Slim Smith: Everyday heroes

April 27, 2013 6:06:54 PM



In times of tragedies such as the one we have witnessed in Boston and West, Texas, our thoughts turn to heroes.  


Somehow, it seems our psyches are wired to look for heroes when great tragedies occur. Perhaps it a function of the innate optimism of humanity, this compulsion to look for good among evil and hope in the midst of despair. 


We cannot tolerate the notion that evil will triumph, although it may have its moment. It may destroy and maim and kill, but ultimately good will prevail. The heroes we find in those situations affirm that truth. So we comfort ourselves in such times by remembering the selfless acts of heroism that always seem to accompany great tragedies. 


Certainly, those acts are worthy of our admiration. It is well that we cherish the memories of those who have forfeited their lives or put themselves a great risk in heroic acts. 


But all heroes are not venerated. In fact, some -- perhaps most -- heroes are hardly acknowledged at all. 


Fame is not an impartial judge, of course. Some heroes, it champions and exalts and almost deifies, so prominent are their acts of courage and bravery.  


But there is another type of hero that is to be equally esteemed, a group whom fickle Fame ignores.  


My thoughts turned to this subject on hearing about a national doughnut chain's promotion. The campaign suggested we could honor our heroes through a "buy one dozen, get a dozen free" offer. The idea: Keep a dozen, give the other dozen to your hero. 


Chances are, you won't have to go far to find one. 


Somewhere there is a hero disguised as a single mom. She may work two jobs to make ends meet. She works tirelessly not only to provide the basic needs of her children, but to instill in them the values they will need to succeed. She rarely thinks of herself and her own needs, but sacrifices her own creature comforts to provide give her children the little treats that, to her, would be dismissed as a luxury. Each day, every day, she performs a quiet kind of heroism that Fame ignores. 


She will never been hailed in a public ceremony. Her name will never adorn a building or a park. There will be no monument built in her honor. 


And yet her children will grow up to be men and women of good character. Some will achieve great things. Some may even rise to the status of heroes and be acknowledged among the masses. 


Somewhere out there is a teacher who takes under her wing that struggling student who has been given up as a lost cause. She is there to encourage and push and help that child. The child grows up to be a success. But the teacher is forgotten. 


Somewhere there is a businessman who stares across the desk at some young job-seeker who is woefully unprepared for the job. That employer sees in that young man or woman something that cannot be reduced to lines on a resume. He gives that young job-seeker a chance. And the young worker thrives, moving steadily through the ranks to the top of the company. He becomes a leading citizen. But what would he have achieved if not provided that first chance? 


Somewhere, there is a person who dispenses mercy when everyone else demands judgment.  


During his reelection campaign Barack Obama was mercilessly derided for a comment he made, taken out of context: "You didn't build that." 


The self-made men and women of the country -- and by self-made, I mean self-made in their own estimation -- howled in protest. 


But the president was far more accurate than many would care to admit. 


There well may be a self-made man or woman. I've yet to meet one, though. And I don't expect ever to meet one, quite frankly.  


The idea that any person could achieve much of anything without the support, encouragement, instruction, mercy, sacrifice or generosity of another seems beyond the realm of possibility. 


Somewhere at some point, we've all needed help. To stand and say that you are self-made, to say "I built this," is a delusion and an insult to all those heroes in your life that you choose to ignore. It is a shameful thing. 


I know in my life, I've had many heroes, all of whom seemed to arrive at that precise moment when only a hero would do. I've had heroes from the beginning and heroes even recently. I am here, working in this job, through the acts of one of my heroes. 


It would be a sad life, indeed, without any personal heroes for it would be a life without gratitude. 


Yes, I think we are hard-wired to look for heroes. 


The trick is to know them when you see them.