218. Heroes

We like to have heroes. When I was in elementary school, George Washington was one of the great people we were supposed to admire. As far as I can remember, one of the most important things he did was confess to a minor misdeed that didn’t seem so bad to me. I never chopped down any cherry trees myself, so I never had the chance to prove myself the way George did. I guess you have to be in the right place at the right time to achieve greatness. I once cheated on a math test. I looked at Steve Arbogast’s paper, and I’m confessing it now in public. I hope that counts; I’m sure I couldn’t chop down a cherry tree now.
As long as we are going to turn people into heroes, we might as well give some thought to it. Today I witnessed a lesson about Martin Luther King. Children heard about the bus boycott, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Nobel Peace Prize he won. They heard his voice speaking the words that inspired so many.
I remember Harry Truman’s reaction to King. A reporter asked him what he thought of King. Truman said, “He’s a troublemaker.” When the reporter reminded Truman that King had just received the Nobel Peace Prize, he responded, “I didn’t give it to him.” Somehow, some people have come to think of Truman as another hero.
I am now friends with someone who has long been one of my heroes. When I first met him, I was star-struck, and as I spoke with him, it was all I could do to stop myself from thinking, “Here I am, having a friendly conversation with someone who has always been my hero.” That kind of thinking can get in the way of real communication.
I imagine Martin Luther King stopping by my apartment for a visit. My first reaction to him would be to tell him what a profound affect he’s had on my thinking – how greatly I admire his life of work for freedom, peace, and justice. I imagine him finding that admiration a bit tedious, and maybe asking me what I’ve done as a result of all this admiration. Or maybe he’d ask about the photographs on my wall, or ask for a drink of water.
Heroes are people. About half of them are female, and should be called “heroines,” I guess. As we create heroes and heroines for children, I think it would be helpful to focus on heroic actions and qualities. Children ought to know that these actions and qualities leave lasting impressions.
Children often seek out heroes, and whether their heroes chop down cherry trees, work for freedom, peace, and justice, or pitch no-hitters, it’s good to help them focus on the qualities and deeds they admire. That focus makes heroism more accessible. I believe that there’s some heroism in most people.

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