John McCain, who survived seven years of imprisonment in Vietnam's notorious Hanoi Hilton, says he's not a hero. He just did his duty.
Commedian Tom Arnold, when asked why he wrote his book, "How I Lost Five Pounds in Six Years," had this to say, "I'm a broken personand I want people to love me."
McCain assumes his peers respect him for his character and for living honorably. Respect is certainly an important (arguably the most important) component of love. McCain would probably blush to be told publicly that he is loved.
Arnold doesn't blush easily. In fact, he is so love-hungry that he unabashedly pleads for people to love him. Truth be told, I found Arnold's words poignant and touching and vulnerable and charming. Nonetheless, they are disturbing to me. His words give the impression that love can be bought by "letting it all hang out." They also imply that having people love me is an end in itself.
I must say McCain paid a much dearer price for the respect and esteem in which he is held by his countrymen. But today we want love and we want it right now, and we want it at a bargain price.
According to Stephen Covey who read or scanned hundreds of writings in his research, the "success" literature of the past 200 years took a dramatic turn after World War I. Up until that time almost all the literature taught that, "there are basic principles of effective living, "and it is only as we integrate these principles into our character that we can experience true success and happiness. See The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1989.
But Covey noted that in the 1920's "the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethicto the Personality Ethic. Success began to be defined in terms of attitude and personality traits, in presenting a pleasing face to the public."
By the 1960's we had a proliferation of workshops, seminars and best-selling books encouraging us to look in the mirror and repeat slogans such as, "I can do it," "I'm a wonderful person," "If I can believe it, I can achieve it." And how about, "Look in the mirror and tell yourself, I'm beautiful."
Sadly the positive messages, while not inherently bad or wrong, don't have the foundation, the underpinnings that are so necessary to the goodness of character that must precede real success and greatness. As William George Jordan said, "Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil, the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man is, not what he pretends to be."
We all noticed that Nine-Eleven pulled us back from the brink of total self-centeredness. Suddenly policemen and firefighters were our heroes and ditch-digging became an honorable activity, an activity invested with dignity because it replaced self-centeredness with other-centeredness. It also represented sacrifice, honor, and patriotism the same virtues that John McCain and many of our nation's heroes have stood for.
I hope Tom Arnold finds the love he's looking for. I hope he finds it by living his life as an honorable, loving, trustworthy, unselfish human being who is dedicated to doing good and being good.
"Real heroes are men who fall and fail and are flawed," wrote Kevin Costner, "but win out in the end because they stayed true to their ideals and beliefs and commitments." That kind of sums it up for me. Each new generation needs heroes to look up to and that means people who have ideals and beliefs and commitments and they live up to them.
Frana Hamilton is Director of Training at a vocational school where she teaches, advises and encourages out-of-work adults who need some training and a helpful boost to get them back into the workplace. She considers it a great privilege to have this ministry.
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