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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Heroic Acts

Recently I came upon a very touching moment in Khaled Hosseini's novel 'The Kite Runner'. The story teller (the hero), his father and a group of other Afghani were trying to escape to Pakistan from Russia-occupied Afghanistan in the early 80s. At one point their truck was stopped by a Russian guard who was on drugs. A recently married Afghani couple was a part of the group and the Russian guard decided to have some fun with the woman as a price for letting them go. Everyone froze. Then Baba - the story teller's father and a courageous man in general - stood up, objected and told him that the soldier would have to shoot him before doing that. It was more than certain that this would happen when, miraculously, the guard's superior came, apologized himself for the soldier's bad manners and let the group go. The girl husband went and kissed Baba's hand.

I was very touched by this and I was a bit surprised by that as I thought I had heroism immunity having lived through some socialist times in the 80s when heroic acts were mainly committed by Russians and were closely linked to literature on the WWII. This made them very suspicious of course.

But I realized, when reading, that it is a bit unfortunate that nowadays and especially in the type of lives that we live, there are never acts of heroism, acts that even vaguely remind you of the above episode .

Of course, it depends on how we define heroism. If Hero was a Greek demigod - half human, half god - we quickly get to the notion of sacrifice, i.e. a heroic act is when the hero acts against his/her interest, even life, in order to defend a moral stand. And I can't remember anybody now that sacrificed a lot to defend the higher good.

We somehow live in a culture of moral relativism and even if we see that someone or someone's deeds seriously suck we are ready to negotiate, to make peace to explain this somebody's acts with the complex situation, with a multitude of factors etc. And even if we understand and we fully disagree, then we leave because a serious fight would endanger us and our families seriously. And this is not an atmosphere where heroic acts are born.

Sometimes I think of the times when people invited each other to duels just like that, for entirely prosaic reasons from todays's point of view. Well, I don't call that heroism but somehow, I guess, heroic actions would rather be born then.

If you read that by any chance and if you disagree with me and think you know of acts around us which are worthy of the adjective 'heroic' and which truly involve a big degree of sacrifice, please let me know.

P.S. When searching for literature on the topic I came upon these six lecures by Thomas Carlyle who described 6 categories of heros: the Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet, the Hero as Prophet, the Hero as Priest, the Hero as a Man of Letters and the Hero as King.

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