Written by: Christopher Sell
Primary Source: The Wednesday Wake Up
Everyone wants a hero.
But our approach to finding them is a bit skewed.
Commonly we look to politics for our heroes; consistently, we’re let down. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has been hailed as one of the more brilliant minds, at least in a political arena, of our time. The former governor and talented saxophonist led the United States through two terms as our commander-in-chief. During that time, America’s economy surged. In more recent years, the Rhodes Scholar created the Clinton Global Initiative to rally leaders from across the globe to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. President Clinton’s track record for creating positive change is astounding.
For almost two years during his term, however, President Clinton was engaged in an extra-marital affair with a White House Intern. And then he lied about it on television with the entire world watching. Turns out his moral compass wasn’t very pristine.
Years before him, another U.S. President from a different political party had ascended to office after years of success as a politician. A Duke Law School graduate, President Nixon participated in numerous political triumphs, including his visit to the People’s Republic of China, which opened up landmark discussions for diplomatic relations between the two formidable nations. The President who finally ended American involvement in the Vietnam War had also attempted to cover-up his involvement in a break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in 1972. After years of denial, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974.
Are either of these historical figures heroic?
The media is quite adept at making celebrities out of alleged heroes. Recently an actor by the name of Ryan Gosling was cited in New York City for preventing a fellow pedestrian from getting hit by a cab. His minor but admirable bit of altruism caused an online media frenzy. The fact that an actor possesses a certain degree of basic human decency, like the rest of us, is comforting. But is it heroic? Years ago, Tom Cruise made headlines for reportedly rescuing seafarers from a burning boat. The famous movie star would later go on to blast others for using anti-depressants in the name of Scientology. His heroism seems to lack substance.
An arena in which we routinely look for heroes is, quite literally, an arena. A stadium. Or an athletic field. We glorify athletes and treat them like heroes. We are always looking for the next professional football player or basketball player or soccer player to don a superhero cape and mightily stand on a pedestal like a Greek God in the Roman coliseum. And there wasn’t an athlete, in recent memory, with more heroic status than Lance Armstrong.
I remember the first time I heard about Lance Armstrong’s story. I was watching his race on NBC as he looked to become the first American in quite some time to win the Tour de France. What is most remarkable about this picture is a.) the fact that I was watching cycling on television (who does that?) and b.) Lance had just beaten cancer the previous year. I remember reading both of his memoirs, taking to heart every poignant remark he wrote about beating the odds, not giving up, willing ourselves to new limits. I can’t recall how many times I would find myself in a situation where I thought about giving up — running a race, studying for an exam, training for a marathon — but would hold tight to the image of Lance Armstrong staring down his competition, his eyes piercing the air through his sunglasses. His unwillingness to give up summoned inspiration for me on countless occasions.
Lance Armstrong was a 7-time Tour de France winner. He was a cancer survivor. He helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars through his Livestrong foundation to raise awareness about and help fight the dreaded disease. He was a hero, in every sense of the word, to hundreds of millions of people.
Lance was also living a very big lie. He had cheated for more than a decade by participating in one of the most complex blood-doping scandals ever. And while denying it for years and years, he aggressively tried to tear apart anybody in his path who disputed him. Finally, faced with insurmountable evidence proving his guilt, the Texan hero stepped down from the pedestal. With a stoic face, he admitted to cheating. He had indeed been lying for over a decade.
In that moment the world became witness to the downfall of the planet’s most iconic athlete. And my heart sunk. Like many others — tens of millions of cancer survivors and word-class athletes and even regular Joes like me — I was devastated. Lance Armstrong wasn’t the hero I thought he was. Or the hero I had wanted him to be.
Which brings me back to my central observation.
Everyone wants a hero. A main protagonist. A real champion worth our adoration.
We need assurance that people are capable of the altruistic efforts we sometimes struggle to find within ourselves. We crave the chance to spend time in their inspirational orbits, hoping a hero’s aura we spill over to everyday men and women like you and me. We cling to the tenet that it’s possible to live a flawless life.
There’s only one problem.
We are all flawed.
No matter how hard we try, we will never find the caped crusader we’ve been looking for because every hero has a blemish. Brilliant leaders have affairs. Iconic sports figures cheat. Cancer survivors lie.
So as you wake up on this Wednesday morning, we need to consider a few things. Let’s start with the realization that no one is flawless. Everyone has imperfections. We all have our Kryptonite and demons. We are all human. And to be human is to be flawed.
And that is okay.
If we redefine our take on heroic efforts, I think we’ll find that we’re surrounded by heroes. You may not find them in the public spotlight. You might not see them on TV or in the movies. No, heroic effort doesn’t necessarily get caught on camera.
The teachers who inspire us. The parents who guide us. The neighbors who bake us cookies when we come home from a hospital trip. The loved ones who remind us we’re special despite our flaws.
Those are the real stars, the true protagonists in our story called life.
So next time you start your quest for a hero, keep in mind there is no such thing as a flawless icon. Remember that heroes aren’t intrinsically attached to a marketing campaign.
If you redefine your search, I think you’ll find they’re all around you.
And you can be one, too.