So Who Wants To Be A Hero?
My last post ended with a question (here). What does what A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey by Jeff Sandefer and Fr Robert Sirico have to do with freedom and wealth, with democracy and the free market?
Recent events in the cultural, economic and political spheres have demonstrated that the pursuit of freedom and wealth as ends in themselves is corrosive to democracy and the free market. Cut off from their moorings in a sound anthropology and a clear moral vision the pursuit of freedom and wealth is nothing more or less than the pursuit of power and control. In such a corrupt and corrupting moral universe democracy and the free market are increasingly impossible and the political, material and spiritual benefits that they foster just melt away.
But as I said this a raises a challenge that is both pedagogical and cultural —how are we teach the young (and in many cases, the not so young) how to live a life of sacrificial love when many of them don’t even know such a life is possible much less desirable? The first Christians preached the Gospel in cultures formed according to the Law of Moses and the Greek love of Wisdom. And while revelation dominated in the former and philosophy in the latter both gave a central role in human affairs to what Sandefer and Sirico call the “heroic journey.” Granted we shouldn’t minimize or ignore the real and substantive differences between the heroism of Moses and that of Achilles and but neither should these differences excuse us from seeing that both men lived meaningful lives that made a difference not only during their own times but continue to do so today in ours.
But just as few of us will “ever be called to save a child from a burning building” all of us “can choose a life that’s meaningful.” Each of us “can make a difference and succeed, and do so heroically.” While reading A Field Guide my personal epiphany about this came in Fr Sirico and Amanda Witt’s recounting of the life of Sir Thomas More. In a conversation with the ambitious and morally unstable Richard Rich, More urges him to become a teacher “a career path that would not place him in the way of frequent temptation as a post in the king’s court” most definitely would.
“Why not be a teacher?” More suggested. “You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.”
Rich shrugged this off. “If I was,” he said, “Who would know it?”
“Your pupils; your friends; God,” More replied. “Not a bad public, that.”
The hero’s quest and so my own life is not the modern pursuit of fame but a matter of earning the respect of honorable people, of those we love, of those who love us and above all God. This is, as I know from my own life, something easily forgotten. It is also the path to both personal satisfaction and the cultural foundation that makes the pursuit of freedom and wealth, of democracy and the free market, practically possible and morally good. And it is fidelity to just this sort of life that makes heroes of seemingly ordinary men and women.
Our world desperately needs heroic people—people who shape events, who act rather than watch, who are creative and brave. Such people are needed in every field, in every realm of life—not only law enforcement and disaster response but also science, education, business and finance, health care, the arts, journalism, agriculture, and—not least—in the home.
To this I would add the Church as well as government and civil services. But for there to be heroes there must first be people who desire to live heroically. In the personal reflections and selections from Scripture, literature and history, the authors seek to inspire in the reader a desire for personal heroism rightly understood
It is easy, especially with an advance degree or two, to look down on Sandefer and Sirico’s book as just another self-help book. While this is understandable, and even to a small degree a legitimate criticism, it is also to miss the authors’ humbler, and so larger, practical aim. How are we to inspire a love of heroism in men and women who live in such unheroic times?
Take for example, the now largely forgotten Occupy Wall Street protests. It is interesting to me that for all the criticism of corporate greed one heard during the protests, one heard nothing critical about those athletes, actors and musicians who annual salaries and personal wealth outstripped the most avarice dreams of most CEOs. And whatever the legitimacy of their criticisms of greed in business, the protesters were noticeably silent in criticizing the myriad instances of sensuality, that is of a greed for experience, sensation and pleasure, that was present among them and which is the fountainhead of the avarice they rejected.
We need heroes but to get them, and much more to be ourselves heroic, we must first see heroism in all its forms as desirable—as a life worthy of our time, talent and treasure. Jeff Sandefer and Fr Robert Sirico have done an admirably, dare I say heroic, job in making heroism a bit more desirable, and so a bit more possible, for us.
If you’re interested here’s my whole review as one essay (here).