Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Heroes and Warriors

I’ve written my thought about what it means to be a warrior here, and it certainly annoyed some people. I’m going to take another stab at it, because there is something intrinsic that all the people worthy of the name have undergone and damn near zero percent of people claiming the name can even comprehend.

Warriors, soldiers, every last person worthy of the name has voluntarily put themselves in a position where they can be ordered to do something they know or believe will get them killed. And they do it. It’s not simply the risk of death. Any ass-hat that commutes to work can rightly claim that he risks death every day on the road. And there’s no selfish choice in it. You don’t get to pick only leaders you respect or to only obey orders you agree with.

That means a cherry lieutenant can give you an order to watch a street or hold a passage or take point and you will do it, even if it leaves you vulnerable. If the brand new team leader comes up with an entry plan and the plan is shit, you don’t get to say ‘no’ (there may or may not be a time for input). It becomes your responsibility to make the shitty plan work. To not die and not let others get killed, to the extent of your ability. But one person too arrogant to accept any plan except his own endangers everybody.  

If you have never been in that circumstance, not only have you not earned even the basic, apprentice level of the title ‘warrior’ but I doubt that you can really discuss it with any intelligence, understanding or even integrity. That’s my opinion.

Heroes, heroism and heroics came up recently. It was in the context of thinly-veiled tribalism: "My side is heroic, that side is evil."

As I listened, it struck me that the named ‘heroes’ risked being called bad names and missing out on huge commissions... and that’s about it.

My definition of hero is pretty simple- someone who risks his or her own life to help other people. Not risking inconvenience. Not risking hurt feelings. Risk your life. If, barring the occasional crazy and road accidents, people or circumstances don’t try to kill you, the heroism label is off the table.

And there is no heroism in fighting only for yourself. Survivors, whether of assault or cancer, are not heroic. They are alive, and that is worthy of admiration enough… but any biological entity, even a worm, will struggle to survive.

That one hits a personal button with me, because I have known many brave and tough survivors and I do admire them… but they had no choice in the fight. Immense choice in how they fought, but no choice in the fight.

To make an analogy, running into a burning building to save someone would be heroic. Running out of a burning building to avoid dying (like seeking treatment for a horrible disease) is simple common sense. Almost a biological imperative.

There is one more thing about 'hero' and why anyone actively seeking the label is unworthy of it.  My drill sergeant in basic training said, quite accurately, "You want to be a hero, son?  Let me tell you: 'hero' is a four-letter word for someone who gets all of his friends killed and then writes the report so he looks good."

I've known a handful of heroes.  I have yet to meet someone of worth who wanted to be in the position that might make him or her a hero.


Eric Parsons said...

So, by your drill sergeant's definition, Flashman really was a hero. :)


Rory said...

And many other four-letter words as well. That was the sergeant's point. 'Hero' is not a compliment in certain circles.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is one of those overused words that gets tossed around too easily. I think that sometimes when people refer to heroism they are really talking about fortitude. As you pointed out, sometimes people show great courage in facing adversity but they did not choose to be in that situation. The courage to choose action and the courage to endure hardship aren't really the same thing though both are virtues. Maybe that's a little semantic but it seems like a real distinction.

Since most of us don't earn our daily bread by putting ourselves in harm's way we probably need to focus on building our fortitude. We're more likely to need that than any heroic quality.

I think its also valid to say that the heroic act involves risk of life. I can take action in the business world but no matter how tough the audience I can say I've never made a heroic presentation.

Jonny said...

There was a radio discussion one night here in Ireland about the use of the word "hero" in sports. People were arguing that people who face adversity on the football/rubgy and gaelic sports fields are heroes. When others said they were not (for the reasons you are saying) they were verbally shot down and said the word can also relate to such things as sport. They were run off the airwaves for their semantics.

All I can say is I've never been comfortable with the term "hero" or "warrior" outside of the uses Rory is stating here. I am neither and I've gotten over it.

Josh Kruschke said...

I would also like to add that hero is bestowed on someone. It's not something you can instill in yourself and is something you are not going to even realize was in you till it happens.

