Democrats & Liberals Archives

Find a Hero

Ever hear the complaint “There just aren’t any heroes anymore!”?

Poppycock! I say. It’s just that traditionally people often looked to the political realm for their heroes, and we’ve become so jaded and cynical about politics that it seems sometimes that heroes are things of the past.

Heroes can of course be friends or teachers or family members who make a profound difference in the lives of those they know. Because this is a politically oriented blog, I'll offer links to some examples of Americans who aren't in government, but are making a real difference anyway in areas of public policy. I hope their examples, or others you can easily find in searching will brighten some of your hopes for a better tomorrow:

Paul Farmer: Doctor who has provided free medical care for the poor in Haiti, and elsewhere around the world through Partners in Health, which he founded.

Wynona Ward
: Former truck driver now helping abused women in Vermont escape the cycle of violence with her Have Justice Will Travel.

Carol Shapiro: Assists families of drug abusers returned from prison in NYC at La Bodega de la Familia, which she founded.

Jason Upshaw, who at age 15 combined his entrepreneurial nature, and his love of people to create a business that also served his community. is a website which profiles scores of such heroes from around the world. More famous examples can be found at PBS' the New Heroes site. Martin Luther King Jr was a hero of mine as I came of age, but I have continued to find inspiration from people such as Wangaari Maathai, Muhammad Yunus, or Vaclav Havel. But there is no need to go to the past or travel around the world to find heroes. You may just find one next door.

Posted by Walker Willingham at May 31, 2008 11:53 PM
Comment #254101

Far from being an authoritative comment on the subject, I would offer that hero worship isn’t what its cracked up to be.

Acknowledging heroic acts and seeking to emulate in one’s own life that essence of heroism which is placing as high or higher value on someone other than oneself, is an inherently positive act.

To worship heroes however is a blinding act to the truth. Heroes, all heroes, are flawed human beings. No one more readily admits this than real heroes themselves. To worship heroes can lead, and often does, to emulating their flawed traits as well as their heroic and failing to tell the difference. Ronald Reagan and FDR worshipers are prime examples.

Ronald Reagan violated the very principle Justice Alito spoke of at a commencement speech yesterday. That principle is a love and adherence to the Constitution and its intents and meaning which are vague where they intended it to be, and specific where it was essential to be so. Bending or reversing the meaning and intents of the Constitution for money and profit and clients served is the height of sophistry and to be condemned as Justice Alito alluded to yesterday.

The same was true of FDR who quite nearly threw the Constitution out on the garbage heap in the name of expedience and passionate desire to amend the conditions he inherited upon election.

Both of these men are heroes, and their worshipers in both Parties have demonstrated a blind willingness to emulate the flaws and infidelity to the U.S. Constitution or Office of President just as their heroes did. It is a blind spot created out of cognitive dissonance of worshiping flawed human beings who also demonstrated great heroic capacity in a particular set of circumstances.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 1, 2008 11:25 AM
Comment #254105

David, your points are well taken, and I can say for my part I have many heroes, but worship none of them. That each is a flawed human being is in fact essential to my own ability to be inspired by them to action, as I am only too aware of my own imperfection and limitations.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at June 1, 2008 12:08 PM
Comment #254113


I am with David and (I think) you on this. There are heroic acts, but we should recognize that people are all flawed.

What I think we have lost is the belief that we can and should do better. Most of us know what we should do, but often don’t do it.

I am convinced that the greatest source of misery in our great and rich country comes from people NOT doing what THEY think they should. They feel guilty and then project their craven characters onto everybody else. If you are living the life you think you should, you are generally content even in very difficult material circumstances. If you are dishonest with yourself or lack the moral courage to do what you think is right, no amount of adulation of others or wealth will suffice. That is why many celebrities are so pathetic.

Some people absolutely behave better in most situations than some others. They are better people and in an earlier time we might have called them heroes. Today we more often deride them and emphasize the flaws.

BTW - IF you are not a better person today than you were 10 years ago, there is a flaw in either your character or your execution.

We have also substituted celebrity for reverence or accomplishment. We should not worship any human, but we should look up to some, try to emulate their better traits and recognize them as models.

I read a lot of biography. Great individual generally work very hard at building their characters. It is not something that comes naturally. Our advice to “just be yourself” is pernicious. Most of us are not good enough in our raw form. We need to build character and we also have the right to judge each other’s accomplishment of that worthy goal.

George Washington was a great man. Benedict Arnold was not. They had similar talents and even similar weaknesses. Washington had developed true character. Arnold had created a façade. We are often too interested in the façade.

Posted by: Jack at June 1, 2008 1:11 PM
Comment #254118

How about Wayne Morse?:

Personally, the only heroes I am interested in are musicians, or others who have created something that lasts.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 1, 2008 3:27 PM
Comment #254119

No Obama! It’s Hillary or McCain.

