Killing our local heroes

From extraordinary to commonplace

The evolution in which we are caught, for lack of a better word, has brought us many an advantage … I, for example, grew up in a day and age that computers were not widely available nor used in the household. I remember being awed by them.

But if I now look at my own home, there are at least four apparent computers, work and personal … not counting what is embedded in systems. They have become normal … commonplace.

And it does not end there. No sir. Movement of people has become a lot easier across the globe, both technically and politically. We have planes to get there, and political agreements to go somewhere once we are there … And when we get there, we often find people similar to us, but better, to look up to and to simulate and assimilate the behaviors of. And that is great. That is so wonderful.

The cost of our current progress

However, it has also cost us. We have killed our local heroes. We have killed them, because we have failed to honor them. They have gone the way of the computer. From extraordinary to commonplace.

It used to be that each community had someone to look up to. Someone who had made it, even if having made it was just leaving the small town to find his or her way to the big city. Often, they were closer and remained close. A teacher, perhaps, or a business man. Even of the business was, in the wider context, just a cut above the rest.

A hero’s death is not death … it’s being forgotten

These heroes no longer exist. No, I’m lying. They still do exist, but they are no longer regarded as our heroes. They have been replaced by the rock stars of today. People such as Steve Jobs, Jony Ive, or Barack Obama, or Warren Buffet. And those are just the good ones on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I have a strong admiration for such people. I just wonder how to get from here to there. And why I should do that.

Virtual deity

And that’s a real problem, although we may not consider it as such. The gap between our new heroes and us is just too wide. They can be admired, but only at a distance. Rather than the late 1800’s and early 1900’s evolution, where heroes were close to everyday life and ultimately approachable, where the gap that existed could ultimately be bridged, we are now moving in a direction in which what we want to achieve amounts to virtual deity. Which is, for all intents and purposes, almost impossible to realize.

Global heros do not scale down so well

It ultimately comes down to incrementalism. You do not reach large goals all in one go. You achieve small feats every day which bring you closer and closer to an achievable goal. You put your sights at an ambitious but realistic level, and you actually achieve that well within a fraction of your lifetime. Once you are there, you recalibrate your goals yet a bit higher, to a new role model, to a new achievable, adequately ambitious but still close enough goal. And so it goes. Or actually, so it went.

Cargo cult heroes

The current gap between what we are and what we often aim to be is so large that people revert to imitating the externalities of what they want to achieve. Feynman’s cargo cult, applied to humans. This leads to young traders on the floors of banks to use their (often significant, yet small when compared to those they imitate) assets to do what their idols do, without understanding that the only real way to achieve structural growth is through hard work. And there are so many other, sad examples.

Becoming a hero requires you to do the work

I believe strongly that if we want to continue to prosper, as a species, we will need to relearn that progress comes at the cost of small steps, of doing the work.

And if we want our young people to understand that, we are obliged to start becoming the heroes we want them to follow. And in order to become those heroes, we need to start showing behavior which is consistent with those values.

If we fail that, we will not only have killed our own heroes, but those of the generations that follow as well. As did the generation before us appears to have done, even though they started so well, in the late 1960’s. let us not make the same mistake again.