The Nature of Heroes
Strong is the
Soul, and wise, and beautiful: The seeds of godlike power are in us still:
Gods are we, Bards, Saints, Heroes, if we will.
You and I are the heroes who will save America and the world. To
prepare ourselves for that job, it is fitting that we take a moment to
review, honor, and understand some of our predecessors in that job. In
this chapter we are going to see what it takes to be a true hero.
There is one house keeping chore
that needs to be taken care of at the start of this examination. I would
consider it a contribution to the English-speaking peoples if I could destroy
the word heroine as the female form, presumably, of hero. I will
at least do so for the purposes of this book.
In common usage, the term heroine
connotes a helpless wimp of the female persuasion with her eyes closed
or rolled upward, the back of one hand pressed against her troubled brow,
weathering some unjust onslaught with a simpy kind of courage. She is very
much the opposite of the classic hero; indeed she is typically waiting
for her (male) hero to rescue her.
In this book, we are going to
look at all kinds of heroes-real heroes-and they are no more likely
to be male than female. I intend to call a hero a hero, not a heroine,
heroess, or heroette.
I realize that when I use the word hero it probably brings a certain
image to your mind. Though I will ask you to go beyond that imagery in
the book, it provides a useful jumping-off point for our examination.
The Old English epic poem Beowulfdescribes
the epitome of the classical hero. According to the legend, a great monster,
Grendel, nightly terrorized the great hall of the Danish king, Hrothgar,
devouring as many as thirty men in a night. The kingdom was at the mercy
of the monster, until the appearance of the young Beowulf. Pledging to
save the castle, Beowulf entered into a mighty battle with the monster,
tearing off Grendelís are and sending him packing to the moors, mortally
wounded. When Grendelís mother, the water-demon, began terrorizing the
castle to avenge her son, Beowulf again took up the challenge. Tracking
her to the bottom of the sea, Beowulf killed Grendelís mother and returned
victorious, bearing Grendelís severed head.
In recognition for his mighty
contribution, Beowulf eventually succeeded to the kingship, where he reigned
peacefully for fifty years. As an aging king, however, Beowulf saw his
people ravage by a fire-breathing dragon. Again, disaster waited in the
wings, as the old man engaged a long and painful battle. His men deserted
him, but Beowulf fought on. Eventually, Beowulfís sword broke, and the
dragon sunk his poison teeth into the old kingís neck, yet Beowulf fought
on. In the end, the dragon was slain and the kingdom saved, but the might
Beowulf had been mortally wounded and died.
Beowulf epitomizes the essential
qualities of the classical hero: risking personal sacrifice on behalf of
the common good. Yet Beowulf is scarcely alone in this regard. Achilles
gave up his life on behalf of the Achaean attach on Troy. In the various
legends of the quest for the Holy Grail, Perceval, Galahad, and Gawain
provide models of sacrifice and loyalty. Robin Hood offers still another
example of this classical version of heroism.
Theories of Heroism
Each of the heroes discussed
above is a legendary character. While it is debatable whether they have
any grounding in reality, it is generally agreed that the stories that
have come down to us over time are at least partly fiction. Such heroic
tales occupy an important place in the history of literature.
Prior to the appearance of legendary
heroes, literature was focused on the godly domain: religious hymns and
myths about the gods. Eventually, these were joined by the songs of wandering
bards honoring human heroes. Finally, epic poems were written down, carrying
from generation to generation the stories of mortal beings-capable of suffering
and death-rising above the human condition to perform "heroic" feats. The
epic heroes embodied the virtues of courage, sacrifice, altruism, and integrity.
Clearly, they were intended to teach humans about their own potential and
to inspire them to realize it. Thus, when Aristotle set about the task
of educating Alexander the Great, he used the epic hero as his model. The
young Alexander learned the he could be as heroic as Ajax or Achilles.
In the process, Alexander was to become himself a model for later generations.
Heroes served a similar function
in other cultures, though their form varied. Thus, Hindu heroes were typically
great religious teachers. In Buddhism, they were most often ascetic renouncers
of the material world. The original Christian heroes were martyrs. Viking
heroes, by contrast, were more typically great warriors. Among the Onondaga
tribe of the North American Indians, the legendary chief, Hiawatha, symbolized
civilization and human progress. In each case, however, the function of
epic heroes was educational.
