The Hero Hypocrisy
I always wanted to be a superhero and hoped that it might miraculously happen for much longer than I can logically justify. Wanting to be more than ‘just me’, selflessly doing good, keeping the world safe, standing up for the downtrodden, you know, all that good stuff.
Growing up with Marvel comics and Sky Channel weekend cartoons I learned all I needed to know about what makes a hero. It also gave me this weird “But, you sound Canadian!” Dutch-American accent. The values, clichés and truisms that inspired me as a kid, never really left me completely, but I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will (probably) never have superpowers. Unless being contrary becomes a thing. Then I’d totally rock it.
How dare they?!
A hero is a person who performs a selfless act while often putting themselves at great risk. I still choke up when I see images of emergency crews rushing towards the Twin Towers, or fire crews holding the line while literally everything around them burns. To put your life on the line for others, it doesn’t get much more noble than that.
The halls of history are decked with heroes, often dead before their time, most anonymous and virtually all long forgotten, some unrightfully so. In times of great crisis, society turns to its heroes, for guidance, reassurance and inspiration. The idea being that these remarkable people will show us how to be better, to overcome hardship and to survive. We hang on their every word, looking for meaning and hope when things seem dark and desperate.
And when it’s all done? The crisis averted and things more or less back to how they were? We’d like for them to go away, quietly if possible. Because they are also a reminder of how afraid we were, how confused and hopeless. Of the ‘bad’ and uncharitable thoughts we had in the dark recesses of our minds. Through some weird human psychological process, we feel that they are somehow judging us by being so obvious and blatantly better than us. How dare they!?
But did these people actually ever asked for this elevated status being forced upon them? Sure there are glory hounds and ‘thought leaders’ who don’t know when their time has come to sit down and shut up. But most people just go about their daily lives, doing what they’ve always done in comfortable anonymity, minding their own business. But in this current climate, every event needs a face, a story and some drama, preferably portrayed by some regular, average-looking Jane or Joe. The message is clear: “everyone can be this person, look how average they are”. Yet very few of us are. Average, that is. If that upsets you, fair enough. I have two words for you. Panic Buying.
The hypocrisy of it all
Think back 3 months. There were bus shelter ad campaigns to draw attention to medical staff being spat on or worse, emergency services being threatened with physical violence and supermarket staff being sexually and verbally assaulted on a daily basis. And most of us expressed outrage for the appropriate 5 minutes on our social platform of choice before moving on, satisfied that we’ve told ‘them’ exactly what’s what. The reality of it all being that very few of us even really see the ‘checkout chick’ as a person with hopes and dreams, the teacher doing her best to push past an increasing workload and unrealistic expectations, the underpaid/overworked health care workers people just trying to do their jobs.
Do we now all of a sudden respect the police officers trying to keep us safe? Yeah, right. Just look at the public disobedience when asked to do one.simple.thing. and stay away from public parks and beaches. And don’t get me started on ‘unskilled’ workers who quietly keep our economy running, cleaning our investment properties/offices and preparing our food for minimum wage or less.
We’re finding ourselves at the mercy of people we (not you and me, of course) habitually hardly even acknowledge on a good day. And these have not been good days. I see the calls for politicians to step aside and let the real ‘heroes’ take over or for politicians to switch jobs. Aside from the fact that it disrespects an army of career public servants (a.k.a. everyday people) who actually run the country, I personally would not like to walk into a hospital to be greeted by a politician who can’t even remember to follow physical distancing protocol.
Too little, too late
I’ve finally arrived at my point. Have we even bothered to ask them what they want? The people we all of a sudden see all around us, as if it’s the first time? On more than one occasion, I’ve advised leaders to NOT shine a spotlight on an employee for doing an amazing job, without first checking if that’s what she wanted. Staff always replied that a personal ‘thank you’ from the exec or their supervisor, to be really seen and acknowledged, was more than enough.
Those leaders had the good grace to do exactly this and the people involved and their colleagues appreciated it. Because here’s the thing, it’s about them, not us. And our need for heroes to feel safe is not about them, it’s about OUR (pathological) need for safety and certainty whenever things get truly hard. And they know it.
They have done the work when we weren’t looking. Showed up when we didn’t care two hoots about their lives and struggles. “Should have stayed in school, mate”, “should have picked a better job, hon”, “were the good jobs taken, eh?”. But now we need them and all of a sudden, they are the warriors, the heroes, legends, the frontline in a war. Seriously? I mean, Se-ri-ous-ly?!
A deep sense of shame
It took me a while to realise but the feeling that has kept me from social media was shame. Shame for the hypocrisy of it all. Where were we when they needed us to stand up for them, to demand fair conditions and wages, to get the safe and respectful workplace they deserve. Yeah, busy busy, making money, you know, doing things, getting things cheap, you know, just trying to get by…
In one of my favourite games ever, Horizon Zero Dawn, the female lead Aloy is shunned her whole life by her tribe. Then they need her to save them all and her response, before she actually saves all of them, because she’s a total badass, is: “First you shun me, now this? I will not be worshipped! I will not be your ‘anointed’. I don’t belong to you.”.
I can imagine a lot of the people we’re trying to drag onto our ‘limited time only’ hero pedestals right now are both confused and angry, thinking just like Aloy. They have to deal with us and our antics, on top of being in the same situation as most of us. I feel that I need to apologise and promise that from now on we will do more, because they deserve more than hero status, they deserve to be seen, respected and valued.
You think we can do that?