On the way to work today, by the side of the highway there was a girl in a dress with her four ways on. It being 4:30 in the morning, it was not until I was significantly past that several things entered my mind. One, being that I could have stopped and offered to help. This enters my mind every time I see a car with their caution lights on by the side of the road, but even more so when it is a perceived “damsel in distress”. But in today’s day and age with cell phones, smart phones, and AAA, I feel like the majority of roadside situations are easily self-solved and don’t require the assistance of a stranger. Real life is not like For Love of the Game where strangers connect at the side of the road with the handsome car-savvy guy saving the girl from catastrophic engine failure, and the girl exclaiming “My Hero!” while driving off into the sunset with the man who could pass off for the twin of Han Solo.
My brain then went off on its usual tangential thinking spree, as I begun to ask myself who really are our heroes today? Usually they’re larger than life people such as singers, politicians, movie stars or professional athletes. Sure, there are our “everyday heroes” like firefighters, paramedics, soldiers and police officers, but there’s always that somebody we aspire to be or be like on a grander scale. It’s nice to say that our local heroes are the people we look up to the most, but when asked if you would rather be a suburban paramedic or President of the United States, I think I know what most people would choose.
Speaking of Presidents, how many people remember Bill Clinton saying that he “tried marijuana once, but did not inhale” or George W. Bush saying that he hasn’t done cocaine “in the past 15 years”? It’s laughable how much controversy and criticism these comments stirred up when our everyday heroes, like public servants, or a relative, have most likely screwed up in a similar capacity at least once in their life. Even our fictional superheroes are imperfect individuals. Tony Stark (Iron Man) is an alcoholic old man who doesn’t realize his potential to help humanity until it’s almost too late. Bruce Wayne (Batman) is a reclusive, angry, borderline bipolaric that struggles with more internal than external conflict. We idolize these people and accept them with their obvious flaws, yet we can’t hold the same standards for our higher level heroes. It’s okay for your parents to sit down and talk with you about their experience with illegal substances, and why you should avoid them, but it isn’t okay for entertainers, athletes, or politicians in the public eye to have been “caught” doing the same thing. It’s no wonder neither Clinton or Bush alluded to specifics when discussing their past; if they would have admitted to actually having human personal history they would have been tarred and feathered by the public.
But then again, I think that we need to distinguish between heroes and role models. A hero is like Hercules, a practically larger than life individual that does fantastic deeds to fame and glory. You’re wowed by their accomplishments because it’s something that you cannot do, but the truth is that they simply are not people who our lives should be patterned after. We shouldn’t try and be them because we are totally different individuals, and it isn’t worth trying to be something other than ourselves.
And that is where a role model comes into play. A role model isn’t someone whose occupation or lifestyle we covet, but rather a person we know on an intimate basis that makes the very best of the specific scenario that they are placed in. Granted, a role model is still a completely different individual than us, but we aren’t glorifying their specific personal traits that help them excel on their distinguished level. Instead we magnify and learn from their traits that are universal to humanity, such as perseverance, compassion, and courage.
To conclude, I’d like to offer up my own exemplification of a role model and what it should look like to be one. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it can be logically concluded that Jesus of Nazareth had some pretty significant teachings about humanity. In John chapter 15, he is quoted as saying “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This can be taken one of two ways, the first and usually foremost being to literally forfeit their life for the sake of their friends. Although I’m not disputing this, my interpretation has always been “to set aside one’s life for one’s friends.” To lay aside their life and their problems and obligations because a friend is in need. You want a role model? Just look for the friend that is always voluntarily there for you and you’ve found it. And in reality I think that is something vastly more tangible than what any hero could ever give us.