Sunday, November 19, 2006


Like some of the other Sunday Scribblers I've been browsing through this week, one of my favourite programmes at the moment is the American series "Heroes". Although I like all of the characters, my favourite is probably the Japanese man who can stop time. I like the fact that he doesn't always get it right, but still tries to do his best. I like that he has failings.

It struck me that most 'superheroes' spend a lot of time trying to keep their identities secret. They keep their deeds separate from the image they present of themselves to others. They often face internal anguish and wrestle with moral and ethical issues because of their powers.

I believe that the real life heroes are also often the quiet ones. They are too busy doing to try to talk up what they have done. A few days ago there was an article in the newspaper about a New Zealand man who tried to save the life of a woman who had been set alight by her husband. Although he put the fire out she eventually died. He was so moved by the experience that he retrained and became a police officer so that he could continue to try to help others. Now that is a real hero.

I admire those people who make huge shifts in their lives in response to some kind of calling. Another woman I admire lived a comfortable middle-class life until she discovered Buddhism. She sold her home and became a Buddhist nun. She now teaches meditation practice in an inner-Wellington Buddhism centre.

For me it is a lack of selfishness that marks someone as a hero. It is not that they have some kind of super strength, that they are somehow morally superior, or that they never make mistakes. It is that they are prepared to put themselves on the line for something they believe in. However even as I type this I realise that some of the worst kinds of religious extremists would fall within my definition. I therefore add one more criterion to my list of things I regard as signifiying a hero. I believe it is important that, in pursuing what you believe in, you should also pledge to do no harm, or as little harm as possible.

In other words it may be preferable to kill one man than to allow him to live and let him sink the ship he is piloting, thereby killing 100 people. Or, to use a Kiwi analogy, it is better to kill one possum than allow that possum to kill a forest.

No comments: