If I never hear the word ‘hero’ again, it’ll be too soon. A couple guys hook up their boat to the back of their SUV and drive to Houston to help with flood relief. And the TV news commentator is gushing about how they’re ‘heroes.’ A old woman smacks a would-be purse snatcher over the head with her purse on the subway, and social media and TV news is blathering on about what a ‘hero’ she is. A young girl sets up a lemonade stand in her front yard to raise money for Hurricane Harvey victims, and the local press calls her ‘the youngest hero.’ And it goes on and on. Enough with the ‘hero’ shit, okay? Ask any of the people in the above stories if they’re ‘heroes’, and they’d say, “No. Just doing what’s right.” And you know something? They’d be correct. Doing the right thing isn’t heroic, it’s the norm. Or at least it should be. The thing is — if everyone’s a hero, then no one is. The word loses it’s meaning. The concept is diminished. When ‘heroes’ are a dime a dozen, truly heroic efforts are cheapened or overlooked.
So what is a hero then?
A fireman risks her own life to save an infant for a burning inferno. Heroic? Hell yeah. And dramatic too. So give that fireman a medal, write up a glowing news story about her, and let the accolades flow. But don’t confuse her actions with her profession. Not all first responders are heroes. Neither are all deployed men and women of the military. Actions, not uniforms, make a hero. And usually the truly heroic actions are more of a sustained effort than a drama-filled burst of insane energy and love. The low-income single mother working two part time jobs. Raising her family in a tough situation; her two teenage daughters aren’t pregnant, her son has never been to jail. For years she’s put in the work and the sacrifice. And her children are better for it. To me that woman is a hero. Heroics is about extraordinary effort and extraordinary sacrifice, and most important, about selflessness and love. It’s not as rare as we think. But it’s usually overlooked or misidentified. Heroics make good broadcast news, but broadcast news is pretty shallow. To find the real heroes, sometimes you’ve got to look deeper than that. And, as in the case of the single mother, sometimes you won’t recognize their heroics until years later. Not everyone is a ‘hero’. But I think they’re out there. As are the cowards.
Recently, Ceara Lynch referred to herself as a coward; or more specifically, to her reaction to a death threat directed towards her as being cowardly. Here’s the back story as I understand it. Ceara is not shy about producing fetish videos that may be politically incorrect. As she points out, “All fetishes are politically incorrect.” But some fetishes are more hot button issues than others – like racial humiliation, or those with a specific anti-religious theme. At some point, an anonymous religious zealot took offense with one of Ceara’s clips and threatened her life if she continued to produce clips with that particular theme. It should be noted that over the past decade, journalists and others have been killed for less by these same sort of zealots. So the threat had to be taken seriously. Discretion being the better part of valor, Ceara stopped producing those particular type of fetish videos. But in so doing, it left her with a sour taste in her mouth. In her mind, she had done the cowardly thing in sacrificing free speech for security. Which is bullshit, of course. But we always seem to judge ourselves more harshly than others would, so I understand where she’s coming from. But, in this case, Ceara’s self-critique is wrong. She may have been afraid, but she wasn’t acting cowardly.
Everyone is afraid. Usually we finds ways to cope with that low-level fear and live normal healthy lives. But certain things, like credible death threats, are so perverse and outside the normalcy of life, that our day-to-day coping mechanisms have difficulty in handling them. That new fear has a sense of urgency and threatens to temporarily override our rational thought. In the extreme, fear is replaced by terror and normalcy is rend asunder. (This is what makes terrorism such a potent weapon.) But being fearful in these perverse instances is not the same as being cowardly. To be cowardly is to allow your fear to adversely affect other people. For example, by not doing the job others depend on you to do; or worse, by panicking and showing fear in such a way as to undermine the morale and courage of those around you. Other people define your cowardice, not you. And just as martydom does not define courage, choosing your fights wisely does not define cowardice.
Ceara Lynch is no coward. No one is adversely affected by her choice, in this instance, to not take a stand for free speech and continue to produce this particular brand of fetish video. Free speech will endure regardless.
And as for the flip side of the coin. Ceara Lynch isn’t a hero either. Though I think at some point in her life, she just might be.