Posts Tagged ‘Heroism’
Monday, October 15th, 2012
Today, 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.
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
But 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.
Monday, June 21st, 2010
Teachers 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.
You 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.
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?
Lori 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.
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.
Wolverine 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.
Bleys 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!
Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
Moving the World
The Internet is abuzz with the tale of Susan Boyle, 47-year-old singing sensation who took the “Britain’s Got Talent” TV show by storm a couple of weeks ago. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Miss Boyle appeared on stage as an unemployed, overweight, middle-aged woman with frizzy hair. Then she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables so beautifully that the audience and judges were enthralled.
The story here isn’t about a talent show, or that a singer gave a great performance. It’s about reaching for the stars, building on the unique talent we each have, and breaking through barriers. It’s also about the prejudices and stereotypes we hold, and getting beyond them to recognize value in others of all types. In this music video world, we tend to assume that great singers are also young and physically beautiful. What a strange idea!
You see, Miss Boyle is not the first out-of-type singer to be successful, and far from the oldest. If she had started her music career at 20, nobody would be surprised if she were still singing professionally at 50. And while appearance matters in pop music, it’s less important in other branches. Luciano Pavarotti did not exactly look like Orlando Bloom, but he sang before a lot of packed houses.
The judges on Britain’s Got Talent showed astonishment at Susan Boyle’s appearance, but they didn’t have to go back far to find a similar case. The overall 2007 winner of the competition was Paul Potts, a round-faced, ordinary-looking cell phone salesman. He sang an operatic solo with such clarity and depth that his performance made even opera haters sit up and listen. Mr. Potts has since released a CD that sold over 2 million copies. Clearly the voice matters much more than appearance… of course, the publicity value of winning a televised competition was also essential to his success.
So who are these incredible phenomena, Susan Boyle and Paul Potts? Did they spring forth, like Venus from the ocean, to suddenly have the voices of angels?
Of course not! Each of them worked for years at their craft and polished their innate talents until they were ready to perform their songs in front of millions. According to Wikipedia, “Potts first sang opera in 1999 in a karaoke competition, dressed as Luciano Pavarotti. That same year, he appeared in the Michael Barrymore talent show My Kind of Music. Although he did not take first place, he won £8,000 — enough to help pay for vocal lessons in Italy, during which he was selected to perform in front of singers Pavarotti and Katia Ricciarelli.”
Miss Boyle was also musically active 10 years ago – “In 1999, Boyle used “all her savings” to pay for a professionally cut demo tape, which she later sent to record companies, radio talent competitions, local and national TV and which has now been released on the Internet. It consisted of “Cry Me a River” and her version of “Killing Me Softly with His Song”.” Susan performed in benefit concerts, but remained unnoticed.
These talented singers did not come out of nowhere and suddenly learn to sing. They honed their talents over many years, then were catapulted into the international spotlight by their opportunities on the talent show and the viral nature of Internet “word of web”.
Most importantly, they persisted in the face of tremendous challenges. Susan’s father died about 15 years ago and she was the caregiver for her mother until her mother’s death in 2007. Paul went through a series of illnesses and accidents that prevented him from singing for several years. Ordinary people might have given up in these circumstances, but these are Heroes. They picked themselves up, stood up before the risk of failure and humiliation, and kept trying.
The media has made much of the initial scorn directed towards Susan Boyle – The message, “You’re unattractive, so we won’t like you.” But that isn’t how I see it. I watch the instant change from skepticism to adoration in the Talent audience, and I don’t see bad, prejudiced, judgmental people. I see people who needed inspiration and found it. I see an immediate recognition and acceptance of beauty that made physical appearances irrelevant. I see how one Hero can make a difference in the lives of thousands, then millions, then hundreds of millions.
I see this because I went to a Mensa party in San Diego, and the people there just had to share Susan Boyle’s performance for those of us who do normally live in caves. Lori learned about the performance from a blog on “five inspirational videos”. In case we’d missed it, my sister-in-law sent me a link she’d gotten from her sister.
One act, hundreds of millions of people touched. By the way, Susan’s choice of material was inspired. The judges on Britain’s Got Talent ask each contestant, “What’s your dream?” Performing “I Dreamed a Dream” is certainly a response to that! I’ve listened to her performance 5 or 6 times now, and each time I am moved and energized by it.
