In Times of Crisis, We Need Heroes

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I live in Boston.

Since April 15, just saying where I live has meant something other than announcing I like the Red Sox, or I drive like an aggressive jerk, or I talk with a funny accent (I don’t). Boston has become synonymous with tragedy, the object of pity and political yammering. Now, weeks after those bombs went off in the middle of my city, the whole country is trying to figure out what it all means. In the middle of the chaos I didn’t care what it meant; I just wanted to feel safe. So as much as I needed CNN and NPR, I needed Captain Picard.

OK, I know Star Trek is a shallow fantasy when compared to the weight of real human darkness. But myth matters. Our cultural myths tell us what to do when things get bad. If you’re a Christian, you might take comfort in the parables of Jesus. If you’re a science fiction geek, you might turn to your own cultural canon, the stories that explain that even though things get dark, it’s always worth it to communicate, to adapt, to work together.

Americans are amazing culture exporters. Our childhood heroes migrate around the world faster than Santa Claus on the back of a Coca-Cola truck. To some, America is the land of cowboys putting a “boot in your ass.” We’re a culture of mavericks, self-assured heroes, rugged individuals. These are terrific qualities to have in a crisis. When Captain Kirk swaggers across the stars, or Tony Stark fells a terrorist cell with a snap of his metal-clad fingers, they’re following in a grand American tradition. But that tradition isn’t for me.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc PicardAmericans also have a tradition of acceptance, inclusion, and compromise. It’s harder to see, because it’s not as sexy as watching lone gunslinger paint the town red. But you can see it when an outsider like Kal-El is raised up into Superman. You can see it when Buffy’s Scooby Gang rescues her from certain death. You can see it on the latter-day Enterprises, where teamwork trumps individual glory time and time again. I recently re-watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard genuinely argues that the Crystalline Entity, which has been killing thousands upon thousands of people all across the stars, has every right to exist. Although the characters may feel anger and grief, retaliation is clearly the wrong answer every time.

I wish we had more of that sentiment as more details come to light about the Boston Marathon bombers. Angry though I may be for the evil things that happened in my city, I would rather focus on the immense good that people have done in the wake of that tragedy: the emergency workers who saved lives before the ambulances ever came, the volunteers who brought comfort to the wounded, the city that remained calm and collected as police officers did their work. As another fan of cooperation once said, “Look for the helpers, you will always find people helping.” Shouldn’t we give just as much adulation to helpers as we do to innovators and rebels? Shouldn’t kids aspire to be team players as much as they aspire to be heroes of their own life stories?

This week, I’m going to honor the people who broker peace and encourage calm. I’m going to go back through the back-catalog of American myth that encourages helpfulness and self-sacrifice. For all that we profess to love that cowboy swagger, when it comes to crisis the American people are pretty darn good at working together.

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Comments

  • ProCo

    “Boston has become synonymous with tragedy”

    Really?

  • http://twitter.com/Scottweatherly Scott Weatherly

    I love the sentiment of this and agree whole heartedly. Following the riots that spread across parts of Britain a few years ago there was anger, fear and confusion. Out of that came a sway of people that simply turned up with brooms, no joking, and helped clean up and get people back to their normal lives.

    It’s always fun to see batman kick’n ass and taking names but I always get a lump in my throat when I see real people helping in any little way. A true comfort for me that, in this age of terror, the world can actually be one small gesture away from the world it should be,

  • justicegray

    To be fair, I think the author of this article is quite young.

  • Happily LS

    Shut up, drama queen.

  • Beantownbrown

    I’ve grown up lived in Boston all my life, and I can say that this city has become synonymous with resiliency and strength.

  • shaunn

    I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments and your desire to appeal to more positive influences than the call for retaliation. That is a noble and worthwhile sentiment. Having said this, however, I feel compelled to point out that it might help a lot to keep this in perspective. Far, far worse things happen every week (and sometimes every day) in other parts of the world. The only thing that makes the Boston Marathon bombing unique is that it happened in the US and that the bombers were pretty inept, despite the terrible injuries and three deaths that their actions caused. For the latter, we can be grateful – a really well-equipped terrorist (such as can be found right now in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and numerous other places) could have done far, far more damage.

  • SageShinigami

    No, to be fair she said “Since April 15″. Let’s not poke holes where holes don’t exist.

  • justicegray

    Your statement doesn’t nullify mine, or the one before it.

  • Sam Robards, Comic Fan

    The overall message of the column is a good one, but it’s completely undermined by…

    “But myth matters. Our cultural myths tell us what to do when things get bad. If you’re a Christian, you might take comfort in the parables of Jesus. If you’re a science fiction geek, you might turn to your own cultural canon…”

    Whether you meant to make it this way or not, this is horribly mean-spirited and demeaning. It seems like you’re saying, “Oh course relating Christianity to sci-fi and cultural myths makes sense. They’re both make-believe escapism!”

    And in a piece that’s supposed to be endorsing unity and working together, you contradict your message before you’ve even presented it by seemingly trying to take potshots at my faith.

    This piece would have been better served had the sentence about Christianity, which is incredibly divisive, been excised or replaced with an example from a fictional genre.

  • Yorick

    Well, the Bible is (mainly) a work of fiction so I don’t see an issue there.

  • http://www.spinoffonline.com Kevin Melrose

    No matter whether you believe the Bible to be (mostly) fact or (mostly) fiction, I don’t think there’s any indication the parables of Jesus are presented as recollections of actual events; they’re stories told to make a point or teach a lesson.

    There’s nothing mean-spirited about what Anna wrote.

  • justicegray

    You can downvote me all you want, Shin. It probably won’t change things. ;)

  • justicegray

    He was saying that Anna’s reference to “cultural myth” in Christianity made it sound like Christianity was a myth. In that situation, he is totally correct – it is a mean-spirited and demeaning statement. It’s unclear which one Anna meant. I took as the former but excused it because Anna’s writing gives me the impression she’s really young.

  • Sam Robards, Comic Fan

    Exactly. Apologies if my phrasing was a bit too strong.

    I wasn’t saying what I said to be mean or pick on the author: I don’t know what her intent was. I can only comment on how I read it, which, in this instance, carried a negative connotation.

    If phrased or organized differently, I’m sure the article could’ve contained all the same pieces and better delivered the message, which was a very good message.

  • ellid

    But she’s right. A lot of Christian tropes (the resurrected god, the virgin birth, the willing sacrifice) are taken directly from other myths.

    Sorry.

  • shaunn

    I understand your point, but if the author feels that Christianity is a cultural myth, she has the right to say that. Moreover, factually, she is quite correct. It is easily possible to trace how religions evolve and what tropes and myths they adopt and adapt through historical analysis. I strongly recommend the book “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. He traces the development of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god in a very accessible way.