Posted by: slokipoki at June 1, 2008 3:38 PM
Comment #254122

Is the 4th article down locked or something? It’s very annoying not to be able to respond here.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 1, 2008 3:44 PM
Comment #254129

ohrealy - worked for me, try again.

Posted by: Walker at June 1, 2008 4:26 PM
Comment #254136

Thanks, Walker, you must have the magic touch to unlock it. Here is another hero of mine, ever since his confrontation with WFBuckley in 1968. This is from Frost over the World, also from the Al Jazeera feed:

Posted by: ohrealy at June 1, 2008 5:36 PM
Comment #254156

Jack said: “BTW - IF you are not a better person today than you were 10 years ago, there is a flaw in either your character or your execution.”

Here, Jack, you touch upon a fundamental human condition and core philosophical debate about the nature of human beings. I agree with you entirely. We may be born innocent, but needs and desires do not acknowledge innocence at birth for very long. How we manage our needs and desires in relation to others is paramount in the determination of whether we are becoming persons of admirable character or persons not to be relied upon or trusted with anything of importance.

That said, it is also fundamentally true that we do not become socialized without the influence of the society about us. Feral children are barely recognizable as human save in physical form. Society has a fundamental role and responsibility in part for the character of its inhabitants. Something the movie Apocalypto makes abundantly clear in the starkest of terms.

That’s not to say personal decision and will don’t play crucial roles in the building of our own characters, they do. But, those personal decisions and will derive from a social context, and without that context, such personal decision and will would reflect little more than adaptability and ingenuity at basic survival skills, or lack thereof.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 2, 2008 3:19 AM
Comment #254176

the clintons turned there backs on a lot of people when in the white house,and no longer needing the people to hold on, what goes around comes around,good to see that a lot of people that worked for clinton,people who he made is turning against him going for obama,well they learned back stabing from the king

Posted by: dan at June 2, 2008 11:01 AM
Comment #254181

It is a truly scary thought that someone might seek to “worship” another human merely because of their accomplishments.
One man’s hero is another man’s terrorist, right Jack?

“Heroes” are ordinary people that accomplish extraordinary things. They do what they have to do. Anyone that feels the need to worship another for merely doing what the circumstances dictate has issues that I cannot fathom.

Words like “hero”, and “patriot” are thrown about like so much confetti.

Your example of Benedict Arnold is a case in point.
Arnold, throughout his early career was, by all accounts, both a hero and a patriot. It was because he sought recognition for his accomplishments, and in not receiving it that he sought revenge and became our definition of a traitor.
Hell, the British loved him.

I truly can’t say that I have any heroes.
There are people that I admire for their actions, or their accomplishments, or their writings, but I don’t know that I would call them my heroes.

I admire Eisenhower for his words on the MIC. I admire the writings of Twain. I admire the actions of Pat Tillman for giving up a career to do what he thought was right.

To call any of the above men “heroes” is entirely subjective.

Posted by: Rocky at June 2, 2008 11:54 AM
Comment #254230


Great idea for a post. Thanks for the read.


I agree that we often end up destroying heros because they, like the rest of us, are flawed humans. The humility that is a part of many religions, is a valuable lesson here.

As usual, there is something in your post, as you tweak it, that bothers me.

I am convinced that the greatest source of misery in our great and rich country comes from people NOT doing what THEY think they should.

I don’t think it is so much that people aren’t doing what they think are supposed to be doing, as people are too busy seeking self interests to see the detriment to society they cause.

While you correctly point out this shame driven attitude of leads to complete hypocrisy, and internal misery, you fail to see the problem with “should” type thinking.

I believe it is important in character building the focus should be on positively reinforced action rather than shaming punishment. This puritan ethic, is problematic, in my opinion. Education on action and outcome is more productive.

Rocky and Jack:

While Benedict Arnold certainly gets bad and sustained press here in the US, I think he may be more of an example of Jack’s destroyed hero syndrome. While he certainly did some purely selfishly interested deeds, he was not alone in that regard among our founders.

Ohrealy, It sounds like you need to reinstall your browser and clean up your system. It’s sounds like something is interfering with your browser to me.
I’m curious. Are you a musician?

Posted by: googlumpus at June 3, 2008 12:42 AM
Comment #254233
Hell, the British loved him.

No, no they didn’t. He was a traitor, therefore could never fully be trusted by the British either.

In the House of Commons Edmund Burke expressed the hope that the government would not put Arnold “at the head of a part of a British army” lest “the sentiments of true honor, which every British officer [holds] dearer than life, should be afflicted.”
Benedict Arnold pursued interests in the shipping trade in Canada from 1787 until 1791, when an angry mob overran the front lawn of his home, burning an effigy labeled “traitor”, and troops were required to disperse them. Returning to England, he was unable to obtain a desired military command, and in July 1792 he fought a bloodless duel with the Earl of Lauderdale after the Earl had impugned his honour in the House of Lords.
Posted by: Rhinehold at June 3, 2008 12:56 AM
Comment #254249


Yet they trusted him to lead men in action against America.

