Americans recalled and held dear the memory of a day that shaped their country; wounded and scarred by an attack on their own soil. I am one such person. Like many such pivotal moments in history September 11th is a day that is forever etched into my memory. The heartache, the fear and the desperate need of being close to those I loved and who loved me was all encompassing that day. There is nothing in me that requires the belief that those lost were good and innocent for me to mourn them, just as there is no impetus for me to believe in the evil of those individuals who hijacked the planes. To do either is, to my way of thinking, nothing short of an abomination to the memory of all.
When one chooses to raise people on top of a pedestal that individual has lost something. It’s not the anonymity that I’m addressing here, although that certainly can and often does apply in our media saturated culture, but rather what happens when someone becomes a symbol. There is a separation that can occur – symbol from humanity. This also applies to individuals who are vilified. A need to believe in the exceptional natures both in those who commit heroic and despicable acts. Individuals with such firm focus and drive as to complete such things do seem to be rare in the grand scheme of the world, but that exception is noted as compared to other human beings.
The most heroic symbol I can think of is the way many view our men and women in the armed services. While I have my own views of what the military symbolizes, what it embodies and entails, to me that is a separate matter. The PEOPLE, though, are still that to me. Human beings who, at least in this present environment, chose to enlist. All people in the military are not the same, the capabilities varied just as much as they are in the general population, but they have one very defining characteristic besides their membership and participation in a group employed by the government. They’re people. Not heroes, not idols, not deities. People.
In the vilifying category there are of course many historical examples. Hitler is the most prominent modern villain with Mao getting lumped in there somewhere as well while still Lenin and Stalin either get ignored or viewed the same way. I do not say these names lightly and without knowledge of their despicable and horrifying actions. I do say it with complete ownership that these individuals were also people and that as such they need to be viewed with eyes that see them as such.
What separates all these people? What makes them, their motivations, their ethics so very different from each other? From us? This is the question I find to be lacking when we start terming people as evil or hero. The learning process is shirked to take time to worship or hate. No lesson is brought forth, very few salient and vital pieces of information brought up, for analysis and philosophical thought all resulting in missed opportunity. This loss, to my way of thinking, is more than not seeing capabilities in ourselves that could turn us down either path but in hindering how people are treated. Through viewing uniformed men and women as heroes we are missing their individual assets, their limitations… their humanity.
The exceptional acts committed are diminished through hero worship. We expect heroes to act a certain way, to accomplish certain fetes, but not so with other human beings. When we expect the outstanding it becomes not such an outstanding thing but rather something that is standard, normal and not necessarily held with high as high of esteem as when we view it from the perspective that a human, or a group of them, accomplished something brilliant. Through history three dimensional people are subverted into two dimensional form: Albert Einstein’s intellect is amazing and out of the stratosphere while knowing how he walked the Earth, what his struggles were as he persevered to brilliant deductions are left out of the equation; Hitler is evil with amazing powers that convinced a whole lot of people to take part in great atrocities, while economic and psychological motivations are overlooked. How can we truly respect or appreciate acts of greatness without acknowledging the human limitations that apply to all with the appropriate genetic make up? When a person’s humanity is injured in the process of doing something we term as great how can we treat it if we don’t consider that aspect of them first? What lessons can we learn through history if all those malevolent forces are deemed as evil and the entire picture that impacts and comprises the entirety of the human experience are left on the wayside?
Admittedly, inspiration for this post came from a movie that didn’t get enough consideration or touting in the media (in my not so humble opinion): In the Valley of Elah. It had me weeping and wishing fervently that people would allow these people to be, not symbols or tools working for support of their own ethic, but as people. To see what conditions they are bearing, what actions they have to take and live within and, perhaps most importantly, ask themselves if those conditions allow for healthy humanity and if not ask the hardest question of all: On what grounds can I support the subjugation of humanity?