I was warned.
For over a year, well-meaning friends have sometimes told me to “watch out” because people will get really upset if I talk about wanting to live heroically. Their concern was that the idea of pursuing a heroic life can easily sound like saying that I, Drew Jacob, am a hero. And that’s jerkish.
This concern has been echoed from several quarters. When I spoke with Dr. Zeno Franco about my work, he was very encouraging except that he was afraid I’d come off that way. He studies the psychology behind heroism for a living, and he’s very cautious about this in his own work. He hesitates to use personal examples of heroism that he’s witnessed or times when he’s had to overcome the bystander effect in his own life. To me this is a shame because we all face the fear of not wanting to be the first person to step up. A personal story can humanize that fear and help us prepare to face it down ourselves.
At the same time, Zeno had a point and so do the others. If someone conceives of themselves as a hero there’s a problem. Actually there are two. First of all they seem arrogant and decidedly unheroic. Secondly on a factual level they’re not behaving in line with the mindset of a hero. Heroes always denounce their own actions afterward as “just what anybody would do.” They always downplay it. It’s necessary internally to help them return to the herd after they so stunningly stood out. If someone doesn’t want that there’s something questionable about their ability to empathize with other humans.
Theory aside, on a personal level I just don’t want to call myself a hero because I know it would be untrue. I’ve never done anything worthy of that term. I just want to live a life following the example of the heroes.
So I took these warnings seriously, but at the same time, either you talk about heroism or you don’t. I made a decision to talk about heroism. And I don’t think that conversation is nearly as inspiring unless people talk about their personal experiences. I plodded on talking the dangerous talk and waiting for people to throw onions and beer bottles at me.
Let’s look at the numbers.
Rogue Priest often has 200 visitors a day. Depending on the topic it can be over a thousand, and for more than a year now it’s seldom been less than 100. According to my traffic stats, many of those are new visitors at any given time.
This is in addition to social media shares, the guest posts I do elsewhere, my Heroic Life column, and the many random mentions that I get on other sites, sometimes with totally different types of audiences.
There are a lot of chances for misunderstanding.
So out of all those thousands of people, how many thought I was calling myself a hero? Grand total: 3.
Notably, one was hostile to me personally and came here to criticize my writing without reading it. So that’s actually just two people who had a bona fide reaction against the philosophy.
To me that seems like a pretty low number of misunderstandings, and a good rate of success in communicating my ideas. I’d love to chalk it up as proof that you can talk about heroism on a personal level without sounding assy. But I also have a blind spot. Those three (two) people are just the ones I know about. How many other people might have come to the site, felt turned off, and left without ever saying anything?
I’ll never know, but I’d like to collect opinions. When you first came to this site, did you think I was calling myself a hero? If you shared one of my posts, did others read it that way? Tell me how I come across. I’m a big boy, I can take it. Probably.