Monday, October 24, 2005

On Heroism

In a comment following my last post I stated that I believed in heroes and advocate heroism. That same week on Maurice's messageboard I made a statement regarding man's treatment of women in our society stating "...We should be your heroes not your victimizers." What do I mean by all of this talk of heroism? Am I talking about wearing a mask and swinging around town in red tights, a cape, and hip boots? Hell no! I am talking about the age old idea that the most able among us should assist those who are less able. That there is virtue in aiding those less able than ourselves and in fact that no society can long prosper when this philosophy is not exercised. As English philosopher Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." This axiom is often quoted but seldom put into practice.

In every society there will be those that are strong and those that are less strong and those that are significantly weaker due to illness, old age, youth, injury, and physical or mental handicaps. Any society is only as strong as its weakest link therefore there is value in uplifting the weak. There is a reason that when a boat sinks we evacuate the women and children first. It is because it is our duty as men, our role in nature to protect our mates and offspring. Moreover, in a society it is everyone's duty to protect those weaker than ourselves if for no other reason than that we might someday benefit from this altruism ourselves. This is not just some naive emotional idealism. As an ethical egoist I am always looking for that which in the long run will ultimately benefit me and mine. And living in a society in which the weak are protected by the strong benefits me because there will be times when I am weak. If I am sick or injured, or even when I get older, my ability to defend myself and my loved ones will be impaired. Promoting a society in which other able-bodied men and women step forward to defend the weak is therefore a wise act. I am also not omnipotent. My loved ones are not always in my sight or my reach. Therefore it makes sense for me to promote a philosophy in which others would step forward to help them when I am unable.

It makes sense for me to promote a society in which others would stop their cars and run to the rescue of my son if some stranger was trying to snatch him off the street. It makes sense for me to promote a society in which other men would not stand by and watch as a woman was raped when that woman could well be my wife, daughter, mother, sister, aunt, or friend. It makes sense for me to promote a society in which someone would step forward and smash a beer bottle in that guy's face to protect that woman. It makes sense for me to promote a society in which your neighbors would provide you shelter for the night if your house burnt to the ground or got flooded or swept away in a hurricane. In makes sense for me to promote a society in which a woman who's car breaks down on the side of the road could expect someone to stop and render assistance rather than try to victimize her or drive on by without helping.

When I was a child I relished the role of hero. It was one of the ways in which I defined myself. It was one of the few things I had to be proud of. My best friend in elementary school was a fat kid named Greg who got picked on a lot. We both got picked on, him because he was fat and me because I was poor, which was funny because we all were to varying degrees, my poverty was just more apparent. The difference was that I could defend myself and I often had to. I was quick-witted and quick-fisted. Greg was neither, so I often had to come to his rescue. When someone insulted him I insulted them. When someone hit him I hit them. Once he was about to be jumped by five or six bigger kids when I jumped in. I took his ass kicking for him. I was stronger than him. I got in a few good blows myself and shrugged it off like it was nothing when it was over. At ten years old I'd already been in more fights than I could count so one more meant nothing to me but I knew that Greg couldn't have taken it. During the course of our friendship I took a lot of ass-kickings for him and after him it was a skinny kid with glasses that were held together by tape who was as poor as me. He was extremely quick-witted and often his wit got him into trouble. When someone insulted him he would tear them up so bad they'd wish they'd never been born, which usually led to them trying to kick his ass, which was where I would step in. I got nothing from either of them but their friendship and the knowledge that I had done something good. After him was a kid named Jason who I lived on the streets with after high school. He would panhandle to feed me because he had one of those adorable faces that people couldn't help but to throw money at and I would defend him because he was knee-high to a grasshopper and 98lbs soaking wet. It was rare that anyone came to my rescue when I was a kid. I took all of my ass-kickings. It was okay. I could take it. But it's nice to think sometimes that someone would have stepped up to help. In fact, there was one kid.

He was older than me but shorter and his family lived across the street from my grandmother. His name was Kevin and his older brother had taught him Karate and he could fight like the devil. One day when I was eight I was getting my ass-kicked by a bunch of ten-year old girls from my sister's class because my sister was poor and unpopular like me and I guess they had gotten tired of picking on her and I was the next best thing. I wouldn't hit them back because I had been taught not to and I wouldn't run because I had also been taught that that was something you just did not do. I had already gotten kicked in the nuts twice and was doubled over in pain when Kev stepped up and told the girls to leave me alone. Small thing, but I still remember it. Things like that didn't happen to me often. There weren't many heroes in my life. Maybe Greg and Albert and Jason still remember what I did for them too.

On several occasions as a teenager and as an adult I have come to the rescue of women in abusive relationships. Some, like when a girl I knew from the clubs confessed to me that her old man was beating her up and she was afraid to leave him and I went and had a little talk with him, ended well, with the guy backing off and the woman leaving. And some, like the recent incident with my girlfriend's best friend who we brought into our home along with her infant child, ended badly, with her going back to her abuser. Still, I would do it again because if my daughter or sister or mother or aunt or cousin or niece or friend was in that same situation and I was unable to help I would hope that there would be someone to step up and help them.

Even guys like me need heroes. Last night on our way home from the gym our car broke down in the supermarket parking lot. This is not a major catastrophe but being that I am not mechanically inclined and we had our four month old daughter in the car it could have been a big problem. I had two choices. I could have jogged home and gotten my car and drove back to pick them up which would have left my woman and child alone in a parking lot for 25 or 30 minutes while I ran the three miles to our house. This would have also resulted in us leaving her car there and having to return for it in the morning. This was not the most desirable solution. The other solution was to ask for help. Me, a six-foot-five, two hundred and sixty pound black man in a dark parking lot in Vegas. What would you imagine my odds would be? In minutes a woman offered to drive home and get jumper cables and then come back and try to jump our car. Amazingly altruistic, but she had kids of her own with her that I'm sure she needed to feed and put to bed so we thanked her and declined. Then, I flagged down a gay couple who didn't know me and had no reason to stop and help except that I was another human being in need, and they came to our rescue, jumping our car and sending us on our way in minutes. They were our heroes that night. They saved me a long jog home on legs still sore and rubbery from an hour-long spinning class.

Being a hero doesn't always mean rescuing someone from a burning building or fighting off bullies, rapists and muggers. Sometimes it just means taking the time to lend a hand to someone who needs it. How much worse would the Hurricane Katrina Tragedy have been if so many Americans had not stepped forward to help the victims of the hurricane, sending food and money and welcoming strangers into their homes? These were all heroes. Our government failed us but our citizens and neighbors did not. That day our country was full of heroes.

1 comment:

Marc said...


Thanks for this brother.