In 1920, L.R. Farnell examined
the manner in which the lessons embodied in the Greek heroes were perpetuated
in the form of heroic cults. He found cults arising around many different
types of heroes. In addition to the epic heroes, some were more priestly
in quality, some were genealogical heroes, others were demons. All together,
Farnell identified seven types of Greek heroes who became immortalized
through the formation of cults. In all cases, the heroes represented values
that made life worth living.
In Farnellís view, the Greek
heroes reflected the human aspiration to fully develop the quality of being
human. The heroes showed the possibility of rising above the limitations
of mortal life. In a similar analysis, Joseph Campbell has argued that
the traditional heroes are a symbol of humanityís spiritual quest.
Though heroes appeared thousands
of years ago, they are hardly limited to the past. Heroes abound in our
own time. Many are clearly fictional. As a child, I grew up with Superman,
Superwoman, Superboy, the Marvels (Captain, Mary, and Captain, Jr.), the
Greens (Lantern and Hornet), Wonder Woman, and others I still remember,
plus great legions I have forgotten. Not inappropriately, many of these
childhood idols came to me courtesy of Hero comics. Others came over the
radio airwaves: Tom Mix, Sky King, the Shadow, and others.
My son, Aaron, has grown up
with many of these heroes, plus many I never knew as a child. I mean, Stowe,
Vermont, where I grew up, was never saved by Godzilla or any of his kin.
But Aaron grew up in Honolulu, and many of his earliest heroes came by
way of KIKI, the local Japanese-language television station. In Honolulu
(and presumably in Japan), this was the era of the Japanese superheroes.
Some, like Godzilla, might be classified as benign monsters; Kikaida and
friends were gigantic super-robots.
All these superheroes, mine
and Aaronís, had one thing in common: nobody over four or five years of
age believed they were real, even though many were portrayed that way.
Who was the Shadow but Lamont Cranston using his "power to cloud menís
minds." (Back then, it apparently wasnít necessary to cloud womenís minds.)
Captain Marvel was only a "Shazam!" away from little Billy Batson.
Still, we were kind of sure they were just made up.
Some of my childhood heroes
lived on the border between imagination and reality. Although I suspected
that Gene Autry didnít really ride the range saving cowgirls and
their mortgaged ranches, I nonetheless figured it couldnít be all made
John Wayne was surely the epitome
of the modern hero while I was growing up. Especially when directed by
John Ford, the Duke was unquestionably a "manís man." He was at his masculine
best as a cowboy, a leatherneck on Iwo Jima, or as a fighting Seabee.
One of the modern heroes of
my youth had more substance. Audie Murphy, star of The Red Badge of
Courage and other action films, was a genuine hero in real life: the
most decorated American soldier of World War II. During his three years
of active duty in the Army, the freckled, baby-faced boy from Farmersville,
Texas, was awarded fourteen medals, including the Distinguished Service
Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and
the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Murphy earned the nationís highest
military award on January 26, 1946, in France. The nineteen-year-old second
lieutenant was commanding Company B when it came under heavy tank and infantry
attack. Ordering his men to retreat, Murphy stayed in a forward position,
calling in artillery fire. When a nearby American tank destroyer was hit
and began burning, Murphy leaped up on it and began firing the .50-caliber
machine gum on the advancing German troops. Surrounded by the enemy on
three sides, aware that the tank destroyer might explode at any time, Murphy
single-handedly stopped the German advance for an hour, killing dozens
of enemy soldiers in the process. Finally, wounded in the leg, his ammunition
exhausted, Murphy abandoned the tank destroyer, and, refusing medical aid,
led his company in a counterattack that ultimately forced the enemy to
withdraw in defeat.
This was the stuff of which
the traditional heroes were made. No wonder the U.S. Army chose to hold
Murphy out to the nation as an example of all that was most worthy of our
collective admiration and respect. It seemed perfectly natural that Murphy
would go to Hollywood to become an actor. That was World War II, the last
"good" war. Korea was to prove a national frustration, Vietnam a national
crisis. Few Americans would recognize the name of Joe Hooper, our most
decorated soldier in Vietnam. War heroes arenít what they used to be.
