Celebrating the everyday heroes

Posted: Dec 06, 2005 4:05 AM
There are two sayings that are familiar in every news room across the country: 1) sex sells; 2) if it bleeds it leads. Basically, the stories that make the front page are the ones that titillate or shock, the ones that pay homage to human degradation, sloth, venality: the stories about the high ranking politician with the sexual proclivity for overweight interns; the mindless, uninhibited pillow talk of the latest reality TV show stars; the self loathing stock broker who one day comes to work and unloads bullets into his former boss; exclusive photos of Reese Witherspoons’s C-section scar. Sex and violence. We eat this stuff with a spoon.

Receiving far less attention are the working class heroes, who go about their solitary work routines with quiet dignity, come home from another grueling day, yet still find time to interact with their children. I’m talking about the guy with the thinning hairline who throws the football with his children in the front yard each day. I’m talking about the guy who takes time from his own grueling rituals to coach a local soccer team. Or the scout master who teaches children not to pet porcupines (or was I the only one who needed to be taught this lesson?). These small interactions between adults and children are not complex. Often they involve little more than taking a bit of time. But they have an important effect. Tossing the ball, building a fort in the woods, going to a museum, these things endow children with a sense of validation. These small parent child interactions are crucial in nurturing a child’s delicate self-image, confidence, and assertiveness. In this manner, the small interactions between parents and children take on a profound meaning. Those parents who take time for such things are everyday heroes.

Many of these everyday heroes are in Iraq right now. We only hear about them when there is an attack, or when something goes wrong. But there is a lot of good that they are doing. I was talking to my neighbor the other day. Her brother, Billy, is in Iraq. “A month ago he was shot at. I didn’t think he would be in the middle of the action,” said my neighbor, who is an elementary school teacher. She says she gets “very quiet inside” while leading the pledge of allegiance every morning. “Sometimes they even play “God Bless America” and wow do I have to fight the tears.” Still, she remains supportive of the troops stationed in Iraq. “My brother says that morale is mostly high because the soldiers feel they are doing what they were trained to do. ‘We want to be here. This is what we have trained for our entire lives,’ he said in a recent email. That part doesn’t get reported. He talks about how the Iraqi children follow them around and look up to the American soldiers.” This is an everyday hero. He deserves to be celebrated, and not just when there is an attack.

Let’s remember the children who come from broken homes, surrounded by crime, drugs, temptation, their peers having babies out of wedlock, but who still manage to get a good education despite the many obstacles they face every day. They still find a way to distinguish right from wrong and make a strong contribution to society.

One last thought on the everyday hero. We tend to admire the people in our society who have accumulated such wealth as to seem somehow great. But we shouldn’t forget that it was the everyday working class man who made this country great. Indeed, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, sociologist Max Weber chronicles how the Protestant work ethic was the embryo of America’s capitalist spirit and was consequently sewn into our national identity. Advances in medicine, electricity and computer technology—all the wondrous developments that mark the progress of a great nation—are in a sense only end products. For the raw material that birthed these developments, we must look back to a particular spirit that characterized this country--the Protestant ethic.

It is this spirit which has marched across the American continent, outliving any particular individual and propelling this country forward. The Protestant ethic gave shape to our innovation. This ethic lives on in the countless everyday heroes who work hard and take care of their family. You won’t see them on the evening news. But there is no doubt that the working class man makes America great.