Corey and Lori's Quest Log


Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Archive for the ‘Heroism’ Category

A World Full of Heroes – The Power of We

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Blog Action DayToday, Monday, October 15, 2012, is Blog Action Day. (#powerofwe and #BAD12 ) This year the topic is “The Power of We”, an idea that is an important part of Lori’s and my beliefs. In fact, just two months ago I posted Power To the People – Changing the Game on exactly this subject.

That article focused on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites. People who felt they had little voice can now make themselves heard by supporting projects they care about.

This time, I want to follow up by writing about our favorite topic – Heroes – from the “power of we” viewpoint. We tend to think of Heroes as remote – Superman or Batman, isolated forces for good. Or maybe someone like a soldier who rescues a comrade, or a fireman rushing into the collapsing World Trade Center. The Heroes are all out there somewhere while we sit at home watching or reading about their exploits.

Not Alone

But wait a minute. How alone are those Heroes, anyway? Superman is pretty unique – He was sent to Earth from Krypton as a baby, and somehow being under our yellow sun gave him superpowers. But did he fight evil alone? Hardly. First he was saved from Krypton by his father and other scientists. Were they not the real Heroes, sacrificing their lives for the sake of one baby? Why didn’t one of them get in the rocket instead?

And down on Earth, that superbaby was found and cared for by Martha and Jonathan Kent. They made many sacrifices to survive an as-yet morally ambiguous baby who kept knocking holes in the wall and endangering everyone around him. More importantly, they taught young Clark Kent ethical and moral principles that guided the rest of his life. I’d argue that the Kents were the real superheroes in those stories! Superman was the tool forged by them to fight evil.

Those soldiers and firemen I mentioned? Do you really think they work alone? Sure, in their moment of reported glory, each of them went above and beyond the call of duty. But before that, they committed to duty, learned to work as a team, trained with their fellows, and at every stage received equipment, money, and support from their organization. Soldiers fight as a team or they die alone. Firemen specialize – Some running hoses, others climbing ladders, some running into buildings to rescue trapped people. Without the whole team, an individual fireman is (ahem) toast.

Batman mostly works as a loner… If you don’t count Robin, and Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon. Or the inherited wealth he uses to support his profligate crime-fighting lifestyle.

We Can All Be Heroes

We Can be HeroesBut at the same time, one of the strengths of the Batman legend is that he does not have superpowers. He started out as an ordinary person and – with a lot of help from his friends – forged himself into a Hero. We would all like to believe that, if we work hard enough, we can be Heroes too.

And we can!

Where do soldiers, firemen, policemen, philanthropists, charity volunteers, and other real-life heroes come from? They all start out as ordinary people – some rich, some poor, most middle-class – and they commit to higher goals. They set their sights on noble goals, join a team, and work their tails off to gain the skills they need to succeed.

You and I and each of us can do the same. It takes commitment, follow-through, and the “power of we”.

A World of Heroes

Imagine a world full of heroes. It starts out as one or two individuals saying, “Things aren’t right. Someone should do something about that. I guess it’s up to me.”

Then they get together and realize that two people working together can accomplish more than two individuals alone. So they talk to others and share what they’ve learned. Pretty soon, someone else stands up and say, “You know, if they could do it, maybe so can I.” And then there are three.

And four. And a dozen. Slowly the word spreads, and more people join the cause. They aren’t all Heroes at first, but when they commit to doing good, they’ve taken the first step to becoming Heroes themselves.

And maybe you and I read, and listen, and say, “These people need help. How can they take on all the world’s troubles themselves?” And each of us has a choice – We can sit back, and keep complaining, and do nothing. Or we can take those first small steps ourselves. We can commit to joining the movement, doing Good whenever we can, and working towards becoming Heroes ourselves.

Because there is no Superman, or Batman, in our world. And there’s only one Chuck Norris. But there are a lot of ordinary people working to do good deeds, one small task at a time. Every time someone does Good – even it’s not a big, scary, Heroic action – it makes our world a little better.

The Power of We

Every time *you* do good, you make the world *and yourself* a little better. You become part of the hidden team, the people who care, the people who would rather be Heroes than lie back and ignore the evil around them.

