The concept of heroism has been used to influence behavior across centuries. Heroes are publicly lauded to influence the behavior of others. People in power try to exert influence by using “carrots and sticks.” The heroes are used as carrots. Punishment, and neglect of people without heroic qualities is the stick. Propaganda idolizes or demonizes people to inspire certain behavior from some, at the same time it justifies discriminating against others. Ranking people attaches a simplistic label such as good, or evil to their personhood. Ranking is done for control, and the heroes are used to control a population of sycophants. The exceptional performance of heroes is used to divert attention from the negative aspects of being controlled.
In the case of authoritarian regimes, the ruler plays the role of hero. Homage is a requirement. Disrespect is punishable by rule of law. In more open societies disrespect for heroes is countered with shame. Disrespect arouses public rancor. Open societies are less aware of controlling behavior. The heroes are respected for their actions. Meritorious behavior is awesome, but the relationship heroes have with the controller is less obvious. The fog of obscurity blurs social stratification that makes ordinary citizens look bad in stark contrast to the hero.
Schools have heroes. They are “A” students, effective teachers, and policymakers who are associated with effective, or with superficially effective schools. Often people make heroes of certain parents. The heroes are in stark contrast to people doing necessary but mundane work. Many dedicated adults and students, whose focus is on doing their job the best they can, work in an environment where people cheat, lie, and hide their mistakes, all to achieve higher status. Teaching is often made more difficult by stratifying the students, teachers, and schools. Grading students against each other leaves some thinking they are smart, while others think they are not. Those thoughts are typically both inaccurate, and destructive to the students, the schools, and to society at large.
There are always questions associated with assessing the value of good behavior. Was any harm done? Who exerted the effort? Who received the benefit? Why did they benefit? Were other’s deprived of benefit or credit?
One person’s fame sometimes precipitates another’s blame. “Johnny got all of his work done. The rest of you are either lazy or stupid.” Heroism is often a matter of luck. Shooting a terrorist with a bomb may be considered an act of heroism. If what was observed appeared to be a bomb, but it was actually a loaf of bread, the would be hero may be guilty of criminal behavior.
While diligence and good behavior are admirable qualities, Celebrity often does harm. It fails to appreciate the efforts of people diligently working as a supporting network. A good example is the many quarterbacks who are lauded for acts of heroism. None of them would have the opportunity to exhibit their talent without the diligence of team members, and the efforts of other people working in the background.
Heroism creates the false illusion that the good done by heroes is an individual accomplishment. It is not that their efforts were unimportant. They probably were very important. But, something is hidden each time honor is politically bestowed. Hidden are the myriad of efforts by other people who are diligently pursuing opportunities on the behalf of others.
Each person is who they are because of their history, including their genetic history. Opportunities arise that allow each person to be instrumental in forming a better future. Diligence in pursuing those opportunities, provides a better habitat for all people. Few of those heroic efforts are widely recognized, but the consequences for not pursuing opportunity is a plague that sickens humanity. Each person has opportunities shared by nobody else. A low sense of self-worth, often keeps people from mining those opportunities.
It is late enough in history that people have opportunities to look back and see the making of heroes as a strategy to accomplish something that is far from heroic. In war heroes are used to get people to fight, not for cause, but for glory. In religion heroes are used for stratification. The pious a are deemed more holy than mere parishioners, people practicing a different faith, or those that seem unreligious. The stratification makes them appear more powerful, and often much richer. Political heroes are used for division. The hero is elevated above reproach, but is used as a diversion to secure power. Schools use grading to make academic heroes. They are not necessarily an inspiration to struggling students. Their success degrades, or depresses much of the student population.
Appreciation is what inspires people to pursue their opportunities. Making heroes is not appreciation. Heroism channels the appreciation of good, to only a few. The rest may be punished for their history, or they may be discredited for valuing humanity over the calamity caused by disingenuous stratification. Heroism is an ancient form of worship that sometimes has disturbing consequences that undermine the very institutions that promote it. Appreciation accounts for a differences in personal histories. We share a celestial lifeboat. Each person has opportunities to make life a better experience. We are all fortunate when people are not separated against each other. When people are appreciated they do better. Awesome behavior is a natural wonder that is created by those who toil for the benefit of other people and other generations, not for glory, but for importance.