Got Have Talent
“We aren’t all Susan Boyles and Paul Pottses,” you may be thinking. They’re clearly extraordinary individuals. But this isn’t a story about where they are now; it’s about how they became what they are. Because they didn’t start out as stars either. They began as individuals who loved singing and kept doing it, and getting training, and trying over and over to become noticed, until finally they did.
We hear about the odds, that 50,000 people auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent, and only one person wins each year. Well, those aren’t the real odds. There are about 61 million people in the United Kingdom. That means that less than 1 out of 1000 even tried to get on the show. The others self-selected themselves out of the running. You don’t win by failing to try. You succeed by pushing and learning and working and taking risks. You succeed by going out there and doing things you believe in.
We all have that power to inspire. All we have to do is to take stock of our own skills and talents, work to nurture and strengthen them, then dare to stand up and show the world what we have. It might start with helping one person with a small project, or singing in a local chorus, or even writing a blog article. At first only a few people will notice, but if you inspire them, they will remember it. Maybe they’ll find a way to pass on the story, or maybe it will help them to create inspiration of their own. But the wave will spread and it will be good.
That is why we started The School for Heroes. Everyone here has some talent, some skill. The Band of Bards is specifically about performance, but all Heroes perform when the time comes. Paladins “perform” by helping people, but also literally stand before an audience at times. Warriors lead, and that doesn’t just mean walking in front. It also means using words to convince others to do what needs to be done. Wizards teach; that’s a performance too.
But most importantly, we dream, and we work to fulfill those dreams. The School is designed to help each of us understand who we are, what we believe in, and how to make our dreams become reality.
Dream the Dream
It doesn’t have to stop there. The Ars Heroica is currently seen by a few hundred Hero students and other visitors. But each one of us has the power to multiply that audience. When you see an article that moves you the way Susan Boyle and Paul Potts moved their listeners, pass it on. Post a link to it in response to another blog. Mention it on your Facebook page. Work with other students to create a video illustrating the ideas and post it to YouTube. Email a few friends and link them the article that might start to change their lives. You have so much more power than you realize!
So what is your dream? What is the one thing that you want to accomplish more than anything else? Find your passion, live your dream, and make it real. It won’t be easy. You’ll have to do a lot of hard work. You may face ridicule and rejection. But believe in your dream and maybe, some day, you can inspire people as much as Paul Potts and Susan Boyle.
Saturday, April 18th, 2009
In 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
We 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
Breaking 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.
Friday, March 27th, 2009
All the news lately seems to be bad. Banks failing, rampant greed on Wall Street and other businesses, conflict in Iraq and other countries, record budget deficits in the U.S., the collapse of the Icelandic economy, systematic erosion of personal rights in response to terrorism, terrorism itself, and flooding and other natural disasters.
I’ve recently been reading a fascinating new survivalism book, Emergency, by Neil Strauss. Neil’s theme is preparation and training for personal survival in an increasingly dangerous world. It is also about making difficult choices in crisis situations.
No One Left
“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.” — Herman Neimöller
Early in Emergency, Neil Strauss talks about his grade school history classes and the choices faced by Jews in Nazi Germany. As Hitler rose in power, the German government systematically stripped away the rights of Jewish people. First their businesses were boycotted. Then they lost their citizenship. Then they were forced to register, and a “J” was stamped on their passports to identify them. Then on Kristallnacht, many Jews were attacked, beaten, and even murdered on the streets. And finally, they were put in concentration camps and sent to the gas chambers to die.
Neil’s question to his teacher was, “When things were getting so bad, why did any Jew stay in Germany?” The answer, of course, was that they could not predict in advance how bad life would become. The German Jews naturally saw themselves as Germans first. There was no reason to believe that they were so hated by their neighbors that they would become victims of mass hatred and genocide. By the time their lives were in serious danger, their passports had been marked and their wealth had been taken away. By then, it was too late to leave.
