What is a hero now, anyway? When I was growing up, a hero meant someone with courage, usually male, who remains calm in the face of danger, protects the vulnerable before himself, and mitigates danger safely.
Courage. That’s gone missing from today’s definition of “hero.”
Freaking out and pounding a ridiculous amount of lead into someone posing no threat at all — that’s the opposite of courage. Power-bombing a cuffed and seated woman who poses no threat at all — the opposite of courage. Grown men ganging up on a defenseless child and beating him to within an inch of his life — the opposite of courage.
That’s what John Wayne would call a gutless, chicken, yellow-bellied, lily-livered, cowardly bully.
But today, rather than have the cult of the hero, we have the cult of the victim. Everyone rushes to be the victim these days, not the hero. Right now, Twitter is trending the hashtag #WhitePrivilegeMeans with a whole lot of white people trying to prove they are worse off than everyone else. The real victims. Because the real victims are our new heroes.
Have you noticed that? That’s the new game. All the groups with the most power — white, male, rich, badged, armed — clamor to claim victimhood. It’s a race to the bottom while maintaining your position at the top.
Where are the actual courageous heroes? Where are the father figures? Where are the men holding up their hands and saying “Calm down everyone, I’ve got this”? The dads have gone missing in white culture. They’ve ghosted and left a whole heap of boys flapping their hands whining how “You think you’ve got problems? People are jealous of my money!”
In the American police, cops are not trained to be heroes in the police force anymore. Even the phrase “Don’t be a hero” is used. They’re trained to shoot first so they can “get home to their family”.
So why do we persist in calling them heroes just because they wear a badge?
There are still heroes in our world, of course, as well as stories of heroism, where people have put others before themselves. In Dallas yesterday, several cops put themselves in the line of fire, protecting those that they had vowed to serve. They are real heroes who have earned that title. Firefighters, paramedics, healthcare workers, and whistleblowers also come to mind. Whistleblowers like this cop detailing how systemic racism works in the police force. Or citizen whistleblowers such as Philando Castile‘s beloved who, despite the fact that her love was dying in front of her, put the public’s need to know first and used her phone to document the injustice.
Courage comes from the French word “coeur,” so it literally means to lead with the heart. It means to put the head aside, put all your beliefs and fear to one side, and lead with the clarity of what is in the highest interest of everyone concerned.
These have been dark days for courage. But they have also been some surprising bright lights. Newt Gingrich is courage personified when he said on Friday on a CNN livestream that if you are a normal white American, you don’t understand being black in America.
This is the same former House speaker who once called President Obama the “food stamp president” and questioned whether he had a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview.
He, in an act of true courage in that he put his beliefs and stories to one side and let his heart speak, said that it took a long time and a lot of listening on his part to get a sense of this, but white Americans “instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk,” he said.
That’s courage. To put your fear aside and let someone tell you what it’s like for them without judgement, to put down your arms, put aside your “poor me” stories of how hard it’s been for you, and truly hear someone relate their lived experience — that is truly courageous.
Newt Gingrich is a hero today, and in a way that we all can be. You don’t need to find a burning building to turn to your neighbor and ask with genuine curiosity, “What is it like being you today?”
So, hey — what is it like being you today?
[Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images]