Holding out for a hero

MARCH 3 — When despair riddles a society, it is most certainly a time for heroes. This is such a moment.

But I want to caution — there are way too many pretenders, though their gimmicks are cute.

I like heroes as much as the next guy, or even more, but it requires patient judgement to read the difference between Rorschach and Dr Manhattan. These “Johnny come latelies” waltzing in as refurbished models of purity for Malaysia give me nausea. Though I admit, in my moments of weakness I fear not enough of my countrymen can tell Hannibal Lecter from Buffalo Bill, or even Clarice Starling from either killer.

Because in reality, nominated heroes don’t come in distilled versions, and their narratives and contributions are not structured within a movie playing time. There is no guided start and end. Just our opportunity to pass judgement, which is susceptible to us not over-thinking the situation.

As such, who is a bona fide hero as the grass grows unwieldy and threatens us with snakes instead of ladders?

The introspection

My personal hero is my late father. However, my reasons only connect and matter to me, which is fine since I’m free to choose my own personal hero, without needing to apologise or clarify.

A hero, a national hero, in a broader and wider context is someone who “does it, doing it or continues doing it for a large number of people, and the effort appears palpable.”

Even though the perception of “it” can differ person to person.

My natural disdain for quickly anointed saviours is from years in the system. In Malaysia, they tell you with no uncertain terms who we should worship as great men even if why they are great is not altogether compelling.

I spent my youth being informed that (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim can never do wrong. Backed by TV, radio, commentaries, magazines and so on. If my life so far is a football match, in the second half it has only blared to me and the rest that Anwar Ibrahim can only do wrong. Backed by TV, radio, commentaries, magazines and so on.

How can the average Joe tell if he lived through both spells? Joe remains puzzled, and more pertinently it results in Malaysians not needing to read Animal Farm to understand Snowball. Or Napoleon. [N1] It is just another day in our tropical paradise.

Tick the box

There is no fix method, you can filter using the following in your own terms and emphasise as you wish.

Heroes can win, or lose, yet they are not determined purely by outcomes. This is a common fallacy in Malaysia.

Second, they put others before themselves. Oskar Schindler, the subject of the movie Schindler’s List, was an industrialist without a previous affection for Jewish people, helped save more than a thousand of them from death during the Second World War. But he accepted payments from desperate Jews in camps even if at the end he spent his own fortune to save complete strangers while risking his own life. His acts were layered and his innocence somewhat tainted yet he imperilled himself in order to follow his conscience.

Thirdly, they accept their own errors or culpability before they mount related heroic acts. Atonement is often synonymous with heroism. Peter admitted to denying Jesus thrice before powering Christianity to Rome and Omar Al-Khattab owned up to his years abusing Prophet Mohamed before becoming a Muslim and thereafter the second Caliph.[N2]

Accept the past with honesty, not reply to it with revisionism. For example, a fictitious long-term ex-dictator who stripped all agencies of their power, reason and conscience, demanded blind loyalty from millions and played let’s experiment with mind control in a fictitious country, cannot turn around years later and blame the limp agencies, ridiculous passivity and low political intellectualism for his righteous indignation for not being able to remove the present fictitious dictator. It’s akin to rigging a game, retiring, returning to the mound and complaining about these impossible limitations.

Or made-up technocrats slash civil servants who reinforced and implemented all of the nasty imaginary dictator’s will to curtail freedoms and social progression now find themselves free between babysitting their grandchildren in their retirement, therefore decide to issue press releases against a climate of timidness and inaction that they actively fostered.

To be a memorable hero, one that passes the test of history, these hero wannabes have to own up to their complicity in the past. Otherwise they are just bitter about their own stock in the situation, not really about the people. Because people deserve the truth, especially when someone wants to save them.

My heroes (I’m gonna let it shine)

For me the best heroes are the unsung ones.

They are unsung usually because their mission or means to save the rest is less about making the people believe in them. Instead they want them — the people — to believe.

The difference between believing in and believe, is that in the former the only light is within the hero and belief grows or fades with the proximity and potency of the hero, and in the latter the hero encourages the rest to light up their own personal lamps.

The hero empowers other heroes. Of course in that case the lustre of the initial hero is compromised by the creation of other champions.

The majority of the alleged heroes walking up and down our imagination presently in the nation are in actuality political opportunists and fight for personal relevance not public liberation.

Don’t take my word for it. Look around, check out these brave souls and how much they are here for you and not themselves. Then think a bit more. It might not be exactly so.

[N1] Or any other animal extras.

[N2] Or in the case of Dr Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, he had to accept his role in the universe and say “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged”.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.