Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our heroes aren't perfect

We all have our greats, our kings and queens that we honor, whose codes, values, and ideals we preserve in order to build up future generations. In the idealistic, progressive community I've become part of, some of these greats include Greg Mortensen of Three Cups of Tea fame, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Wangari Maathai, and I'm only naming a few. To us mere, idealistic mortals, many of whose names will not go down in history quite like theirs, these are saints, near gods of the human spirit. They managed to overcome such obstacles to make even their enemies start to listen. They must be perfection.

Yet we forget one thing about these heroes. Our heroes, above anything else, were human beings, subject to the same character flaws and temptations that so many of us struggle with. While they emphasize the importance of fighting them, they were not perfect and they did make mistakes. Greg Mortensen was recently accused of fraud and mismanagement of funds within his organization. MLK may have had extramarital affairs, apparently, Gandhi may have espoused racist views of his own. My own personal hero, Joan of Arc, would loved to have gone after heretics (and I have both Jewish and Protestant ancestry). Of course, I say may have because these are what I've heard from others but, because of their likely occurrences, I've seen people become disappointed, as if the entire cause is ruined. I'll admit, I've espoused similar feelings.

How do we work with it? We have to remember that, regardless of their imperfections, the work they did was still important. MLK may have been unfaithful but his work and inspiration changed the course of history. Gandhi's message of non-violent resistance sparked an entire world's conscience, even if he had the same beliefs as his oppressors. Greg Mortensen encouraged so many people to consider the importance of education, not drone attacks, as a weapon against terrorism. Joan of Arc gave courage to a despairing country and especially stands out in history as a woman, a youth who grew up in poverty yet was still willing to take a stand. Our heroes were no angels, but they stood up when it was needed.

There are no perfect heroes. There are imperfect human beings who, despite their flaws, can still turn their hearts, minds, and skills to right action. While this is not an excuse for bad behavior (it's bad for a reason), we should understand that their personalities aren't what destroys oppression. They may have the inspiration but it's up to each one of us to do the work. Our names may never be known like theirs are. That's no excuse. If we want a better world, it starts with us.

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