No More Heroes?
Many articles have appeared in recent years,claiming that there are no more heroes in the Western world.The authors say that,particularly in Europe and North America,the young now refuse to admire anyone;that we are living in a world too well informed,too curious and critical for hero worship.The press, books, and television keep showing us the faults of the public figures who could become today’s stars,until we lose faith and start looking for defects in any person who seems worthy of respect.
In a neighbor or a statesman,we try to discover the weaknesses, failures,or ugly motives that are surely hiding behind his noblest actions.Is it true that we know too much?Were our ancestors lucky to be only partly informed?Those who read the first biographies of Charlemagne,George Washington, Joan of Arc,or other great men and women of the past were not told that their hero had bad breath or disliked his mother;they only found a description of his great accomplishments and their admiration was strengthened.
In fact, early biographers didn’t hesitate to make up an admirable story or two about their hero.The man who wrote the first biography of Washington,for instance, invented the cherry tree;he admitted later that there was no truth in it,but he said that it was in character and that it would give young men a good example to follow.His readers didn’t seem to object;the book was reprinted eighty times —a tremendous success in those days.Modern biographers do not invent such stories,they respect the facts, as indeed they should.
But we pay a price for their truthfulness,for in their efforts to show “the whole person,”they tell us more than we really need to know about private lives,family secrets, and human weaknesses.The true greatness of a fine man is often forgotten in the display;and people lose not only their admiration for him,but their willingness to trust any other “star” completely.