The Myth Of The Hero (And Why Small Things Matter)

A jug fills drop by drop.
– Buddha

Chesley Sullenberger miraculously landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, saving the lives of every passenger on board. On his hometown return to Danville, California, he appropriately received a hero’s welcome.

In the tv series Heroes, one of the main characters Hiro Nakamura believes he is on a quest to save New York City from nuclear desctruction. All his energy is focused toward preparing himself for this act of greatness.

So what is a hero?

It’s generally accepted that someone is a hero after performing a heroic act: saving a life, landing a plane, winning the Cup, and other “grand” moments.

But here lies the fundamental misperception of the hero myth.

The Continuum

There are no such thing as singular grand actions. There is no place to point to and say “This is the beginning, and this is the ending.”

The pilot of Flight 1549 was able to perform because of the thousands of actions and decisions he made before the day in question. All the people he met along the way, all the moments he experienced, and all the skills he aquired contributed to his “heroic” act.

Perhaps through his Eastern culture, Hiro Nakamura understands this truth.

He conquers the various trials on his way to New York City not by pushing them aside, but by choosing to act “like a hero” no matter the circumstance.

He understands each seemingly mundane act is just as important as the heroic moment.

All The Small Things

This matters because so many of us operate day to day on auto-pilot. We’re wrapped in our own work, our own issues, and lost in our own thoughts.

We interact with others through thousands of decisions that appear mundane on the surface. We cut someone off in traffic. We dismiss a chat with a friend. We spead gossip at work.

We stick to the belief that small actions don’t matter. Were a “heroic” moment to present itself, we believe we would rise to the challenge.

In the brilliant tv drama The Wire, there’s an iconic scene in Season 4 that speaks volumes.

Herc, a police officer, is charged with delivering a young witness to another lead investigator on a murder. Instead of completing this seemingly simple task, Herc shirks his duty and sets off a chain of events that result in catastrophic damage to the witness.

Herc defends his actions, stating it wasn’t a big deal. His captain, Carver, who had originally promised protection to the witness, now realizes the effect of such thoughtlessness.

“It matters,” Carver tells Herc. “Everything matters.”

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