That’s what “the power of We” is all about. A whole lot of people who take a stand and strive to do things that matter… That can be the difference from a world that suffocates under its own pollution, starves to death because it has exhausted its natural resources, or lives in fear under the iron hand of despotic rulers. We won’t stand for that world; we can’t allow it.

And that means we all – each one of us as individuals and many of us working together – must become Heroes. The world needs more Heroes, and if you and I do not heed the call, who will answer for us? It’s up to us and the Power of We.

The School for Heroes – A New Hope

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

New HopeA long time ago, in a Zeitgeist far, far away, Lori Ann Cole and Mishell Baker opened the “How to Be a Hero” Web site. For the next three years, Lori worked tirelessly to promote the idea of being a fantasy Hero in real life. Then there came a great disturbance in the Force, and hundreds of voices cried out in agony, then were silenced.

But the Force of Heroism is not so easily defeated. Two years later, a new school rose up to defy the Empire of Greed, Evil, and Selfishness. Based on the Principles of Truth, Freedom, and above all Heroism, the School for Heroes rose up in the Fall of 2008 with a bold new mission.

Return of the Heroes

The new school for young Padawans – um, Heroes – strove to be fun, challenging, entertaining, interactive, inspiring, meaningful, and above all, a Force for Good in the world. We wanted it to be a game as well as a school.

Since the school opened, over 3,000 potential Heroes have taken the new Hero Test. More than 600 of those took the critical next step of completing the first Hero Mission to become Rank One Heroes-in-training.

But what of the school’s Mission? How well did we achieve our lofty goals?

I think we can safely say we made the “game” of the school challenging enough. Just 74 students braved the challenges to advance to Rank Two or higher. Was the school too challenging? Or did the dropouts not find it as fun as they expected?

Seventy-four Heroes isn’t bad. Rudyard Kipling wrote about “one man in a thousand”, and Diogenes would have been happy to find a single honest man. Seventy-four trained Jedi would be a mighty Force to stand up against the Empire. But are they enough to justify the continued existence of the school and an ever more challenging job for its creators?

This is the split personality of the School for Heroes. It is a game, a school, a soapbox for our opinions, and a social site. But how well has it really succeeded at any of these? Maybe the time has come to find the school’s real focus.

School Recess

Rise AgainOur favorite saying is, “Rule #1 – The Game Must Be Fun.” And that applies to the school as well. We think we have lost sight of that in the school in our quest to “educate” would-be heroes. Our goal with Castle of Dr. Brain and Mixed-Up Fairy Tales was stealth education – learning while having fun – and we want the school to work the same way.

Everyone has worked very hard for the last three years (and many of us, for three years before that at the previous school site). It is time for a recess while Lori and I reinvent the school.

We are not going away, but we are taking a break. We think we can make the school more like a game, and less like a job. We think we can find ways to integrate the social and the learning sides of the school. We also think we can change Lori’s and my role from teachers to writers and designers. Our personal touch will still be there in our words and beliefs, but we don’t need to give a personal response to every assignment.

For the school to succeed and grow, it needs to be able to scale… even to the extent of a Galaxy-wide Republic.

But we are already at the limit of what Lori and I can handle. The current School is not scalable. To succeed at making a big difference in the world, the School must become bigger than its founders.

The New Hope

For now, that unfortunately means that we have had to stop accepting new assignments. We simply do not have time to respond individually while developing the new version of the school. It will take a while.

But we promise you that we are committed to making the school even better, and above all, fun. The School for Heroes will rise again, a new hope for the current and next generation of Heroes.

In the meantime, never stop being a Hero. We have taught you a little, and you have learned much more on your own. Take those lessons and apply them to every aspect of your daily life. It is up to you to show the Galaxy what a few committed Heroes can do.

May the Force of Heroism be with you!

New Hope

 

The Tipping Point for Heroes

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?

What can a single Hero do?

Most of us feel pretty powerless much of the time. Our influence seems limited to a few friends, maybe a few visitors to our FaceBook pages. We can do all sorts of heroic deeds, but do they even “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”? (Casablanca) What’s the point?

