I wonder about heroes a lot as a writer. I have to be able to create complex, believable motivations for all my characters, especially those who do good things. As a biologist, I understand that there is no such thing as altruism, that all creatures require a personal motivation for their actions, especially the actions that appear to be selfless.In my writing, the closest characters I have to being heroes are the protagonists in Mind & Machine. To call these people heroes, in my mind, would be a grave mistake. Commander might have a moral compass, but he does everything out of revenge or to nurture the small hope of appealing to Kathryn Angel. Kathryn simply looks out for her friends and wants to live a quiet life. Kain is motivated by his loyalty to Commander, but is a thrill-seeker as well. Rainier is looking to redeem his family’s reputation by striking against their unscrupulous rivals.
These aren’t heroes. They’re troubled people.
Who are heroes then? Who can really be counted as a true hero, a person who makes the world a better place through positive acts?
The traditional answers are firefighters, police officers, doctors. Who are the most troubled people, the most prone to stress? Firefighters, police officers, health care workers. These are the people we call upon to make the world work again when nothing will work at all. When things burn, when lives are taken, when we are hurt, we call upon these people every day to make it all better.
Some people think a hero has to do more than what happens every day. Some think a hero has to be capable of fixing the world when no one thinks it can be fixed again.
Perhaps it is not heroes that we seek, but someone who can inspire us to be gracious. In a world where fear has too much power, we need to remember there is hope. We keep thinking we want someone to fight bad guys and to wow us with their presence.
I think we can do better and I can prove it.
After the shooting on July 20, 2012 at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, many people online–myself included–were calling for Warner Brothers and Christian Bale to get together and have Batman make a personal appearance for the survivors of the tragedy. It sounded so novel and flashy, a powerful statement to make everyone look good.
Christian Bale had a different idea. A private man, he simply appeared in Aurora, meeting with the recovering survivors, the medical staff, police. He visited the makeshift memorial outside of the theater that should have shown The Dark Knight Rises and instead showed a personal, unexpected horror of untold proportions. Bale appeared in a quiet manner because he knew better than we did, that the people of Aurora needed him to reassure them. A Batman appearance would only make everyone else feel better; it would have been silly.
Here stands a man making others feel better. I can only guess Bale’s state of mind here. Glad to raise morale, sure, but I don’t think he wanted to be there, but who want want to be in such a place. No, I’m sure Bale felt he needed to be there, and that is something entirely different.
Think of what his presence did to improve the morale of the wounded and the medical staff. How much easier was it for the people who needed care to get it that day? How much easier was it for the medical staff to see to their rounds? I cannot even attempt to guess. All I know is that this one man was able to improve the quality of life for these people.
Isn’t that what a hero is supposed to do? Aren’t they supposed to improve other people’s quality of life or keep it from getting worse?
Who in the picture about is the hero? Who in the picture is being saved? I would offer the answer is not as simple as you might first think.