The Qualities of Heroism
What distinguishes heroes? In
some eras, heroism has hinged on the ability and willingness to do great
violence to others. This characterizes great warriors, juvenile gang leaders,
and others. Great hunters do violence to animals: St. George and Beowulf,
Even leaving aside those cultural
traditions that revere religious leaders or great scholars, doing violence
is not an essential quality in heroes in societies like own, with its John
Waynes and Audi Murphys. I suggest that Audie Murphy was not revered so
much for the number of Germans he killed as for the courage it took
for him to stand his ground in the face of almost certain death. It is
clearly the quality of courage that lets us award the same Congressional
Medal of Honor to Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector raised in the
Seventh Day Adventist Church. Refusing to kill, Doss served as a corpsman
in the South Pacific. This excerpt from his Medal of Honor citation explains
how a pacifist could be awarded the nationís highest military honor:
As our troops gained the summit,
a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire crashed
into them, inflicting approximately seventy-five casualties and riving
others back. Private Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept
area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the
escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the
face of a cliff to friendly hands.
On May 2, he exposed himself
to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward
of the lines on the same escarpment; and two days later he treated four
men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing
through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces in a
caveís mouth, where he dressed his comradesí wounds before making four
separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
On May 21, in a night attack
on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest
of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would
be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured
until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of
a grenade Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his
own injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and
started carrying him to cover.
The trio was caught in an enemy
tank attack and Private Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby,
crawled off the litter and directed the bearers to give their first attention
to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearerís return, he was again struck,
this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. With magnificent fortitude
he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled
300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.
Even though Doss refused to kill
anyone, it would be difficult to deny his heroism, and his nation did not.
President Truman presented Doss with the Congressional Medal of Honor on
October 12, 1945.
Hereís a more recent example
of nonviolent heroism. The time is about four in the afternoon of January
13, 1982. The place: Washingtonís National Airport, blanketed in snow and
ice. After several delays, Air Floridaís Flight 90 had finally received
clearance to take off and was roaring down the runway. Like his fellow
passengers, Arland Williams, a forty-six-year-old senior examiner at the
Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, was just getting settled in for the flight
when something went wrong. After a dramatic shudder, the Boeing 737 smashed
into the Fourteenth Street Bridge and fell into the icy Potomac.
Once the initial shock passed,
onlookers could see a piece of the planeís broken-off tail section afloat
in the river, with four people clinging to it. Then a fifth person bobbed
up to waterís surface and was pulled to the tail section. Given the freezing
conditions and their distance from shore, survival was uncertain at best.
At 4:20, a U.S. Park Police
helicopter arrived on the scene. Hovering over the floating debris, they
lowered a line to Bert Hamilton, one of the five. Hamilton grabbed the
line with all his strength and was soon being lifted out of the water and
whisked through the wintry air to safety on shore.
The helicopter returned and
dropped its line to Arland Williams, who quickly passed it to Kelly Duncan,
a flight attendant. Duncan was carried safely ashore. The helicopter returned
and dropped the line once more to Williams. This time he passed it to Joe
Stiley, a severely injured passenger. By no, all the victims were suffering
badly from the icy exposure, and it was vital to get them ashore as soon
as possible. Stiley grabbed another passenger, Priscilla Tirado. A second
line was dropped this time, and it was passed to Patricia Felch.
As the helicopter again lifted
higher in the air, it became evident that too much had been attempted in
one trip. Both Tirado and Felch fell back into the water during transport.
When the helicopter rushed back to rescue Tirado, she was too weak to take
the line. At this point, an onlooker standing on the shore, Lenny Skutnik,
leaped into the icy water and swam out to get her. The helicopter then
proceeded to where Felch had fallen, and Rescue Officer Gene Windsor dropped
into the water to attach a line to her.
Four lives had been saved. Now,
thirty minutes after the crash, the helicopter returned to the floating
tail section for Arland Williams, who had repeatedly passed the life-saving
line to others. Williams was gone. His heroism had cost him his life. Gene
Windsor wept as he described what Williams had done that day in the middle
of a freezing river: "He could have gone on the first trip, but he put
everyone else ahead of himself. Everyone."
As powerfully moving as raw
courage is, heroism involves something else, something common to the stories
of Beowulf, Audi Murphy, Desmond Doss, Arland Williams, and Lenny Skutnik
alike. Each acted out of a sense of responsibility for something bigger
than himself. Each acted, in the words of the Congressional Medal of Honor
citation, "above and beyond the call of duty."
Doss could have waited for the
wounded. Murphy could have retreated with his troops, just as Beowulf could
have passed by the court of Hrothgar as a bad place to be. Williams could
have taken the rope for himself, and Skutnik certainly could have stayed
safely on shore. Each could have gotten by with much less and not been
criticized. Yet each took on a bigger measure of responsibility than absolutely
necessary for their own survival.