The Tipping Point

“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” – Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

I first heard the phrase, “the tipping point”, in the 1960’s. In fables, it’s the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. In physics, it’s the principle that a small effect can quickly change an otherwise stable equilibrium. In sociology, we reach the tipping point when an event turns into a movement. It can be positive, as with the peace movement, or negative (a lynch mob).

Tipping PointSo, things happen, and sometimes big changes result. What does that have to do with Heroes?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. One person’s willingness to take a stand can make a difference. But first, you have to get mad. Or at least passionate enough to care and to take risks for what you believe in.

If you find yourself questioning the value and impact of your deeds, you might want to read The Tipping Point, a 2000 book by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point talks about influences that can turn a fad into a social epidemic. Gladwell breaks these down into the “law of the few”, the “stickiness factor”, and the “power of context”. I’m going to look at the law of the few as it applies to The School for Heroes.

The Law of the Few

Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “all men are created equal.” But their influence is anything but equal. We remember Paul Revere’s 1775 “midnight ride” during the American Revolution, but few remember William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, or others who rode out on the same mission. That’s largely due to Longfellow’s famous poem about the event. But according to Gladwell, there is another critical reason – Paul Revere was one of the “few” who cause an event to tip.

Paul Revere was a man with connections. He belonged to multiple social, political, and business groups. He was a respected silversmith among the upper classes in the Boston area. Now if a stranger knocked on your door at 2:00 in the morning to warn you that “the British Regulars are coming,” how would you react? Might your reaction be a little different if the stranger was someone whose name you had heard before, and who had a reputation for being active in civic affairs? That familiarity might make the difference between you barring your door or asking how you could help.

Connecting

Gladwell persuasively argues that some people are connectors who go out of their way to know many people. Others are “mavens” who soak up knowledge and love to share it with other people. A third type are expert salesmen who are great at convincing others to buy, to join, or to take action. All of these people are able to forge strong and effective connections with others.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Are these connectors special people from birth? Are the rest of us doomed to be isolated and unimportant?

I say nay! Connectors, like Heroes, are made, not born. Any of us can work to build up our networks and our social skills to become connectors. It isn’t easy, and it can certainly be uncomfortable, but all of us are capable of creating connections.

Tipping Point for HeroesI’m not saying you have to run out and join the Lions, the Rotary Club, and the Toastmasters. At least not right away. First make sure you connect with the people you see every day. When you pass someone in the hallway at school or work, how do you react? Do you walk on by, smile, or actually talk to them?

You probably pass a lot of interesting people every day; but how many of them do really know? Find a minute now and again to have a real conversation with someone. You might make a friend for life or discover a new passion. In any case, you will start to forge a connection.

People are used to being ignored and living in their private shells. When someone actually takes the time to listen to them, they are surprised and pleased. You may be in for a surprise too, because most people are actually really interesting once you get to know them. It just takes that first tiny risk, that willingness to listen, that makes a connection possible.

Change

Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Light bulb?? A single Hero can change the world!

What happens when you flip on a light switch? You form a connection. It takes connections all the way down the line, but in the end, there is light.

Those connections don’t “just happen”; every one is the result of a conscious decision. Many people took the time and effort to build that network and provide power. Most of them did it for profit, but so what? The result is light where you want it, when you need it.

Life connections work the same way. You build them one at a time, and you have to spend some time and energy to maintain them. You might meet someone because they say something interesting, because you think you will profit from the connection, or because you find them attractive. They will accept the connection for their own reasons.

But once the connection is forged, it has a life of its own. Signals pass through the nodes in unpredictable ways. When Susan Boyle became an Internet sensation, Lori and I found out about her performance from multiple friends and acquaintances. Today, Lori heard about a video, Love the Way You Lie, from a design blog to which she subscribes. Lori shared it with me because it’s “incredibly powerful”, and now I’m sharing it with you. The video is about domestic violence, but takes care to explain such behavior rather than just demonize it. We would not have heard of it without our network of contacts.

How important is one connection? One of the first comments on that video mentioned that it only had 3 views when he first saw it yesterday, and it’s now up to 900,000. By the time Lori watched it 12 seconds after that comment was posted, the count was up to 1.2 million. Some of those first few viewers must have shared the link with a few of their connections, and it snowballed from there.

