Your True Hero

Your True Hero

Procrastinating about writing an introductory chapter for my major project, I stumbled on a compelling site: yourtruehero. The site founder, Gary Hale, explains how the site came to be in a fascinating way:

A number of people have inquired about how this project began. The answer is pretty simple.

About two years ago my family was celebrating a traditional holiday dinner. As I looked around the room, filled with relatives, I felt a sense of gratitude for the people who were there and for their contributions to everyday life. A World War II veteran, several educators, a hospice nurse, a police officer, health care workers, a volunteer karate instructor, a court system employee and small business owners – the list went on. These are all good and decent people who quietly go about their jobs, seeking neither praise nor celebrity, but each making the world a little better by their efforts. It occurred to me that millions of other families with equally good people were gathered together in their homes all around the country. I make no claim that my family is superior or more noble than the next but I do believe that we hear too little of the stories of people like these – the true heroes of everyday life.

Later that night, after the last guest was bid goodbye and the kids were asleep, I spent 10 minutes flipping through the cable channels on television. There they were – back to back to back: Monica Lewinsky, Dennis Rodman, and Eminem. Now, I have no personal grudge against those three but I do know that there is not one more thing about them that I possibly care to learn.

Why do we hear so much about meaningless celebrities and so little about good people whose stories are compelling, interesting and inspiring? Why is it that some movie star’s third divorce is more noticed than the story of the firefighter rushing into a building to save a small child or the nurse tending to a lonely and sick old man? Do I really have to hear any more about Puff Daddy?

So that is how this started. Through some trial and many errors Jakub Skoniecki and I finally got this website up and running. Actually, I kept revising the ideas and Jakub got it running since I know absolutely nothing about Web site development. Thank God for Jakub!

We hit upon the idea of offering a scholarship contest just to see if a few hundred students would think about the difference between true heroism and meaningless celebrity. We never expected to have more than 320,000 visitors and 18,000 true hero stories in just over a month.

It just goes to show that people do appreciate the contributions of true heroes— those ordinary people making an extraordinary difference in everyday life. We intend to keep chugging along and posting the stories of the world’s true heroes.

Heroic consciousness permeates life. While Carlyle and Emerson’s model of “great men” has been replaced by a model of displacement and disappearance— the hero becomes the anonymous soldier or fireman, or a mythic construct like “the people”— humans seem to insist on the necessity of heroes. We can’t deal with the complexity of individual psyches any more, it seems. We insist on heroes that are “ordinary” and yet able to make an “extraordinary” difference. More than that, we insist that there must be a “meaning” before we assign value. I’ve heard scholars preach the value of Lewinsky, while Hale dismisses her. I could envision a similar argument for Rodman’s value as transgressor, an update of the Jesse James outlaw mentality. And Eminem seems to be another case of critic as hero. The models I’ve been exploring in the eighteenth century seem to explain all of these splinter groups of heroic valuation. The more I explore this the more I believe that valuation exists as a dialogue outside of considerations of power— and it does not benefit by being to reduced to notions of cultural capital, as is the case in Bourdieu. Why do we need heroes so much, and why are the models so contradictory?

Enough stalling for now. But the success of this web site really makes me think that I’m on the right track. For as much as we might protest “we don’t need another hero”— obviously, the majority of the population seems to. It’s a sort of cultural glue, and a battleground where the concepts of solidarity are debated and strut and fret themselves across the stage.