It's been a while since I've blogged about a psychological topic. This one seems overdue.We all need heroes. You know, people to look up to—and maybe even pattern our lives after. When I was a kid, heroes were commonplace. If you asked any young person who they admired, they could rattle you off a list and that list usually included the President of the United States, a scientist or two, maybe a sports figure and even a parent or relative!
My heroes were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Anna Pavlova, Leonard Bernstein, Anais Nin, Carl Jung, JFK, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Meade, and quite a few others. Not all at the same time, of course. Any not necessarily in that order. The point is that I always had someone I respected, who I wanted to be like.
That was all pre-internet. Today's media is intrusive and delights in digging up dirt. Maybe because I'm a psychologist, or maybe just because I'm a human being, I'm not under any illusions. We all have skeletons in the closet, dirt under the rug and things we've done that we're not very proud of. Things we'd just as soon others either forgot about, or never knew in the first place.
Because the media delights in tearing anyone and everyone down, they've contributed to the death of heroes in our culture. Once you've made a mistake—any mistake—you're just not hero material anymore. The fallout from that is a generation (actually a couple of them, now) without role models.I was riding the shuttle from Red's Meadow (a popular camping area here that's three miles from town and accessible only by bus) a few days ago and struck up a conversation with a seventeen-year-old boy. He seemed really glad to have someone to talk with. Turned out he'd just moved here a week ago and is living with an aunt. I asked him who his heroes were. After he got done rolling his eyes, he said no one. He'd idolized Joe Paterno. After his fall from grace, my young acquaintance decided there wasn't any point. "All adults are liars," he told me. "I only believe in myself."
I thought about telling the young man that just because Joe made a serious error in judgment covering up for Sandusky, it didn't wipe out all the good things he'd done. But I kept my mouth shut. After all, the University fathers were quick to remove Joe's statue from campus. Apparently, they wanted to distance themselves from the catastrophe. Not that it's helped much. Penn State has lost far more than their premier football program from Sandusky's shenanigans. The remaining 45,000 students and all the other faculty (who are innocent, by the way) are suffering, too.
I saw the same thing happen here in my little town when a well-respected doctor engaged in sex with a young teen. He lost his position on the school board and the hospital terminated his contract. The doctor, who couldn’t live with the shame, killed himself leaving a widow and two young sons.
Somehow, we've evolved to a place where once someone does something (anything) bad, it cancels out the entire rest of their lives. JFK couldn't have survived today's media. If I recall correctly, among his many extra-marital partners, he was sleeping with an East German spy. Regardless, JFK was—and continues to be—a hero in many people's eyes. Which is as I think it should be.Shakespeare (who couldn't have stood up to close scrutiny, either) said: The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones… It's a well-known line out of Julius Caesar. Let me throw down the gauntlet here. We can choose what we wish to remember about people. We can also choose not to allow one misstep, or even a string of them, to wipe out every other part of that person's legacy. Maybe we could turn that Shakespeare quote around and bury the bad, while remembering the good.
Was Sandusky guilty? It certainly seems so. Was what he did wrong? Of course. Did he do good things, too? I believe the answer is "yes", since few of us are unmitigated monsters. Did Paterno cover for him? Yup.As individuals we need to develop the gumption to learn to pick and choose for ourselves. There are no perfect people. Even as a child, I didn't think my heroes were perfect. Yet, I understood on some level that I needed heroes for my own personal growth. And I still do. Carl Jung will be one of my heroes until the day I die, not because he was perfect. He wasn't. Today's media would have had a heyday with his ménage a trois setup. I admire him because he was a visionary who wasn't afraid to look beyond the strictures of his time for answers to the mysteries. I don't like it that he slept with a few of his patients, but that doesn't negate his brilliance or his contribution to our understanding of the unconscious mind.
What do you think? Do you have heroes? Who are they? Most importantly, would they still be your heroes if the media hung them out the dry?