While on a trip on Easter weekend I happened to walk past a social service center. On the lawn of this facility, writ very large, was a sign that proclaimed “Heroes Work Here.” Interesting.
I’ve seen those signs a couple of times before in front of other places and didn’t give them much thought. But the town I was strolling through was adjacent to a civil war battlefield where acts of true heroism took place. I began to ponder the social service facility’s self-annointed hero status.
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Now no doubt many of the people who work there do their jobs well. They probably perform with compassion, integrity, and good cheer. But, you don’t get hero status for just doing your job. You get that title when you do something extraordinary above and beyond your job. Something that may put your life at risk. Something most people would not do.
Case in point, me. I spent four years on active duty in the US Army. I did my job. I think I was good at my job. But I was no hero. Neither were most of my colleagues. Later in life, through a military charity group, I had a chance to meet real heroes, Medal of Honor recipients. They were a different breed of men.
Not in the sense of appearance or demeanor. They were of ordinary composure. However, their award citations read like a Bruckheimer movie. Essentially, these were ordinary men who performed with extraordinary gallantry, sangfroid, and competence under tremendous pressure in extremely difficult situations. They didn’t receive the Medal because they were nice guys, or because they were in a publicly approved job, or because of grotesque sentimentality.
A close friend who joined me for the weekend, upon hearing my idea, countered, “But what about Covid? They were under that pressure.” True. And no doubt they performed admirably. But I’m not sure you get deep blue hero status working under the cloud of a virus with a 97 percent recovery rate.
This is part of a larger malady in our society, cultural hyperbole. We’ve seen it in the Oval Office in the last presidency. Our pop culture is built upon it. In our daily political discourse, especially from the populist right and the hard left, it is their stock and trade. No screeched promise, no over the top assurance is too much for these factions because they realize the slobbering buffoons who comprise their base love to get riled up and will buy anything as long as it is based on emotion and conforms with their biases.
Not much we can do about the political aspect right now, it is the zeitgeist. But perhaps we can cut down on the hero naming. It does a disservice to logic and it unintentionally insults those who risk all and become real heroes.