culture heroism

Becoming a little hero

6:00:00 AMUnknown

It would be hard to deny that there is a tragic element to the human condition. Many rightly testify to the corruption our society has undergone; we look for nobility in our fellow men but we seldom find it.  Since the dawn of time in dark and dismal circumstances mankind has believed in heroes that would take on the responsibility of saving the world.  We do not dream up heroes solely for the sake of entertainment in a movie theater.  Yet we appreciate even imaginary heroes because we know that the evils and hardships of our world must be changed.  

Mankind recognizes the wrongness of evil and seeks deliverance from it.  We are drawn to politicians who promise change, social groups which purpose reformation, even youtubers who inspire us with video montages.  Whether it be the civil rights movement or rock ‘n’ roll, social change sparks a flame of justice within us. When people march down a street with picket signs in hand more times than not they are upholding a truth they believe in.  We raise our fists and declare that certain things are unacceptable, unlawful, unjust. Yet, sometimes we fail to face these issues directly.  Holding a picket sign is fine and dandy but if it is evil which is our enemy, than we must face it by placing love and virtue as our highest ranking duty.
                                        (The Beatles holding ‘All You Need Is Love’ posters.)

We not only fail to take personal responsibility for the corruption of our world but more importantly, we fail to take personal responsibility for the change we wish to see.  We pin responsibility on our politicians, social reformers, and the heroes which live no more.  We love to quote Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King but we forget that these noble heroes and heroines are no longer living. We can no longer expect them to save us from the immorality that we've created.  We should not idly sit and wait for the next Gandhi or for a masked vigilante to come and vanquish the evil in our country and in our neighborhoods.  We must look in the mirror, and acknowledge the fact that if we only try, we as individuals can combat the evils that surround us.  If there is one thing J.R.R Tolkien has taught me, it is that little hobbits such as myself, can save the world.    

In almost every era a leading force of cultural change has been the youth. Yet, this does not mean that our youth understand what bringing about change demands of them. The problems of our country and our world cannot be solved without heroism and sacrifice.  Nevertheless, it seems some youth attempt to battle an unjust reality simply by retreating from reality.  So many flee from the needs of our time by seeking solace in the pleasures of a drug or alcohol induced euphoria, which promises an illusory enlightenment. Similarly many adults and clergy feel a sense of (false) comfort standing behind their pulpit or board room table. But reality must be faced. The problems of our world can not be fixed by passing around a joint or by preaching empty words from a pulpit.

Action and personal responsibility must be taken, not only by young “revolutionaries” but by our children, our parents, and our grandparents.  Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created heroes to motivate us to “live like a Narnian even if there isn't any Narnia.” Fairy tales and superheroes were meant to compel us to face reality courageously not to retreat.  Living with only the desire to appease ourselves with arbitrary pleasures is in no way a noble or valiant effort to promote change within our culture.  One can not bring about the appropriate change in society if he does not have the integrity or grit to actively oppose the injustice which he is dissatisfied with.  It seems that all those who wish to create change, myself included, have fallen into a rut perfectly described by a quote I once read, “The more we spoke the less we did, until we spoke about everything and did nothing at all.”

The solution to our angsty yet spineless activist’s problem is simple: responsibility.  If change is so important to us then we must become responsible for making that change happen. But how can one bring about an end to injustice, hatred, and evil within our world if they do not believe in an alternative justice, love, and goodness which is objective?  It seems that if I am to stand up to evil I must have more than just some vague idea of goodness.  The men and women who achieved positive reformations within society, did not obey a relativistic idea of morality.  Rather, they possessed a moral wakefulness crucial to having an awareness of responsibility.  It is imperative that the senses of man be awakened to the world of values and morality if he is to take on the responsibility of making this world a better place.  In The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand writes,

“He possesses that wakefulness towards the world of values which places his life under its sword of justice, which makes him at every moment aware of his position and duties in the cosmos, and which makes him realize clearly he is not his own master” (pg. 27).

Responsible men are aware that the perverted state of our society is a serious matter which must immediately be addressed.  A responsible man understands what it means to ‘do what we can (and often more than we want to).’ The heroes that this world needs are simple folk like you and me.  Men and women who “bear the seal of wakefulness, of earnestness instead of frivolity, of manliness instead of childishness” (pg. 31).  Tolkien’s hobbits did not save Middle earth by hiding in the Shire, smoking their pipes, and drinking ale.  On the contrary, while men were arguing over who should destroy the ring, a little hobbit stood up and accepted the dangerous task.

Let us accept this great responsibility of changing the world even if we are fearful, weak, or small in number.  And as our inspiration let us look to little people like Frodo Baggins who exclaimed, “I will take it! I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor...though I do not know the way.”
Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965) pp. 27-31.
Richard L. Purtill, Lord of the elves and eldils: Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006) pp. 187- 191.

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