Does everyone possess the capacity for heroism? Is heroism thrust upon individuals or do the individuals in question thrust it upon themselves? In Signature in the Schools upcoming production, Hero Worship, young armed service members of The United States of America wrestle with the desire to be heroes and the desire to remain intact physically, mentally, and emotional.
“Wanting to be a society-certified hero is a specialness issue. I see people killing themselves at work and at home to pay for mortgages that are too much for them, or taking vacations they can’t afford in the right spots, all to be special. Wanting a medal in war is just killing yourself at a faster pace, for all the same wrong reasons.” –
Veteran Karl Marlantes,
Sometimes, the desire to be a hero can lead to doing it for the wrong reasons. The desire to be recognized and seen as extraordinary can cause people to take unnecessary risks or disobey orders and cause more harm than good.
veteran Karl Marlantes
remembered a critical moment in the heat of battle, when he had to decide whether
or not to run under heavy fire to try to retrieve a kid from his platoon named
Utter, despite the orders from his Staff Sergeant to stay with the rest of the
“I was split three ways. I’d known Utter for months. He was my guy…he was hit. I simply wanted to get to him before he bled to death. Another part of me was screaming to listen to [Staff Sergeant]
and stay safe. Then there was the third part. I wanted a medal. Bell
I’d always wanted a medal, ever since I looked at my father’s medals from World War II, ever since I’d seen Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back, ever since I was never chosen first when we chose up sides. All that. It wasn’t enough to do heroic things. I had to be recognized.”
Karl Marlantes ended up going after Utter, shooting uphill against incoming enemy fire. He brought Utter back, but the young soldier died anyway from a bullet wound to the head. Marlantes was left wondering whether he had accidentally shot Utter while he was charging up the hill like an action-hero.
|Mr. Incredible has a case of |
Chronic Hero Syndrome
The desire to be a hero can also become an obsession, referred to as “Messiah Complex” or Chronic Hero Syndrome, when a person is incapable of turning away from someone who needs help. This can be a very admirable quality, but taken to the extreme, it could lead to the person becoming exhausted or depressed when they can’t save everyone. They are idealistic to the point that they struggle to face the reality that sometimes you cannot save everyone. Their compulsive heroism also can make them easy to manipulate. The enemy can use their compassion to trick them or discourage them. Other times, the hero may charge into a situation to save someone without knowing the whole picture, making matters worse. This happens frequently to vigilante heroes, ordinary people who act outside of the law and police forces to administer justice on their own. If the vigilantes are not well- trained or well-intentioned, they could cause as many problems as the criminals they fight!
Some of our most famous fictional heroes in pop culture have a Messiah Complex!
- Batman: Often pushes himself to his physical limits to save people, and ends up wearing himself out.
- Mr. Incredible: Can’t help helping people, even if it costs him his job; makes him easy to manipulate.
- Harry Potter: Voldemort uses his need to be a hero as a way to lure Potter to him: “He will hate watching the others struck down around him, knowing that it is for him that it happens. He will come.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
- Avatar: The Last Air Bender: Katara often takes side-quests because she can "never, ever turn [her] back on people that need [her]."
- Doctor Who: He breaks the “Time Lord” rules by leaving his planet to use his time-traveling powers to help humans; so he is not there to help his own planet when it’s destroyed.
- Jack Shepherd (from Lost): Jack often charges into situations and ends up causing more harm than good.
- Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: Ezio is continually distracted by side-quests.
Heroism, particularly in a “soldier” or “warrior” occupation, can inspire people to greatness. Heroes are an important part of our culture because they represent “the best of us.” However, misguided heroism, or heroism for the wrong reasons, can turn that positive motivation into a negative thing. The fixation with being “special” can lead people into risky decisions that hurt, rather than help, the situation. The real heroes are often the ones who don’t receive metals, who do the job because they have to, not for the glory.
Hero Worship performs March 10th and March 17th at 8:00 PM. Tickets are free, but reservations are required. To reserve seats, call 703-820-9771. Reservations are available beginning February 10th.