• Posted: May 15, 2010 17:56:49
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The display of heroic behavior is a staple of the news we read. And most people are quite moved when they hear such stories, whether they be of a lone child survivor of an airplane crash finally being told both his parents and siblings did not survive, or of the brave and consequential stands taken by a much admired black female vocalist throughout her career, or the recount of an oil worker venturing into danger to pull fellow workers from flaming waters. But some such stories of unexpectedly bold and dramatic behavior do not strike us as particularly heroic, more as self-serving vain attention grabbing, like Sarah Palin's crusading pronouncement that deep in his heart Barack Obama desires gutting the Second Amendment and taking people's guns away from them, or Iranian cleric Kazem Sedighi self-righteously proclaiming earthquakes to be retribution from Allah for living a sinful life of promiscuity.
What exactly is heroism and why do we find it so fascinating, moving, and inspiring?
There was an interesting discussion on NPR this week wherein they interviewed the author of a forthcoming book entitled Heroes for my Son. I don't poopoo the author's conclusions after having grappled with the above question, for they seem to have served him well in constructing the selection of stories that make up his book, but I don't think I'd arrive at the same conclusions.
He defines an heroic act as selflessly risking danger to benefit others. In other words, he points to and celebrates altruism. I don't dispute that acts of altruism can seem heroic, but I don't think that definition covers the field. Let me explain.
In the Art Institute of Chicago resides a sculpture by artist Richard Hunt entitled Heroic Figure. Many years ago a picture of that sculpture appeared with other images of noteworthy works of art from the Art Institute on the cover of Chicago's phone book. That picture has haunted me ever since. I have more than once described it in my writings. Here is one of those descriptions:
"It's the figure of a man, standing straight, but leaning forward, against a wind, a terrible wind. He has no face. Most of it has been blown away. Only the stump of one arm remains. The other trails limply behind. His chest, strong heart that it contains, is thrust forward. Somehow still, he presses on."
The image above reminds me strongly of that sculpture. There is something beyond or in spite of altruism being displayed in both. There is strength, there is character, there is resolve, there is eye to eye unyielding uncompromising confrontation, and there is rock solid will to endure, all of which seems beyond what we know to be within our own souls. And thus, we find ourselves in awe. And perhaps, like the friend above at her side, we want to grasp tight and cling to it.
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
14.5 mm 69 mm