Our heroes: Emulating their best qualities vs. basking in their reflected glow

When it comes to our heroes, do we try to emulate their best qualities, or do we simply bask in their reflected glow?

I submit that the way in which we relate to our heroes says a lot about us as individuals. In a 2013 article, I mentioned a few of my heroes and added:

From these heroes and others, I continually draw lessons and inspiration, and I am a better person today as a result. Isn’t the power of example one of the most special long-term gifts provided by any real hero?

Of course, if our heroes are historic, iconic figures, then they may seem other worldly and beyond our limited capacities to emulate. However, if we dig deeper, we often find that they have confronted very human struggles during their lives. To illustrate, last week I wrote in my personal blog about my long-time fascination with Abraham Lincoln. I observed that what attracts me to his story is not the Lincoln of myth, but rather the Lincoln who struggled with depression and bore a heavy emotional burden as President during America’s Civil War.

Lessons and inspirations

Whether a hero is a family member, friend, work colleague, or public figure, knowing their story will help us to draw lessons and inspirations that we can apply to our own lives. These applications may not earn us wide recognition or renown, but in small and sometimes large ways, they can help us make a positive difference to others.

For example, I recently had an exchange with a long-time friend who told me that his devotion to Lincoln goes back decades. Although his life path and Lincoln’s are obviously very different, I see in him qualities of good judgment, self-discipline, humor, and understated generosity that I associate with Lincoln.

In other words, it’s about manifesting “heroic” qualities in our everyday lives and deeds.

The disconnect

By contrast, I’ve also encountered people whose actions and behaviors have been at stark odds with those of their professed heroes. In my previous post, I mentioned Winston Churchill. I am reminded of someone I knew who worshipped Churchill and claimed to have read many books by and about Sir Winston. Nevertheless, in his position as a manager, he raised bureaucratic, inside-the-box thinking to an art form and would follow virtually any directive from above, no matter how wrongheaded or hurtful to others, with scant protest or question.

Sadly, I think this fellow equated admiring Winston Churchill with possessing some of Churchill’s best qualities. Um, let’s just say that the disconnection was quite profound.

The better approach

Okay, so obviously we don’t want to become a clone of my faux-Churchill acquaintance. However, if we unforgivingly hold ourselves to the standards of our heroes, then at times we may fall short and possibly engage in a lot of self-blame.

The better approach, I think, is to learn from their examples, to hold ourselves accountable to the standards we embrace, and to keep moving forward. For most of us, it’s the best we can do, and that’s not a bad thing. 

2 responses

  1. IS IT OKAY JUST TO BE YOUR OWN HERO? IS IT OKAY TO LOOK BACK ON YOUR LIFE AND ALL YOUR UPS AND DOWNS AND BE PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS? THAT MAY SOUND NARCISSISTIC TO SOME BUT I’M PROUD OF WHO I HAVE BECOME. UNDER MOST CIRCUMSTANCES I DO NOT THINK MOST PEOPLE WOULD HAVE SURVIVED MY STRUGGLES.

    • I think your hero can be anyone you’d like her to be, including yourself!

      I like to look to others for inspiration because I know there are other good people out there who have done incredible things and overcome mighty odds, but this is not a choice that can or should be imposed on anyone.

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