One of the reasons I didn’t touch on heroism a whole lot in last week’s post is because I knew that this method was coming: Cut all heroes down to size. Let’s quickly review the tactics for accomplishing this before we talk.
Here are the approaches suggested in the book:
- Cast aspersions on the military ideal. We do this by
- Belittling the intelligence of soldiers
- Settling for an “easy, self-serving pacifism”
- Reducing the military career to an option for everyone, regardless or physical prowess or sex
- Focusing on the misery of war rather than asking hard questions such as “what would Europe look like has Britain surrendered to Hitler and Mussolini?”
- Instill a contempt for the more difficult and fantastic virtues. We do this by
- Sniggering rather than cheering (flippancy)
- Encouraging a knowing smirk rather than the flush of admiration
- Laughing and what we don’t understand
- Encouraging “small-souled envy”
The proud man wants to excel; the envious man fears lest someone else excel.
- Teaching children that they are virtuous simply because they have adopted the opinion that other people are not virtuous.
- Hate and suspect excellence. This is mostly self-explanatory, but here’s some pointers…
- Attack excellence itself (Esolen says this is a risky venture because in order to attack it we’d have to introduce the children to examples of it, and they might admire it anyhow)
- Call everything excellent, even doing ordinary tasks (if everyone is a hero, then no one is)
- Tarnish the genuine heroes of the past.
- Point out their real flaws in such a way as to circumvent any praise for them
- Mention foul rumors about them, even if there is little to no evidence for the rumors
- Place mirrors everywhere for self-adulation.
- Egalitarianism is key here. Make sure they digest the lie that no one is better than anyone else:
[T]each them to consider themselves better than others because they consider nobody better than anyone else.
I did something I usually don’t do, which is to say that I read some of the other posts before I wrote mine. I noticed that others were grappling with the same issue as me–viz., what is real heroism? Sometimes I feel heroic when I have a Supermom day. But is this real heroism? Sometimes I feel like my husband is heroic because he faithfully goes to work and provides for us, or when he does something out of the ordinary, such as fixing the sprinklers for a divorced neighbor. Is this real heroism?
My guess is that in order to regain a working definition of heroism, we’re going to have to admit that Doing Our Duty is not heroic, even though it’s easy to feel like it is when it’s hard, or when we’re surrounded by slackers, or what have you.
So I suppose heroism requires one to go above and beyond the call of duty.
I got out my trust Webster’s 1828 Dictionary and found hero defined as:
1. A man of distinguished valor, intrepidity or enterprise in danger; as a hero in arms.
2. A great, illustrious or extraordinary person; as a hero in learning. [Little used.]
In looking through related words, I discovered that a heroic act requires courage. A heroine, for instance, is “a woman of brave spirit.”
I found myself wondering if perhaps there are two categories of greatness, one being a sort of moral excellence or virtue which has been attained, while the other being the sort of heroism achieved by the few (usually on behalf of the many, I might add). I was thinking through women of the past that I admire, and I thought that perhaps Tabitha and Caroline Ingalls might be great, perhaps it was only Jenny Geddes (out of the three) who was actually heroic.
Newsflash: I am neither great nor heroic.
Shocking, I know.
-Don’t forget to read the other book club entries!
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