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Week of: August 26, 2001

Our Clay Idols & Our Unsung Heroes

by F.R. Duplantier

Are there fewer heroes today than yesterday, or have we just lost the ability to recognize them?

Personally, I'm tired of hearing it: There aren't any heroes anymore! Young people have no role models today! No soldiers, statesmen, scientists, or saints to emulate! Gone are the giants of yesteryear! This is the fashionable lament. The occasional nod is given to professional athletes, as though there were anything remotely heroic about grown men playing childish games in their pajamas. These are straw men, these supposed holdouts for heroism -- set up to be knocked down, by highly publicized instances of drug abuse, greed, and hooliganism.

I'm tired of hearing the missing-heroes report, because it isn't true. The world is full of heroes. Heroes and heroines abound. Why, then, do we nod our heads like mesmerized cult members whenever we hear the incantation "no more heroes"? Do we really believe this nonsense? Do we want to believe it?

There are at least two explanations for the apparent lack of anything: Either it isn't there, or it is there and we can't see it. So it is with heroes. Prevailing wisdom notwithstanding, there is no shortage of exemplars today; what there is is rampant confusion as to what makes a person exemplary. The problem is, we have gotten into the habit of letting others choose our heroes for us. Scoundrels are held up for acclaim, and we acclaim them. Then, when the inevitable happens, and their villainy is exposed, we succumb to disillusionment, rather than examine the criteria -- and the evidence -- whereby such impostors were adjudged to be heroes in the first place. We proclaim the death of heroism, rather than acknowledge the triumph of our foolishness.

That triumph is assured when we endow celebrity with integrity and equate success with virtue. They can coincide in the same individual, but they often don't. There is no predictable causal relationship between the two. Celebrity may sap integrity; integrity may flourish in anonymity. Success can undermine virtue; virtue may dictate actions that invite worldly failure. Where, after all, is the courage in popularity? How stoical must one be in the midst of success?

No, real heroes are the ones who risk censure and defeat in the defense of truth and the pursuit of justice. They may succeed in their quest or they may not, they may enjoy occasional victories or none at all -- but, even when faced with certain failure, they persist.

Where are the real heroes? Why can't we see them? They're outshined by the charlatans. They're hidden in the shadows cast by statues erected to false idols. But they're there, visible to all who really look for them: the larger-than-life heroes like John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, Mother Theresa and Phyllis Schlafly; as well as the everyday heroes witnessing to life at abortion mills, educating their children at home, blowing the whistle on government corruption, and performing countless other unfashionably selfless deeds in the face of scorn and abuse. No more heroes? Don't you believe it. And don't let such foolish "wisdom" pass unchallenged.


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