised in the east? It means I vacillate between the two ideals. I want to find the place I belong, fit in, and don’t stand out but sometimes I want to burn out bright and brilliant and have people look at me and say “wow, how special, different and someone worth copying.”
It is the tension between these two values, I think, that rages in all of us no matter where we were raised. But it takes more than a battle for heroics to get there. In Ancient times it depended on birth–Achilles wasn’t great because he worked really hard and trained himself to the limits. It was because his mommy was a goddess. This holds true a bit still today, but thankfully less so. We can also qualify our specific ‘heroic’ deeds so that I can be the hero of blogging, singing, poetry writing or social marketing. That leaves room for many more heroes. So what is the difference between success and being a hero? Perhaps that is why I didn’t get such an amazing grade. Hero is such a childish word. Success is mature.
We can’t all be heroes. So what am I going to do about it? What will you do about it?