Power

“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.”
– Ruthie Gorton, based on the UMW Constitution

When scales are in balance, it doesn’t take much to tip them one way or another. Maybe your vote, your words, your actions will not be enough by themselves. But when you connect with others, your combined weight can change the balance.

You can be one of the few who make a difference. Create connections with people, then use your connections to share things that matter to you. When you build real relationships, you will find people who care. Let them know what you are passionate about, and the message may spread.

You have the power to tip the scales of good and evil, justice and injustice. Use your power wisely.

Tipping Point for Heroes

Those Who Can, Teach

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Those who Can, TeachTeachers rarely get much respect. The old joke goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I think that is backwards. Maybe it should read, “Those who can, do. Those who can and care, teach.”

You have heard the proverb, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.” Teaching a subject multiplies its value by the number of people taught, or by many more as they go on to teach it to others. If you care about something, don’t just do it. Teach it!

Moving Young Minds with a Mockingbird

I was inspired by this BBC News article on To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I haven’t read the whole book yet; I’ve just started reading it because of the article. Lori tells me Mockingbird was one of the most influential books she read as a child, and we still have her copy.

What really impressed me was the tale of the English teacher, Garry Burnett, as described in that BBC article. Mr. Burnett was so inspired by the book that he started a Mockingbird Festival in Hull, England. The week-long festival “was attended by actors from the… film adaptation…” according to the article.
Wait a second. A schoolteacher got American film actors to attend his school festival in England? That was a pretty extraordinary feat. Mr. Burnett cared about Harper Lee’s book, and he took action to share his passion with others.

Did Mr. Burnett spend a few weeks lecturing about To Kill a Mockingbird and explaining why it is an important book? No. He went far beyond the requirements of his job and inspired his students. He took some of them thousands of miles to visit the author’s home. He created an annual week-long festival to encourage young people to explore the book’s themes in depth. And just this week, his influence was extended worldwide by a BBC News correspondent, and I am reading that book as a result.

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I can move the world.” – Archimedes

What can one hero do in this age of mass communication? If he knows how to teach, one man can move the world.

Great Teachers Change Lives

We’ve all had good and bad teachers, some more memorable than others. Two who influenced my life were Mr. Herman (6th grade) and Mr. Cross (8th grade math.) in Abington, Pennsylvania. Some students considered both of them “mean” or tough, but to me they were inspirational. Without their influence, I might not have met Lori, and I probably would never have become a game author. I certainly would not be writing this blog today.
Mr. Cross introduced me to probability theory. That foray into “recreational mathematics” was one of the influences that later led me to major in mathematics at UCSB. I do not know if I would have become a computer programmer without that early push.

Mr. Herman ran his 6th grade class as a competition; students raced to complete math problems on the board, worked in pairs to practice spelling, and so on. He did not believe in mass-market teaching. If you finished your problems early, he kept you busy with “extra credit” assignments.

Since I was good at spelling, Mr. Herman had me go through an advanced SRA self-study program in reading and vocabulary. When I finished that, he assigned me a College-level spelling workbook. Finally, I got a week or two of free periods during spelling at the end of the school year. Mr. Herman taught me that there is no limit to learning, that study – and even spelling – can be fun. I didn’t know at the time how important that extra work would become. They don’t teach spelling in American schools after 6th grade, so that was my last chance to learn a skill that has been important to me throughout my life.

Communication is Key

My mentor at UCSB, Professor Max Weiss, liked to tell this story: “You can be the greatest problem solver of all time, but if you can’t share your discoveries with others, your work is worthless. A successful proof is one that can be communicated and reviewed by your peers.” In other words, mathematics is about teaching as much as discovery. If you can’t or choose not to teach what you have learned, the knowledge will soon be lost.

Today I read an AP news report about a Los Angeles 8th grade math teacher who had a problem. Fresh out of college two years ago, Lamar Queen heard his students say that his class was boring. They joked that it would be more fun if he taught in rap… not knowing that he had performed rap in high school and college. Lamar started teaching his lessons in rap, and the students listened and learned. Queen has “won a national award and shows teachers and parents how to use rap to reach children.” He now hopes to “make rap math a business”, creating a web site to expand the use of rap in education. That’s communication on two levels – with the students and with the wider world.

