Let’s go back to the beginning.
When I started Rogue Priest, I never spoke about the Heroic Life as a way to become a hero: I spoke about it as the best life one can choose to live, period. Whether that comes with saving people or not is beside the point.
To me, Heroic refers to the Heroic Age, to Heroic Ethics and Heroic Myth: that is, a worldview built around high ideals and the unabashed personal pursuit of those ideals.
But it’s hard to talk about capital-H-Heroic without people asking your opinion on those who wear that title as a badge: the heroes of legend, history, and yesterday’s news who save real lives at great personal risk.
Thus Rogue Priest has spent the last few months talking extensively about heroism as such, about standing up for others even when you’re scared. A glorious topic, but one not terribly central to living a heroic life.
To be a hero is, as I’ve often said, not something you can guarantee. But more than that, it’s not something ever fully achieved. One of the defining factors of a person standing up for others is that they do not feel heroic afterward. I never would have believed this until I experienced it myself.
That makes attaining the title “hero” more than just a matter of garnering popular accolade. You will never be satisfied that you are a hero. No normally functioning person would be.
Even if you set “becoming a hero” as a goal for yourself, it’s an impossible goal. You can come eternally closer and closer, nothing more; so there better be something in the journey itself that calls to you, ‘cuz that’s all you got.
To quote faith design jargon, this is an experience approach: living a certain lifestyle is its own reward, whether you achieve the goal of heroism or not. C. Luke Mula, who coined the term, recognized this about the Heroic Life from the beginning. I’ve fought him on it, and to an extent, I still believe that the Heroic Life as such is one of the best ways to approach actual hero-ness. It’s just that, as he rightly points out, that goal is never the point.
To move to the language of psychology, Dr. Zeno Franco and Dr. Phil Zimbardo speak of the “heroic imagination”: the capacity of an individual to visualize themselves doing the right thing even at personal risk. This capacity can be drawn from myth, movies, comic books—or in the case of the Heroic Life, from hands-on practice. But whereas Zeno and Zimbardo value the heroic imagination primarily for its ability to get people to act heroically, the Heroic Life values it for a different reason. It’s a damn satisfying way to live.
Ultimately, the Heroic Life must be about more than a search for approval. To spend your life hoping to earn a title is rather like spending it getting to Heaven. These are rewards no one can promise you, that may not even exist. To quest to be called “hero” is very comic book. To quest because you love the road is, well, human.
I now view heroism as an emergent quality. An essential characteristic you can approach, but never quite grab onto. A process, not a point.
This new understanding colors my way of looking at the Great Adventure. I said two days ago that part of my goal must be to learn about heroism. Increasingly I wonder whether that is even relevant to my journey. Should I be traveling in search of heroes and the meaning of heroism, or is that all rather contrived?
Let me know what you think. And please take a moment to Facebook share or tweet this post.