Friday, February 20th, 2009
As we’ve looked at some of the school-wide assignments on “Why I Am A Hero” and “Who Am I?” we’ve noticed a common thread. Many of our students start out by saying, “Well, I’m not really a hero yet. I’m hoping the school will help me become one.” That’s pretty reasonable; you sign up for a school because you expect to learn something.
But what is a Hero, really? Do Heroes start out as exceptional people and do extraordinary things because they’re unlike the rest of us? We think Heroes are made, not born, and we also don’t think that there are just two types of people in the world – Heroes and non-Heroes. We believe that everyone has many opportunities to do Heroic things, and that you are a Hero whenever you take such an action.
So the quick answer is, “Anyone can become a Hero.” You just have to care enough to work at it – to do Heroic Deeds and to prepare yourself to be able to do them.
Lessons from Role-Playing Games
There’s an interesting tradition in both live and computer role-playing games that you rarely see in any other genre. When you start an RPG, you are not a powerful Hero. Instead, you start out as a wet-behind-the-ears “first level” wannabe adventurer. We used this technique in Quest for Glory, and you could say that we wouldn’t have a true RPG without it.
An RPG character may have the destiny to become a Hero, but it never comes easily. He has to work, train, and face increasingly difficult odds to fulfill that destiny. This is also the real-life lesson in the book Mindset (reviewed in the Quest Log at A Time for Change). No matter how smart, how athletic, how heroic you are by nature, you have to commit to your goals and work hard at them to accomplish anything really important and meaningful.
You become a Hero one step at a time. Your journey to Heroism might begin by playing games or reading inspirational tales. It might start with a single small unselfish deed. Maybe you helped an old person cross the street or by helping a friend with her homework. Perhaps you volunteered to work with learning-challenged people in your community or just dropped a quarter into a charity collection box. Maybe you concentrated on your work to get a task done on time so that your co-workers could get their jobs done more easily.
All the little “good deeds” we do can add up to big positive changes in the world. Creating change takes commitment, and it takes work, but both of those get easier the more times you do them. And don’t think your work is meaningless because you’re just one small individual. Think about this Starbucks Story:
Paying It Forward
A customer waiting in line at a Starbucks drive-through got impatient and started honking when the driver in front of him seemed to be taking too long. Instead of responding in kind, the “slow” driver asked the clerk how much the next customer’s order cost. Then he paid for both orders and drove off. When the angry driver arrived, the barista told him the previous customer had paid for his order.
Shocked and embarrassed, the formerly-angry driver smiled and asked if he could pay for the next customer’s order. The chain continued all day and people found they were really happy about the unexpected generosity of the drivers ahead of them… and even happier at the opportunity to do the same thing for the next customer.
That’s a pretty amazing change in the lives of that community that one person brought about for about $4… and a Heroic attitude. That same story has been repeated over and over in many different cities. It only takes one person to start the chain, and it doesn’t get broken very often. Every one of us has that power!
I first encountered the expression “Pay it forward” in an article about a generous science fiction author. He helped out a young fan who expressed doubt about being able to pay him back and he said, “That’s all right. Many people have been generous to me when I needed it. Don’t try to pay me back. Pay it forward when you can afford it and find someone else who could use your help.” It’s a very powerful concept.
Not Just for Paladins
When I mention “doing good deeds”, “generosity”, and “helping people,” your first thought might be, “That’s fine for Paladins, but what about us Wizards, Rogues, Warriors, and Bards?”
Well, first of all, generosity and good deeds have no class. The hallmark of a Hero is to see a task that needs to be done and do it, even if he has to sacrifice something. That “sacrifice” might be a few dollars, a few minutes of your time, or writing a blog article when you’d rather be playing World of Warcraft, but that’s what differentiates Heroism from “just doing things.” You make that commitment, take that step, do the preparation, and do the deed because you know it needs to be done. Every time you sacrifice a little to do something important, you are “paying forward” and making a positive change in the world.
Of course, acts of charity are not the only ways to be Heroic. Corey became a programmer for an interesting reason. Sure, it was fun and intellectually challenging, but those weren’t it. It was the late 1960′s and we were embroiled in the Vietnam War. Cold-war tensions ran high and a nuclear war seemed almost inevitable. I had a vision of becoming a key team member on a team developing software for nuclear installations. One day the President would push the red button to launch a full-scale nuclear attack… and nothing would happen. Yes, it’s true – I became a programmer so that I could write buggy software.
As it happens, I didn’t end up going to work for the military, and I suspect they would have found a way to misuse my bad code. Instead, I joined Lori in approaching that same goal by spreading messages of peace and heroism through our games. It took a lot more work for a lot less pay, but will probably be more effective in the long run.
R&D (Research and Development) is one possible path to Heroism. In the Hero test, there is a question about discovering a cure for leukemia. That’s one way a Wizard can make an incredible positive change through Discovery. Barack Obama is the epitome of the Warrior Hero – fighting for change through leadership. By the way, it doesn’t matter in the least whether you agree with his beliefs or policies. The point is that he believes in them and has done a tremendous amount of work to put himself in the position to bring them about. That’s what being a Warrior Hero is about.
Rogue heroes bring about change through trickery and misdirection. Had I stayed with my original military sabotage plan, that would have been a Roguish Heroic Deed. A Rogue in Santa Cruz objected to fines for minor parking violations, so he put on a clown suit and walked around the downtown streets with a bag of nickels. He fed the expired meters just before the police could ticket the cars there. Eventually he was arrested and told to stop… so he did it again. An appeals court determined that he had not broken any law and the city had to pay all court costs. That is the power of a Rogue Hero in action!
As for Bards, they have long been forces for social change. Songs, chants, and newspaper articles did more to bring about the end of the Vietnam War than I could ever have accomplished through sloppy code. You just have to choose where you need to take a stand, then tell the tales that move others to join you. When we write these articles and run the School, we are taking on the roles of Bardic Heroes.
We Can All Be Heroes
Nobody will open a proclamation and declare you to be a Hero… unless it happens long after you have already become one. Heroism is a habit. You get there one small action and one tiny inspiration at a time. Everything Heroic you do makes you a little more of a Hero. But there is no magical moment when you Become a Hero. You simply are a Hero each and every time you use your time and resources to do something difficult that Needs to be Done.
If you are faced with a challenge that seems impossible, don’t despair. Find a tiny piece of it that you know how to do. Take the time to learn how to do some other small piece. Just as a huge software or construction project is made up of tens of thousands of little pieces, so is every great and worthwhile task. When Heroes commit to getting things done, they soon find that others will follow and help. Everyone wants to do things that matter; they just need to be shown that they can be done.
Be a Hero. Do deeds worth doing. Find out how you can lead, how you can help, what you can discover, the changes that need to be made, and what tales you can tell that will make this world a better place.