Help Create Heroes

The School for Heroes is our small attempt to spread some of the lessons about heroism that we began with Quest for Glory. Our audience is much smaller, but the interaction is much more personalized than we were able to achieve in the games.

We aren’t alone in this. Scott Farrell runs the highly-recommended Chivalry Today web site (http://chivalrytoday.com/. Scott, also known as “Sir Guillaume” in the SCA, started promoting his message of the importance of chivalry as a Knight (and now Duke) in the SCA. Since then, he has made teaching the art of chivalry into a passion. Besides the web site, he visits San Diego area schools to teach the lost art of chivalry. He also runs a Summer camp where students learn martial arts and the principles of heroism.

Aspire to InspireYou can be a part of the movement too. We all have skills, knowledge, and ideas that we can teach. The difference between a mere “doer” who affects a few nearby people and a teacher who affects dozens, hundreds, or millions is one of commitment. Do you have something valuable to teach? We think you do. Will you accept the commitment to share what you know? It isn’t really that hard. Start by writing an article for the Ars Heroica or by posting on the site of your choice.

When you see someone post a message you find valuable, help share it. Spend a few minutes commenting on their work. Post a link on another site. At first only a few people may see it, but if just a few of us help promote worthwhile messages, the word will spread. The ideals of heroism and chivalry can go viral, and then we will be teaching the world. It is up to each of us to care enough to make that dream become real. Be a part of the dream.

 

School for Heroes

Hero: Origins

Friday, May 15th, 2009

One of the oldest arguments in Sociology is “Nature vs. Nurture”. Does our genetic map determine who and what we will become? Are our destinies instead decided by our environment and early training? Or is there yet a third possibility – That we continue to grow and change throughout our lives?

Star TrekLori and I don’t get out to the movies very often, but we managed to see two this week – Star Trek and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There was a common thread to the two films – Both looked at future Heroes before they came into their power. Corey is also currently reading one of Gordon R. Dickson’s “Dorsai” series, “Young Bleys,” which is also about the origin of an extraordinary person.

While James T. Kirk, Bleys, and James Howlett (aka Logan aka Wolverine) were in no sense “ordinary” as children, they all had to develop before they became true Superheroes. Along the way, they faced a number of “character challenges”, where they made life choices that eventually led them to become greater than they began.

Naturally!

Nature is clearly a powerful factor in both Wolverine’s and Kirk’s lives. Kirk’s father was a Starfleet officer who briefly becomes Captain of a Starship and sacrifices himself to save his crew. Kirk is born with the superior intelligence, charisma, and physical qualities that characterize a leader. He also appears to inherit his father’s willingness to take risks and make sacrifices despite never having met him. James T. Kirk would certainly be a Warrior in the School for Heroes.

WolverineWolverine discovers his hand-spikes and learns that his half-brother has claws. They are different from those around them from the beginning, and their struggles to survive push them even farther from the common run of humanity. But Logan is not the same as his brother. Wolverine has an unbreakable sense of honor and rightness. He refuses to kill innocent people or to compromise his ethical principles. Although Wolverine appears on the surface to be a Warrior – he certainly has warlike tendencies – an argument could be made for placing him in the Paladin class. He certainly has the integrity and independent spirit to be a Paladin, and he has no desire to be a leader of others.

It would be easy for these heroes to “give up” – Kirk as a fatherless, reckless child constantly in trouble with the law; Wolverine as an outcast, hunted by anyone who knows of his “difference”. But instead, they fight, and struggle, and survive. And in the course of that, they learn. Kirk somehow manages to score highly on academic exams. Sure, he’s a smart kid, but so are most of our students and readers. What set him apart from the “merely above-average” crowd was that he loved learning as much as he loved danger and excitement. He never gave up, never accepted that he had any limits, and took the time and effort to excel in everything he tried. Kirk didn’t have superpowers, “just” an indomitable spirit and the drive to prove to himself that he could do anything. Kirk is the ultimate Warrior – A man of direct action and a self-assured leader whom others want to follow.

