To be a Hero 3/24/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Of late, the concept of “hero” has be crossing my mind.  One of my favorite superhero movies (which is saying something because frankly I’m tired of the genre) had a line about being a hero.  “Everyone thinks being a hero is a full-time job.  Wake up a hero.  Brush your teeth a hero.”  The CGI character goes on to say that being a hero boils down to seven or eight moments.

He (the character, or perhaps more appropriately the writer) is right.  While I certainly don’t mean to cast myself as a hero (I am not), the reality is that being a hero isn’t just putting your life in jeopardy, or doing some supernatural feat.  It’s doing the right thing.

Being a hero means standing up and taking the beating when it would be easier to just sit down and shut up.  Being a hero means doing the right thing when it’s safer to do the same thing as everyone else.  Being a hero means taking the damage meant for another even if it means losing your job. 

Being a hero means doing the right thing at the right time.

I’ve never been a fan of Superman.  As a role-model, what kind of hero is he, really?  Eventually the comic books found ways to reduce his powers, but when he arrives on Earth, he is invincible.  He is impossibly strong, can fly, ridiculously heightened senses and to all appearances, is impervious to any kind of attack whatsoever until Lex discovers Kryptonite.  So why is he a hero for being a good guy?  What does he have to lose?  Sure, if I were bulletproof I would stand between a gunman and the victims, but would it really be heroic to do so?  Appreciated, sure, but heroic?

You can decide if I was heroic or not, but when my supervisor lashed out at my faculty while I was dean, violating university policy in so doing, I was the one who went to the president to complain.  I had no power in the situation and my complaint did nothing for my faculty, but I made the attempt, and was fired in so doing.  I had everything to lose, and even though I knew that it could lead to my dismissal, I stood up and made the issues known, casting the dangers as a risk to the entire university as they were since my boss’ actions were a violation of faculty rights.  I was already disliked by my supervisor (she made it abundantly clear) and I knew I was on shaky ground, but I did what was right, not because it was easy, and not because I felt safe in doing so.  I did it because it was the right thing to do.

Heroic actions don’t need to be grandiose.  They need not be life or death, or even career risking.  Driving home one day after running my standard errands, I stopped for gas.  As I was pulling away to drive home, I saw a man ladened with groceries walking through the parking lot.  I actually drove past him, and a voice in my head asked me why.  Without a good answer, I doubled back, and asked if he needed a ride.  He was new to Omaha and living in a motel just a few blocks away.  Normally, a few blocks isn’t a challenge to traverse, but carrying so many groceries made it far more difficult.  So, we put his groceries in the back, and I drove him to the motel.  Does that make me a hero?  Well, to him it did.  Roughly five minutes out of my normal routine meant the world to him, even if just as a convenience.

I’ve often taken risks.  In a similar incident, I was walking to my vehicle in Rapid City after work.  As usually, I was leaving about seven in the afternoon, so there was nobody around, save one man crossing the parking lot from the county jail.  As he approached, I gave him a greeting.  He informed me that he was just released and needed his property from my warehouse.  Unfortunately, after hours, I couldn’t oblige him, but he asked me for a ride to the local shelter which I gladly gave him.

He was an odd person.  He kept talking about how he survives by being a mean guy, very tough.  Well, it didn’t matter to me.  This was just a gesture of kindness, so he could talk all he wanted.  I felt like he was trying to impress me, but being dangerous just doesn’t, and he certainly didn’t scare me despite what seemed to be significant efforts to do so.  What was I going to do, try to kick him out of the car?  We reached the shelter, and as he got out I wished him well as usual.  The next day my supervisor scolded me for giving him a ride.  Apparently, the department considered him to be one of the most dangerous men in the city, but he didn’t bother me at all.  He liked talking tough, but he was fine, and even thanked me for the ride.  Heroic?  Well, to him, maybe.  To my captain, more idiotic. But, honestly, I don’t think he had the courage to have offered this fellow human being a ride anyway.


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