Friday, August 5, 2011

On Good Role Models

If you haven't heard the story of Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen yet, these two heroes were camping and heard shots coming from across the lake on the Island of Utoya in Norway where kids were being targetted by a lone gunman.  They got in their boat and made several trips in order to save 40 people who were trying to swim to safety.  They were shot at and found bullet holes in their boat, but they kept going back to save more lives.

Many people questioned why this part of the story wasn't made pubic sooner, and concluded that it has something to do with the fact that they're both women and a married couple.  That messes with our idea of what a hero looks like.  It's also bizarre how much of the immediate media was filled with claims of ties to Islamic terrorists. Now the killer's being branded as not a real Christian.

We like to distance ourselves from anything disagreeable.  But that is to deny the reality of any group of people.  An individual is a microcosm of a group.  We each have potential to cause harm - maybe not murder, but certainly meanness.  If we deny that's part of us, we risk acting on it all the more because we're only allowing ourselves to see our sparkling persona.  It seems like it's almost necessary for evil to be acted out somewhere.  Are there any pious groups without at least a trickster in their midsts, or a liar or manipulator?  We can only try to be virtuous as often as possible.  We'll always be drawn into the fray surrounding us from time to time.  Like the priest in this video:



According to Montaigne, and the Stoics, and Epicurus, and Aristotle, and the Tao, one way to try to stay on the straight and narrow is to find good people out there and follow their lead.  I think, because of the potentially nefarious nature of humanity, we can't blindly follow one person's lead.  Some people do wonderful things, but aren't always wonderful.  As exhausting as it may be, we still have to think for ourselves all the bloody time!

Some people follow Jesus or Muhammad, but they stray from the original words and stories to following other followers who are misleading at best, and horrifically cruel at worst.  Both of these prophets generally suggest we should be nice to one another - mainly, but the metaphorical stories makes the details a bit muddy.  So people have used religion to back up their own nastiness for centuries.  And everyone likes to pick and choose a bit to determine the philosophy that fits them best - as they should.  A friend once commented that Islamic doctrine is clearly more violent than Christian doctrine, but I suggested she forgot about some of the claims made in the Book of Revelation in which Jesus will judge and wage war and strike down the nations and all that jazz.  She said, "My church doesn't really believe in that part of the Bible." Just as well.     

There are plenty of examples of virtuous people who walk among us like Dalen and Hansen, and we should follow their incredible courage and persistence, but yet if we follow all their acts believing they are the Good incarnate, they're bound to stray and lie or act thoughtlessly or something from time to time.  It happens.  We have to consciously follow the right actions and attitudes, not the right people.  And this particular instance makes it clear that we shouldn't just look for virtue in the typical places.  Our stereotypes around who is likely to be good can really throw us off the mark.  

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