Well-Rounded and One-Sided Heroes
From a certain point of view, the heroes who are the most well-rounded are those least formed by their heroism. They commit only within the bounds set by a need, and when they meet that need—or when it abates for some other reason—then they set aside their heroism and resume their “ordinary” lives. They might not even view themselves as heroes, because they do not form their identities around heroism but around what they count as “ordinary.”
The only heroism less personal than this well-rounded heroism, from the same point of view, may be the unintended heroism or the heroism achieved in spite of the intentions of those who suppose themselves to intend something “ordinary,” amoral, or outright villainous. Jack Sparrow comes to mind, and other thief-heroes.
From this point of view, the more that heroism forms a person’s identity, the less well-rounded the person will be. Superheroes, then, would be the most one-sided of all. Perhaps I will not surprise the reader when I say that I do not hold this point of view.
Therefore, there is another sort of heroism, I have to say, and another point of view. That is the heroism of those who are like superheroes but perhaps not so one-sided. Soldiers and police officers serve their country and serve and protect their city. Doctors and nurses, too, make commitments of this sort to improve and in the last instance to save others’ lives. The same goes for spies, lawyers, firefighters, and the like. These heroes take actions that follow from a commitment that seem to be unbounded by any circumstance of dire need, like a crashing plane. An enthusiastic person might be excused for calling these occupations heroic. Let us call the enthusiast a patriot, even if that means a person enthusiastic about one’s city, neighborhood, or region, and not only about one’s nation.
Soldiery, policing, and the other occupations, it is true, do differ from “ordinary” ones. They are established to meet dire—and in truth sometimes not-so-dire—needs in the established order of the city, neighborhood, region, or nation. But some soldiers, police officers, and others take up their “heroic” occupations not so differently from “ordinary” citizens. Their commitment is not so much to heroism in the urgency that good should overcome evil as to the occupation in the established order. They commit to the performance of the duties that the establishment orders them to perform. Their identities form more around this commitment than around heroism, and they take the health insurance, vacation time, and salary to which their contracts entitle them. If they are heroes, they may be heroes more from the point of view of the “ordinary” citizens in the established order than from the point of view of their intentions.
From the point of view of their intentions, I might add, these career “heroes” might be even more one-sided than superheroes or the heroes, outlined above, who make no commitment beyond any circumstance of need. This is the point of view that I myself hold.
A reader may feel that it is better to base one’s commitments on the established order, that is, to let the establishment do the work of preserving citizens from a certain tumult outside the establishment. Massive forces strive against one another there, and perhaps nothing at all preserves a person from the brunt of the urgency that good should overcome evil.
From my point of view, I can acknowledge to the reader that superheroes, as just anyone sensationalizes them, may be the most one-sided of heroes. The same goes for who parodies or deconstructs them. But, then again, sung as heroes, superheroes may be the most well-rounded of all, just because they personally commit to the urgency and do not avoid the brunt of it.
I am reminded of a quote that one hears from time to time and that is attributed to a man named Brooke Foss Westcott: “Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become.” If the Westcott’s statement is true, then the established order cannot preserve us from the massive forces that strive against one another, because those forces are not outside the established order. They are within the order, only veiled, so to speak, if we, as I suppose, become heroes or cowards behind this veil.
That is to say–in explanation of why I use quotation marks around a certain word–nothing is “ordinary.” Nothing is nondescript. Each thing is specifically itself. Things appear “ordinary” only from a viewpoint within the established order. The order, which is supposed to preserve citizens from the massive forces outside of it, may only veil those forces from the citizen’s eyes. Then, when a crisis arises, the “well-rounded” citizens must show whether, by a bounded or an unbounded commitment, they have indeed become heroes or cowards–“who was valiant and who has failed,” in words sung to the honor of the ancient Picts (Suidakra, “The IXth Legion,” Calendonia, ).