In “Young Bleys”, by Gordon R. Dickson, Bleys Ahrens also has a rich genetic background – He is really, really smart. But his mental power is just a tool. He really takes off and begins to come into his own when he decides that he must know everything there is to learn in several crucial areas of study. He also decides that he needs physical strength and martial arts training so that his body will support what his mind can do. Over the course of many years of intensive work and study, he hones his natural abilities into those of a superman. Bleys Ahrens is clearly a Wizard – He analyzes everything, then acts on the knowledge. His domination over others is through manipulation, rather than the result of true leadership.

Young BleysBleys believes that he knows – better than anyone else – what the future of humanity should be. He devotes his life to bringing about the future he foresees, even though he knows that few will thank him for changing their lives. Bleys sees himself as a Paladin, but he does not have the Paladin’s wisdom and understanding of the Right Path. His pursuit of “the greater good of humanity” is driven by arrogance and ego rather than true caring. Young Bleys has the potential to become a super-hero or a super-villain, but neither path is preordained for him. A Wizard pursuing the path of a Paladin is a powerful force for good or evil.

Predestination or Chaos?

I think that both theories – Nature and Nurture – are missing something. Their proponents seem caught up in the idea of predestination – Whatever happens to us early in our lives takes charge over everything else. We don’t buy that. We think it gives people a convenient excuse for failing to take charge of their own lives. After all, everything important has already been decided, so what difference does it make what training or effort you take later in life?

Well, it does make a difference. People change careers. Businessmen fail, come back to fail again, then go on to succeed in their next venture. People pull themselves out of the ghetto, or the gutter, and go on to have useful and happy lives. Athletes have a heartbreaking loss, then come back with the performance of their lives. Current “King of Bowling” Wes Malott defended his crown today by making a comeback after missing an easy spare. He said, “Ironically, I had talked with a father with three kids before the show and I told them you had to put bad shots behind you and focus on making the most of your next one. That’s what I did. I could have given up, but I bounced back.”

A long-shot, “Mine That Bird”, just won the Kentucky Derby. Four race previews listed him 20th, 20th, 16th, and 17th of the 20 horses. One reporter commented that he was, “Too slow to be a factor.” The betting made him a 50:1 underdog. He seemed to fulfill that prediction in the early running, riding well behind the pack. But the Derby isn’t a sprint, and isn’t decided in the early running. Jockey Calvin Borel believed in his mount and focused on its strength, not its weakness. He used Mine That Bird’s smaller size to maneuver between the other horses and skim the rail to make his way through the pack. The result – The second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it. The way to buck the odds is to keep trying. Figure out what went wrong, but treat it as a learning experience, not a life-defining failure. Go back and try again until you get it right – or the random factors align in your favor – then keep on going. Your life is not formed at birth, and it’s not defined in childhood. Those just give you your starting position. So what if your critics give you no chance to succeed? So what if they put you on the outside gate? If you can’t run with the pack, maybe that’s a signal that you should ride in front of them. It just might be your chance to be a Leader.

Do You Want to Be a Hero?

Ask yourself this: How do you want to live the rest of your life? Do you want to continue to be an above-average person with o.k. results? Does that satisfy you? Does it thrill you?

Or will you be a Captain Kirk? A Wolverine? Someone extraordinary, a Hero? If you want to be more than ordinary, it will take more-than-ordinary commitment, effort, and willingness to fight the odds. It will be a lifelong journey, but one you can take a few steps at a time.

Better get started!

How Lawful Are You?

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

LawIn the beginning of time as we know it (1973), Dungeons & Dragons had a single alignment scale – Law vs. Chaos. Law was mostly synonymous with Good, and Chaos with Evil. Four years later, AD&D added a second scale, Good vs. Evil, so a character could now be Chaotic Good or Lawful Evil.

D&D Paladins are unbending, unwavering goody-two-shoes. They always do what’s right, escort little old ladies across streets, and never run a red light. They stay in the extreme “Lawful Good” corner of the alignment chart.

