John Mark Reynolds takes another tack on the question regarding the heroes in our midst and not in the distant past, although he mentions at least one of them as well.
One approach to the question of the hero is to start with the particular. That is to say, before you have a hero, you have heroic acts. The acts of our heroes are, one might suggest, those momentary flashes, those instances where the ecstatic is made plain for the outside observer. And here the term ecstatic refers to eks – static, the taking oneself outside of oneself. He, in the act, transcends the ordinary and the merely human and displays something more. For it is in these actions a glimpse of the possible, the true, the good, or the beautiful is made plain for the ordinary observer.
Our popular heroes then are people who are gifted enough to regularly display these transcendent moments, normally only in their field of endeavour, such as the football arena of the Brett Favre example used in the prior posts by Mr Reynolds. These individuals, our athletic and artistic heroes regularly perform inspiring acts. Yet, at the same time today’s press revels in revealing that these people have feet of clay and makes no bones about exposing their weaknesses and foibles.
Socrates was informed by the oracle at Delphi that he was the “wisest of men.” After some deliberation and discussion, he arrives at the notion that his wisdom consists of realizing, in part, that being an expert in one thing does not confer expertise outside of the realm in which one is skilled. And this is essentially the equivalent error wherein we attribute excellence and heroism to a ball player off the field of play. This is not as stupid as it sounds. To acquire that level of excellence and expertise requires a number of virtues including diligence, perseverance, and other qualities of character which are indeed excellent virtues. Yet, the fame and fortune comes with a host of temptations and lures which often bring vices which overshadow or at the very least discolor those same virtues. Achilles excellence at war likely was not accompanied by similar excellence at law, at medicine, or in the nursery. Likewise excellence on the athletic field does not transfer or imply to excellence in ethics.
The first suggestion would be that not fall into the common error regarding our heroes is we confuse the moments which give us glimpses of the good and ascribe that same goodness to an otherwise ordinary man. But there remains a problem. When a scrambling Brett Favre zipps a frozen rope across the grain, a Steve Nash fires a no-look pass in transition, or a Hillary Hahn unfolds a flawless effervescent cadenza … it is that act itself which we should laud, idealize, remember and fixate upon … and perhaps the person not so much.
The other problem, for the Christian, is how to frame and to put into perspective this glimpse of the good, the true, or the beautiful into the framework of virtues extolled by Gospel, Beatitude, and Psalter. Bridging the gulf, if gulf exists, between that athletic or artistic moment and living a life of love, charity, apatheiea, and humility … is at the very least an exercise for another essay.