Uses of Heroes | Possibilities

The whole value of history, of biography, is to increase my self-trust, by demonstrating what man can be and do.6

There can often seem to be a great distance between our heroes and us; whilst we may recognize aspects of ourselves within them, their accomplishments can make them seem unattainable; almost other-worldly. This may be particularly true if the person we admire lived in another age.

Whilst we can appreciate the achievements of our heroes – perceive talent, or genius – we must realize that our admiration of them also contains the invitation for us to achieve. Heroes can show us what is possible, and it is this that is their primary use.

To feel the full value of these lives, as occasions of hope and provocation, you must come to know, that each admirable genius is but a successful diver in that sea whose floor of pearls is all your own.7

Circumstances may have led us to believe that we are destined to tread certain paths, or forbidden from following others. This is an easy trap to fall into, and once in it we can find it very hard to climb back out; our own negative self-schema can conspire against us, and things may be worsened by the constricting influence of other people.

It is easy to get lost in the sea of other people’s ideas and achievements, and to believe that our own accomplishments are of less worth. A negative outlook can flip the role of a hero, from an enabling, positive presence, to a stifling one. Most of us need people around us who realize our worth, especially if we fail to see it ourselves. These people lift us up; they are localized, with their sights set on us, and in this sense they can provide the perspective that we may sometimes lack. They see our achievements for what they are, and through their eyes we see what we are capable of.

This positive network can be furthered by the presence of heroes. For example, in finding out about the life of someone we admire we may realize that they are more normal than we’d at first thought; the details of their lives brings them closer to us, and makes them more attainable.

Heroes are there to enable us; to know their lives and achievements is to know what is possible. They should not act as full stops on our ambition, rather as provocateurs or pacemakers.

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