Even in those dark times, some Heroes took action. Steven Spielburg tells one such story in his film, Schindler’s List. Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who perhaps started out as an opportunist, ended up as a humanitarian. After gaining control of a Polish enamelware factory during the German invasion of Poland, Schindler found that there was a shortage of unskilled labor due to the war. He arranged with the government for Jewish laborers to be assigned to his factory. Although he may have done so initially out of greed – the Jewish workers were far less expensive than voluntary workers – he ended up protecting over 1000 Jews, perhaps saving their lives.
This is the power of one man who treated others with respect and did not let his life be ruled by hatred and prejudice. Each of us has similar power. If we do not like the way our employers run their businesses, we can switch. Or, like Oskar Schindler, we can start our own businesses and run them in a way that helps others while still making a profit.
I spent a year in Berlin, Germany during High School. One day, one of my teachers stopped to talk with me about his experiences during World War II. He had been a Lieutenant in the German army stationed on the Northern front. He said that he had disagreed with many of the policies of the army and of the German government, but that he never felt he had any choice but to serve. Had he protested or refused to follow orders, he would have been arrested and his family would have been punished and possibly sent to a concentration camp. He “sat tight” because he saw no other choice.
Fight or Flight… or Just Sit Tight
How bad is it today? Is it time to leave? And for where? As I sit here in the United States looking at a screwed-up economy, a government that seems to want to bankrupt itself, and loss of privacy and personal freedom, I realize that we are now part of a global economy. The problems we see in the U.S. are reflected everywhere else around the world. And our readers from former Soviet-bloc nations are no doubt rolling their eyes at what are merely minor inconveniences compared to what they’ve suffered for years.
Are we, as Neil Strauss’s book suggests, in a state of emergency? Have we gone far enough down the roads of danger (from angry foreign powers) and erosion of civil liberties that it’s time to get out before our own Kristallnacht? Is it time for each of us to plan our escape from increasingly-dangerous places? Should we just sit tight as so many did in Nazi Germany?
In Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, the most competent engineers and business people decide that the government and incompetent people are leeches on their efforts and energy, and they leave society. In the ensuing collapse, perhaps the people who are most hurt are the ones in the middle – the average, semi-competent individuals. They are “neither here nor there”, not quite good enough to be invited into the domain of Homo Superior, nor strong enough to hold the world together when the finest minds and most effective producers have deserted them.
There is another choice.
The Choice of the Hero
“…take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” – Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
So how bad is it, really? We have faced disasters and crises before. They may have scarred us, but we survived them. We came through two World Wars, the Great Depression, the constant threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, and Hurricane Katrina. All of them hurt us, but we are still here. In 1980, many survivalists thought that economic collapse was imminent and inevitable, but we are still alive.
We can start by changing our own attitudes. Leo Babauta suggests a three-stage plan in his recent blog article, The Cure for What Ails You: How to Beat the Misery of Discontentment:
- 1. Change your attitude and perspective.
- 2. Take some kind of positive action.
- 3. Do something that gives you meaning.
Do you think that a lone Hero has no power to make a difference in the world? That you are no Oskar Schindler? Then join with others. Habitat for Humanity builds inexpensive houses for homeless people. They need thousands of volunteers to give a few weekends of their time to build these homes.
As The School for Heroes grows, we will find others among our fellow students with whom we can work on projects too big for a single Hero. In the meantime, there is work for each of us to do wherever we live. There are opportunities for training and preparation that will teach us not only to survive, but to prosper, and to help those around us to live well.
We can prepare ourselves for disaster without becoming paralyzed by the possibilities. The Boy Scouts taught me wilderness survival, first aid, pioneering, and many other skills that could prove important in an emergency or after an economic collapse. The Red Cross and other organizations teach similar skills to adults. The second half of Emergency is all about developing survival skills in case you are caught in a disaster. In these challenging times, “Be Prepared” is a motto every one of us should take to heart.
Wherever you are in the world, whatever your political leanings, it’s time to take action. Speak up while you still have the chance to be heard. Volunteer to help a local charity or relief organization. Above all, make sure that you are a person of honor in everything you do. Show others what it means to be a Hero, and maybe we can turn these challenging times into ones of hope, opportunity, and freedom for everyone.
Don’t take flight… Bring light! Make the choices that will help bring about a better future. Speak out, take action, and join with others to do what you can’t do alone. Show the people around you that Heroes live among them… and that they can be Heroes too.