In his book The Game, Ken Dryden grappled with our tendency to put sports heroes on a pedestal, and draws attention to the need to value everyone.
Having been a National Hockey League player, Dryden is aware that he and his colleagues are normal people. While gifted in their area of expertise, they are relatively young and face the same struggles of simply being human we all do.
Dryden concludes, “Professional athletes do exciting, sometimes courageous, sometimes ennobling things, as heroes do, but no more than you do.” In other words, Dryden acknowledges that famous athletes do great things – but we all do great things, just as we all struggle.
Hero worship is a fairly universal concept. Mankind has revered intellectuals, political leaders, religious figures, entertainers and athletes. The Greeks created mythological characters, and by believing that our heroes are without human weakness, we, too, create an aura of myth around our idols. When their human weakness is exposed, we are often quite disillusioned, and our heroes fall in our estimation.
By acknowledging our own greatness, we can avoid these ups and downs. We all have the potential to be heroes; we can all follow the path of greatness. Having ups and downs in life is also very normal – it is part of the journey.
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Perhaps one reason we tend to put athletes on a pedestal is that the goals in sports are very clear: make it to the next level, play in the professional league, win the championship and so on. When we watch and study others who have achieved what we want, we look at how they got there and take steps to do the same. This is a very normal and important aspect of goal-setting.
We may also tend to give attention to those who excel in sports because it is a joy to see any task done masterfully. We do the same with other art forms, from music to theatre to painting. We love to see what resonates within us, what wakes our spirits.
When we broaden our perspective and see all of life as an art form, we can see that there are masters all around us.
In my profession of teaching, I get to see colleagues at work. It is truly beautiful to see how they take a complex concept and make it understandable, how they bring an idea to life and speak to the hearts and minds of the young people in front of them, how they deal with the challenges that each of these students face and still move forward. Although teaching is not a spectator sport, when it is done well it is truly poetry in motion, and it is done well by countless people every day.
We broaden our paradigm when we acknowledge, as author Wendy Mass states, “… everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Achieving celebrity status does not eliminate these challenges from life. Our heroes will make mistakes just like we do. The key is to get back up when we fall and keep trying.
Life is a beautiful work of art. Each of us has the potential to be a superstar in our own setting. Each of us can be a hero. When we embrace these truths in our hearts, we realize that we are destined for greatness.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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