I bet if you asked everysingle person that's ever been labeled a hero if they consider what they did hero worthy they would answer in the negative. And that to me is part of it.

To me a warior is any one who makes war, and it can be for any any reason. A soldier is one who is part of a larger group that fights as a unit; as does it for money or a cause. A fighter fights. These are just labels other or we put on people to describe or try to understand the actions they take.

It is in response to this question, " would we do they something in their shoes?"

Just some thoughts,

Josh Kruschke said...

Correction -

"It is in response to this question, " would we do the same thing in their shoes?"


Kai Jones said...

This is an identity question; it makes perfect sense that people who have been called heroes would want to narrowly define the term so it means they're more unusual. But that's not how we use language, nor how we define identity as a society. Like most words in English, "hero" has more than one meaning and is context-dependent. It can mean an inspirational figure, such as "Adam S. Baldwin is one of my heroes because even though he's a Hollywood actor, he stands up for his conservative beliefs."

I consider that I have demonstrated heroism, because I put my safety between other victims and a violent predator--but I was only 12 at the time, and I did not choose to make it my profession, and none of that lessens my heroism.

A mother who works three jobs to feed her children is a hero. I consider that lots of self-sacrifice to another's benefit, not only willingly risking injury or loss of one's life, counts as heroism.

Elinor said...

I have a difficult time respecting people who 'desire' to be a hero. I think heroism happens to people whether they want it to happen or not, the "Oh crap" moment, when you have to make a decision you know you don't want to make but you know you MUST make.

Heroism is not "Yay for someone is suffering and I can go save them".

Like the concept of courage. There's a monster in the darkness, and you have to go down and face it, whether you want to or not, and you're terrified of the monster, but you're going down there anyway.

What was that old adage, about how a real hero is the one who saves someone and remains in anonymity? I like that saying. More people should take it to heart.

shugyosha said...

Couple of things, while generally agreeing:

I think you actually _can_ discuss "warriorship" [ergh!] without being a warrior. As long as you don't try to convince yourself you're one and start from the right premises (NOT being one, the very first one). It'll involve a lot of listening, of course, and many people simply don't have the... patience.

Your point might be better understood, also, if you mentioned "fighters". Calling an ER doctor a warrior is stretching things a bit, but calling him a fighter might be spot on. I'd say that many survivors learn to fight (not only how, but also when).

And, then, and last: I might not want the SITUATION that allows/requires me to try heroics to happen, but IF IT DOES then, frankly, better myself than some idiots out there. I'm kind of cheating, here, because, for example, if you're in there, then that situation won't happen (it won't require me, nor are you likely to allow so). "You" being kinda generic, kinda not.

Take care.


Unknown said...

My initial response is to recoil and withdraw from such discussions. It is painful for me to hear someone call themselves a hero or warrior.

You'd have to be out of your damn mind to pray to be in a position that could lead to people calling you a warrior or hero. Be careful what you wish for because it might just happen---and you flub it.

People I view to be heroic (what are you when you perform one heroic deed and after that you become a slacker---what are you ?)

These people are very uncomfortable "talking" about such things.

I'd like to add that people that "meet the criteria" are also willing to die in the process of saving innocent people without even a possibility that anyone will know s/he saved those lives.

I think the term "guardian" might have a place in this discussion.

Rory said...

J- Fortitude is a nice distinction.
Jonny- Sports, media... I don't get it. Games. Bread and circuses...
Joshkie (lot's of Js today) Interesting, related thing: the concept of honor has really changed over time. That's a long talk over beer.
Kai- It's definitely an identity question... so I'm probably defining myself outside of these categories so I have an unreachable ideal?
Swallowtail: One thing I tell rookies is that there are a ton of things that are cool to have done that suck to do. People that seek to be heroes have a tendency to get innocent people killed.
Ferran- It seems that like religion and other things people want to wrap the definition around what they want. Kickin ass? Cool! Following orders? Bummer... so they define a warrior as autonomous or some such bullshit. To discuss it without a touchstone you'd really need to know your own delusions.
KK- Always good to see you here.

Jonny said...

My point was simply that people in the sporting world use the words "hero" and "warrior" all the time (in Europe anyway).