This, I suggest, is the essential
core of heroism. At the very least, it is the quality most needed in the
heroes of the present and the future. What sets heroes aside from the rest
of humanity is the willingness to assume a personal responsibility for
I use the word responsibility
with caution, because of all the extraneous meanings weíve come to associate
with it. Still, it is the appropriate word for my purpose, so let me define
what I mean by responsibility in this book. Mostly Iíll talk about what
I donít mean. This will be a bit like the advice psychologist Jim
Fadiman offers to those who might want to sculpt an elephant: "Get a piece
of granite and chip away everything that doesnít look like an elephant."
H.L.A. Hart dramatizes the many
meanings of the word responsibility in this marvelous paragraph:
As captain of the ship, X
was responsible for the safety of his passengers and crew. But on this
last voyage he got drunk every night and was responsible for the loss of
the ship with all aboard. It was rumored that he was insane, but the doctors
considered that he was responsible for his actions. Throughout the voyage
he behaved quite irresponsibly, and various incidents in his career showed
that he was not a responsible person. He always maintained that the exceptional
winter storms were responsible for the loss of the ship, but in the legal
proceeding brought against him he was found criminally responsible for
the loss of life and property. He is still alive and he is morally responsible
for the deaths of many women and children.
When I use the term responsibility
in this book, I mean specifically to omit any sense of blame, burden,
or guilt. This specification, youíll note, rules out most of the meanings
conveyed in Hartís paragraph.
As I will use the word, responsibility
is assumed, not assigned, undertaken rather than imposed.
I am interested in responsibility as a function of declaration rather
than duty. This book is about people who take on responsibility where no
one else would regard them as responsible.
By responsibility, I almost
mean "ability to respond." We will be looking at people who come to lifeís
circumstances as something they can respond to with impact rather than
being the helpless victims of conditions beyond their control.
Letís shift to some mundane
examples of living with responsibility. Imagine that you live alone in
an apartment. You do not have a maid or a weekly cleaning person. Imagine
further that you have invited some friends over for the evening, you serve
them some beer and snacks, and the next morning you discover your living
room has a number of empty beer cans and snack plates scattered around.
Who would you hold "responsible" for picking up the beer cans and plates?
Before you too quickly dismiss
this question as ridiculous, look at some of the possibilities available:
The point of this hypothetical
situation is that when you get up the next morning and survey the condition
of your apartment, you are going to feel responsible for cleaning the place
up. That is not to say that you will necessarily do anything about it,
but you wonít be holding out for someone else to do anything. Three weeks
later, if the beer cans and plates are still there, you probably wonít
be blaming anyone else for the mess.
You, of course,
come to mind and weíll get back to you in a moment.
You shouldnít dismiss your friends too hastily. After all, they probably
created more of the mess than you did.
If youíre renting the apartment, you might want consider the possibility
that your landlord is responsible for picking up the beer cans and plates.
Hey, donít forget the government. God knows, the mass of national, state,
and local laws might contain something that says some government agency
is supposed to clean your apartment.
Now letís look at another hypothetical
situation. Suppose youíve invited the same friends over, but his is more
of a class act. Instead of beer, youíre preparing a special champagne punch
youíve copied out of Cosmopolitan magazine. Now, just as your first
guests arrive, you realize that you donít have any glasses. You had planned
to use those clear plastic lowball glasses you could buy at any liquor
store or supermarket-but you didnít get any.
The point of all this is: How
do you feel when you discover you donít have any glasses? Again, itís worth
checking off the alternatives. You could inform you first guest,
"No glassee, no drinkee," and help yourself to the punch. More esoterically,
you could turn to your first guest and snap, "Well, are you going to stand
there, or are you going to go out and get some glasses?" Or you could call
a government agency. . . .
Unquestionably, you would feel
responsible for getting glasses for your guests. You probably wouldnít
even think about it. It would be that obvious. Even if you asked your first
guest to run out and get some glasses for you, there would be no question
about who was responsible for have glasses at the party.
Now letís consider another hypothetical
situation. You are attending a community meeting at city hall. Someone
has prepared a huge pot of coffee, but there are no cups. People are gathering
around the coffee pot, making fun comments about the lack of cups. "Itís
a new program for people who are cutting down of coffee." "A cup! A cup!
My kingdom for a cup!" "I knew I shouldnít have come here without my coffee
Probably you stand there with
the others, thinking up clever one-liners and waiting for something to
happen. Itís unlikely that you have the sinking feeling that arrived with
the discovery that youíd forgotten the plastic glasses for your party.