Posted by: Rocky at June 3, 2008 7:51 AM
Comment #254289

Yes, they did. Putting someone who used to be a high ranking official in the army you are fighting against in charge of some of the your forces against them is a good idea. Keep a close watch and make sure he doesn’t flip back and let him use his knowledge to your advantage. Of course they did.

That doesn’t mean they thought of him as a hero, like him or particilarly trusted him very much if at all. It means that they used him to their advantage util he was no use anymore and the British decided to devote their resources elsewhere, and then he was discarded.

Posted by: Rhinehold at June 3, 2008 1:12 PM
Comment #254301


First of all the comment I made was sarcasm, and I probably should have made that more clear.

Oh, and BTW, I never claimed that the British thought of him as a hero, and if you actually read and understand what I wrote in my post I wasn’t defending him in any way.

Secondly he did win the first two engagements he lead for the British, capturing Richmond and Fort Griswold, and burning the port of New London.

It is nice to know we both got our information from the wikipedia.

Posted by: Rocky at June 3, 2008 2:25 PM
Comment #254312

Joseph Campbell on heroes:

“the story always began with an Everyman just living his hum-drum life. Suddenly and unexpectedly, either by chance or by choice, Everyman is either pulled out of his ordinary life or chooses to leave his ordinary life to launch into a great adventure, whose ending he cannot know at the beginning.

The adventure then goes through several specified stages. The hero will journey into a dark world where he meets various forces or entities which he has to deal with. Along the way he encounters a teacher who gives him the instruction in new skills he will need to learn to successfully achieve his goal. No later than this part of the journey the hero becomes consciously aware of what that very specific goal is.

Striving for his goal, the hero is challenged to his limit, reaching a peak culminating experience, what Campbell calls a “supreme ordeal.” The result is that the hero “gains his reward” and is forever changed by the experience. He often gains some new powers and sets off with them. Eventually the hero re-emerges to his society with these new abilities bringing a boon to his society which somehow restores that society.”

Well, that’s a pretty high standard! Oddly enough, since there is nothing on TV, I will be watching the S1 dvds of Heroes later tonight.

googlumpus, I haven’t been a musician for years. My mother’s father was a composer and professor and I grew up in a very musical environment. At one point, I completely filled up all the available space on my laptop with music, but had to eliminate some since it wouldn’t defrag.

DRRemer solved that other problem. Apparently my language is a little too rough for the filtering software.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 3, 2008 3:32 PM
Comment #254365

off the cuff Edmund burke “slavery is a Weed” and for “evil to prevail” pre warned about the french revolution and it’s dire consequences one of the greatest conservative minds ever. samuel johnson bad eyes but what great vision “hell is paved with good intentions” A prolific writer and hung out with burke. Arnold a great Military mind but a sore loser and traitor and had a wealthy english wife , Twain, No one ever did it better than him . Eisenhower was what conservatives should try to be.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at June 3, 2008 11:28 PM
Comment #254372


Thanks for the info. I find it interesting to watch the personal sketchs of people you talk to on the internet develop over time. Everyone here at Watchblog fascinates me. We all struggle with political beliefs here and inspite of what may seem like completely moronic rants, there is usually a story and an intellect behind it.

It’s that story that keeps me coming back to Watchblog.

I’ve begun using reddit recently, and while I find intelligent conversation there, I recently discovered some really intelligent, but serious nut cases. Scary.:)

I always enjoy reading the debates here and find it always stimulating and informative.

Now, watch your language! :)

David Remer is MY hero! How’s that for kissing up?

Posted by: googlumpugus at June 4, 2008 1:03 AM
Comment #254441

googlumpugus, I think Watchblog is addictive. I also like the simple, all comments on one page, black on white format. I usually try to stop posting at the end of every month, but something always pulls me back in. From what I read, there a a number of people here who are all about the same age, and I think that is part of what keeps it going. I signed up to post at Huffington, but didn’t find many of the comments there worth a response.

On the topic, here is something from a book on Beethoven:

Like all highly organized people he sounded the gamut of joy and sorrow. His journal entries tell the story. One day, exulting in life and its possibilities he writes, “Oh, it would be glorious to live life over a thousand times.” At another time he calls upon his God in abject despair to help him through the passing hour. At one time life is so difficult a problem that he sees not how it can be continued at all. Then he loses himself in his creations and soars into regions where his troubles cannot follow. This joyousness is the portion of many extraordinary people.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 4, 2008 5:20 PM
Comment #254686

goo and ohrealy, you can knock it off, now, I have decided not to run for anything this year, except my wife. :-)

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 6, 2008 10:37 AM
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