Heroes are often revered as being the best part of ourselves that we have never been able to attain. They are the shining beacon of hope that illuminates an often dark and scornful world.
But they’re not mannequins. They have lives that often aren’t as tidy as we’d like to believe.
So the question is do they still get to be called heroes if their lives are, well, kinda whack?
George Washington is often revered for being the first elected president of the newly formed republic of the United State. It is also a well-known fact that, as a contemporary of his day, he owned slaves. What is often reported is that, upon his death, he freed them all. The truth of the matter is that, yes, while he did free his own slaves, of which he personally owned about 30, the vast majority of the slaves he owned were called dower slaves (the ones he inherited from his wife’s family), which amounted to over 100 living souls. He willed them to his grandchildren.
Abraham Lincoln is credited with ending modern day slavery in our country by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, he also said in the early fall of 1858, before the Civil War began, the following:
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.”
Ouch! You won’t find that in your history book.
Mohandas Gandhi led India away from the yoke of British colonialism and exploitation and was probably one of the greatest social liberators of our modern era. However a little known fact about him was this: nightly he was sleeping, naked, with his 19-year-old grandniece (though not in a sexual way).
Mother Teresa took money from known criminals and cultist, but refused to give it back. Towards the end of her life she was subjected to an exorcism because of her increased tendency of going into fits of rage and behaving erratically.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a well-known extra-marital affair on his wife and recently, it has been proposed, may have plagiarized his doctoral dissertation.
Caesar Chavez, it is also reported, lived in several homes throughout California but would change clothes before standing before migrant workers and the media in order to portray himself as a pauper.
President Ronald Reagan, documents show, was aware of the White House’s involvement in the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. Additionally, Alzheimer’s is a progressively degenerative disease. It ultimately led to his death. We will never know, for certain, just when the first signs of it began to manifest. Was he still operating as the Commander-in-Chief? Should he have stepped down? And what about the spiritists that Nancy Reagan consulted with on the regular and invited to the White House.
Nelson Mandela, early in his activist career, belonged to an organization that espoused the violent and bloody overthrow of the apartheid regime.
And so the list goes on.
In our neo-humanist society illusive and self-righteous perfection becomes the all-encompassing prism that all acts, both private and public, become judged through. Our heroes are not given room to have a scratch, a scrape, a variance within the slightest degree, a smudge, a ripple, a point of non-congruence, nothing. In other words the often flawed and revolting attributes that makes them relatable is vilified. Their humanity becomes the mangled and useless carcass that is thrown to the side of the road and left to be scavenged by the media hounds.
Of course I’m not saying that the occasional good deeds of a mass murderer should be the grounds for an absolute pardon of all earthly sins. That would be a deceitful over-simplification. I’m saying that fallible, fallen, broken, deceitful and sometimes irrational humans are capable of greatness.
I do believe there’s a danger in portraying our heroes as monolithic do-gooders who never falter or sway from their cause. The old adage “if it’s too good to be true then it probably is” becomes a hefty powder keg in the hands of detractors who sniff around for the slightest slip up. Making our heroes an impenetrable single dimension of goodness basically sterilizes them and makes them into, well, mannequins, caricature. It also discourages other people who might be heroic but are battling demons they didn’t know their heroes were also battling. Furthermore it underscores the reality that people have the capacity to evolve, to grow, to, dare I say, change.
So yes, I want to know that my heroes scratch when they itch, that they bleed when they’re cut, and that when they fall they contemplate not getting back up. I want them to have one leg shorter than the other, get angry and throw things, cry, cuss like a sailor and pray like a saint. I want them and all of their rotten humanity to be who they are while they’re doing great things. Being human is not a liability; it’s a beautifully awkward and complex asset.
In other words, it’s the anti-mannequin.
What do you think?