All my life I’ve been searching for heroes. Heroes are hard to find.
You find someone, look up to them, and then discover they are flawed. They are more than human. It is heartbreaking.
When I was in junior high school, my heroes were Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. I imagine I was like a lot of other 13-year-olds — lots of people revere these two incredible people. I started obsessing about both Gandhi and MLK Jr. and read a lot about them … going to the library (yes, this was pre-Internet) and reading more and more books and articles about them.
Over time I learned a great deal about my heroes. But I also learned they were extremely flawed men. Gandhi has been credibly accused of racism and misogyny … and then there is the fact that he had young girls sleep next to him while he was naked. MLK Jr. did many horrible things to women. After I found these things out I was really troubled and eventually decided that they no longer could be my heroes because they were flawed.
But the more I read other biographies, the more I realized that everyone is flawed.
No one is good all the time.
Every person has a bit of bad in them. Everyone makes very big mistakes. In fact, the more good you do, the bigger mistakes you will make.
Who are your heroes? Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, JRR Tolkien, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, James Madison, Warren Buffett, Alexander Hamilton, Milton Friedman, Jane Austen? All of these people were incredibly flawed too.
As you go through history, you see more flawed people. The Old Testament is full of flawed people. Moses was flawed. All the Greek Gods were incredibly flawed (even Zeus) — many were even more petty than the average human. Even the G-d in the Old Testament is flawed, frequently acting in a vindictive and non-compassionate way … certainly not in a way one would expect a divine and all-powerful being to act.
The only two non-flawed people I could find were Jesus and his mother, Mary. But it is not fair to compare yourself to divine beings … we can learn from them but us mortals can never become them.
Many fictional characters are too simplistic. Luke, Leia, and Yoda were all truly good and never had any evil or bad in them. But they were so one-dimensional. It is little wonder that Han Solo turns out to be the most enduring character from the original Star Wars Trilogy — he was a con artist, thief, liar, and philanderer who movie-goers fell in love with anyway.
A Hero Portfolio
Putting all one’s eggs in one hero can lead to real disappointment. If you have one idol, they can easily fall off their pedestal. Having a portfolio of heroes allows one to pick and choose the good qualities from all while acknowledging but hopefully not following their flaws.
Since then, I have found that I can have many heroes (including MLK Jr and Gandhi) — acknowledging their strengths and their flaws.
Having a hero portfolio also allows one to have people you know as heroes. My wife and brother are two of my heroes. Many of my best friends are my heroes. I can even be my own hero on the days when I live up to my ideal. Yes, we are all flawed (even in very serious ways) … but we can choose to admire someone for their strengths.