Lori and I had a different vision of “what is a Paladin?” when we created Quest for Glory, and that affects the School for Heroes view of a Paladin as well. Our Paladins are total individualists. They do what they believe to be Good regardless of laws or conventions. A Quest for Glory Paladin is closer to Neutral Good than to Lawful Good.

Most people consider “law-abiding” and “good” to be like cake and icing. They just naturally go together. If you’re one, you’re probably the other. But what do you do when these ideas are in conflict? What action do you take when a law forbids what you know to be right? For that matter, how do you behave when a law is merely inconvenient to you?

Who Wrote These Laws Anyway?

Not all laws were created with the wisdom of Hammurabi. Some range from poorly-conceived to downright stupid. If you drive at night on a rural road in Pennsylvania, there is still a law on the books that requires you to stop every mile, shoot a flare, and wait ten minutes before proceeding. That gives the local farmers time to get their livestock off the road. How many Pennsylvanians – or visitors to the state – have any idea that law exists? How many would even consider obeying it if they were aware of it?

You may laugh, but how lawful are you when it comes to more reasonable traffic laws? Do you scrupulously drive under the speed limit at all times? Do you come to a full and complete stop, then look both ways and wait, before continuing at a stop sign? Have you ever downloaded software, videos, or music from a pirate site or copied a friend’s CD or MP3?

There’s an old joke about a policeman pulling a woman over and asking her if she knows what a yellow traffic light means. She answers, “Of course I do, officer! It means drive like Hell because the light is about to turn red.” How about the opposite? I read a story in the Fresno Bee about a man who stopped suddenly when the light turned yellow. His car was rear-ended by a police cruiser, and the officer told him that he was at fault for driving unsafely.

Joke again, right? No. It happened. I remember the story because I almost had a similar accident at that same intersection. I stopped for the yellow light and the car behind me slammed on his brakes, then swerved to pass me (after the light had turned red). Contrary to the California Driver’s Handbook, apparently a yellow light does mean, “Drive like Hell.”

I wonder how well engineers in Indiana (this may be apocryphal – I’ve heard it told about other states) were able to do their work after the state legislature decreed that Pi = 3. Or whether anyone has been arrested under the Blythe, California ordinance that makes it illegal to wear cowboy boots unless you own at least two cows.

The thing is, legislators are people. The fact that they have discussion and debate before passing laws does not mean they get it right all the time. Sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes they get caught up in their own “authority”, and maybe they even get bored occasionally and throw something in as a joke. In any case, all laws are not created equal, and some aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. Yet our legal system insists that “law is law” and we must obey every single one of them to the letter… even those that most of us have never heard of.

The Dark Knight of the Soul

JusticeWe grew up reading comic books in the 60’s. Most of the heroes, including Superman and Batman, had a “code against killing”. They relied on the police and courts to put criminals in jail because killing the criminals would make them criminals too.

“The Dark Knight” questions that cookie-cutter morality. The Joker asks Batman, “How many have died?” The implication is that Batman is responsible for every criminal whom he helped imprison, and who later escaped or was released. It’s a little like the Chinese philosophy that, if you save a man’s life, you are responsible to him forever after.

“Thou shalt not kill” is a pretty straightforward law. And yet there are many exceptions. Soldiers are expected to kill “the enemy”. Criminals are put to death in many states and countries. Police are authorized to use deadly force when they consider it necessary. Is it immoral, unethical, or illegal to kill when that seems to be the only way to save your own life?

Put yourself in the boots of the Batman. What would you do when a despicable villain who has killed dozens of innocent people is hanging from a ledge and you have the opportunity to save him? Would you rescue him so that he can “face justice” (knowing that he has escaped from prison before)? Would you give him a push to make sure there is no escape this time? Or would you stand back and let destiny make your decision? What if the police are watching and you know you will be held accountable for your decision – Does that change your answer?

Life, Death, and Free Will

ChaosBreaking the law to “do good” is rarely an easy choice, for Heroes know that laws are important. Without them, might society descend into anarchy? Would “The Lord of the Flies” become our new guide to survival? Consistent enforcement of the law gives people guidelines for behavior that benefits society.

Striving for “the greatest good” is a challenge because we have neither perfect knowledge nor perfect ability to calculate tradeoffs. Nevertheless, as Heroes, we need to try.