The hero we need

Liam Neeson is a tough-guy-movie-making machine.

I was scrolling through Amazon Prime’s video library the other night and was struck by how many Liam Neeson tough-guy movies there were. Memory, Blacklight, Honest Thief, Cold Pursuit, The Marksman, The Commuter, Taken I & II, to name a few.

In each one, Neeson plays a decent guy just trying to live a quiet life. That is until evil creeps in and causes trouble. Then he’s forced to revert to his past (often secret) as a violent killer, and use his hidden skills to wipe out the evil and restore order.

And it’s not just Neeson’s groove. This is a genre of movies that has exploded over the last few years. Witness John Wick I, II & III, the supremely entertaining Nobody, Kill Bill I & II, and host of other movies too numerous to list.

I’m a sucker for this kind of movie.

According to box office sales, I’m not alone. Guys (and gals, too) love seeing a seemingly normal dude unleash instant justice upon the wicked minions of darkness, corruption, and evil.

I suspect these movies are so popular because they allow us to live vicariously through the hero. We feel weak, impotent, disrespected, demoralized, and we find ourselves having to endure injustices great and small. Watching Hutch Mansell (Nobody) save a girl on a bus by taking out a gang of thugs feels really good.

And, let’s face it, there’s something beautiful about John Wick punching, shooting, slashing, and stabbing his way through a gang of evildoers in a tightly choreographed ballet of mayhem, serving out justice like a demigod.

But, this isn’t an ode to tough-guy movies. I bring all this up because it seems that these characters, the John Wicks and Hutch Mansells of Hollywood, have come to represent our society’s ideal hero—the kind of hero we wish we could be.

But, here’s the problem. And, no, it’s not that they are too violent. The problem is that these heroes are unrealistic.

To be the ideal hero you have to be some kind of special-ops badass who’s ready at a moment’s notice to save the world, or at the least put a bunch of baddies in the ground. As much as I feel really good about being able to (sometimes) shoot a nice, tight grouping at the range, the fact is, I’m not likely saving the world with a gun—or my bare hands.

Let’s be honest, no one is.

John Wick and Hutch Mansell are greatly entertaining, but part of what we love about them is that they are so unrealistic, an escape from real life. In real life, you and I will never be underworld hitmen (hitwomen? hit-making persons?), we’ll never be anti-terrorist Delta Force operators, or even lowly CIA field agents. And thus, we’ll never save the passengers on a hijacked airplane or wipe out an entire gang of eastern block mobsters.

But, putting Hollywood heroes aside, there is a way that you and I can be heroic. It’s a way that we are capable of living on a daily basis and one that doesn’t require us to have “a very particular set of skills”. Even so, it’s one of the hardest things to do—so hard that most people avoid it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described it in his 1841 essay, aptly titled, Heroism. In it, Emerson argues that to live heroically is to be true without regard for the consequences. He says that only when facing life without fear of loss can one truly live.

In essence, a hero is someone who has the courage to live the truth, regardless of what may happen to them.

If you think about it, it was the people—many of them unknown—that were willing to live the truth without fear that toppled evil empires, freed slaves, protected the weak, and brought the wicked to justice. Just now I am reminded of the many people who refused to bow to Hitler, like the Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or of the people, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who refused to submit to the lie of Soviet Communism.

It was these people and countless more like them that saw to the demise of the evil of their day. And they did it by simply living the truth with courage.

Sure, you and I aren’t facing Gestapo or KJB. At least not today. However, we are surrounded by lies; lies we’re supposedly required to participate in. We’re encouraged to get along to go along. You know what I’m talking about. Just turn on the news and you’ll get the rundown of everything you’re supposed to agree with. Or else.

It’s hard to live the truth, mainly because there often are consequences. Disagree with The Current Thing(TM) and you might just lose friends. Or you could get fired. This is why it takes courage. The upside is awesome, though, because once you start living the truth without fear you find that you are finally truly alive.

Our society needs heroes if it hopes to survive. It needs people willing to live the truth without fear.

And the great thing is, you don’t have to do anything dramatic. You can start small by focusing on two things.

First, begin to order your life around what is true and good. Cut out the garbage and embrace things that are true. I’ve talked about this in recent issues of the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt from last week:

Rather than turning on the news, pick up a book. Instead of skimming your social stream, attend a talk. Go to church as opposed to reading Reddit. The more you can broaden and deepen your understanding of the human experience the easier it becomes to overcome your biases, and to know what is true.

Second, refuse to participate in lies. You don’t have to make any grand statements or march in protests. Refusing to take part is often enough. Here’s a wonderful letter that Russian dissident Aleksander Solzhenitsyn wrote to his followers on the eve of his expulsion from the Soviet Union. It’s called Live Not By Lies and it’s a wonderful inspiration.

If you do these two things you will find over time strength and courage welling up within you. You will find that you’re actually able to live life on your terms because you do not fear. Sure, you may not be able to take out a hit-squad with your bare hands. You will, however, be free. You will be truly living. And you will be a hero in a world in need of salvation.