Clearly this isnít your responsibility; itís not your problem. Someone
else is responsible for this one. Youíre in the clear.
There are people-you may be
one-who would feel responsible for this situation. Not responsible in the
sense of being to blame or guilty, but responsible in the sense of doing
something about the situation. Such a person would probably start searching
around City Hall for a kitchen and some styrofoam cups. As mundane as such
behavior may seem, such people are the heroes of the modern world. They
are the ones, incidentally, who organize the neighborhood to get a stop
sign, who organize a protest against the threat of thermonuclear war. They
donít necessarily look like the old heroes. They come in all sizes, colors,
The New Heroes
Hereís an example of the new
form of hero who will determine the fate of our nation and of the world.
Shannon Gordon was a patient at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital in California,
being treated for aplastic anemia. This disease, which primarily attacks
teenagers and young adults, centers on the failure of bone marrow to produce
sufficient blood cells. That dysfunction, in turn, lowers the victimís
resistance to infection and is often fatal.
Aplastic anemia doesnít offer
the most enjoyable lifestyle for anyone, and Shannon had every reason to
feel sorry for herself and curry other peopleís pity. Shannon Gordon wasnít
that type of person, however, as reporter Bonnie Ambler discovered when
her own daughter check into Long Beach Memorial with a blood disorder.
Ambler and her daughter found Shannon functioning as "the self-appointed
goodwill ambassador of the hospitalís childrenís unit." Dragging along
her own intravenous unit, Shannon wandered through the ward bringing encouragement
and her own philosophy to the other patients.
"Gee, Iím just a kid, too, and
I get needles all the time," she reassured Amblerís daughter, Heather.
Shannon was a source of comfort and courage for both mother and daughter.
Ambler reports, "When I was wondering if my daughter would respond to therapy,
or even if she would live, it was Shannon who fed me the strength to face
whatever happened. She was quiet and gentle with me in those dark hours,
but when Heather did respond it was Shannon who led the celebration."
In addition to her regular rounds
through the ward, Shannon wrote articles for the hospital newsletter aimed
at helping children and their parents to cope with serious illnesses. But
that was not permanent enough, so Shannon persuaded the hospitalís social
worker to assist her in preparing a videotape, called "Shannonís View."
The purpose of the videotape was to help health workers and parents to
understand the feelings of children stricken with catastrophic illnesses.
What drove Shannon Gordon? Clearly
no one expected her to take on a personal responsibility for the well-being
of other children and their parents. And yet she was determined to do it.
As Ambler got to know Shannon,
she found the young girl quite willing to discuss her own disease, as well
as her fears of dying. As the reporter eventually discovered, "Shannonís
greatest fear about the prospect of death was that it would come before
she had lived long enough ëto make a differenceí in her would." A greater
concern than death itself was the possibility that her short life would
make no contribution to others.
With Shannonís condition much
worsened, Ambler spent one last night at her bedside. Despite her own pain,
Shannon sensed the reporterís anxiety and insisted they talk. Shannon shared
with her what she called "the bottom line": "Are you happy? Is your world
OK?" Ambler concludes, "Shannon died the next morning in her motherís arms.
Her life had lasted thirteen years-long enough to make a difference."
Heroism has no age limit. I
stress that because we have constructed a formidable barrier to young people
being responsible for the world around them. When they find discrepancies
between our stated ideals and the way things are, they often speak out.
And often they are put down for their concerns. "You are too young." "Things
are more complicated than that. " "You donít understand." "Youíre still
young. Wait till you grow up." Such advice often initiates a lifetime of
powerlessness and apathy. Fortunately, young people often ignore that advise.
It was largely Americaís youth
who drew attention to the persistence of racial segregation at mid-century.
Young people such as Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and
others gave their lives in turning national attention to the outrage. It
was largely Americaís youth who brought a halt to our national misadventure
in Vietnam. And their contribution has not been limited to what some would
regard as "trouble-making." The residents of Fort Wayne, Indiana can attest.
Early in 1982, the Midwestern
town of Fort Wayne was devastated by heavy rains and flooding. With the
townís rivers threatening to overflow and destroy the community, it was
Fort Wayneís teenagers who came to the rescue. Day and night they filled
sandbags and built levees. As the waters rose, they built the banks higher.
As the waters rose further, more teenagers arrived, and they raised the
levees higher still. They refused to quite until the danger had been averted
and the town saved.
Jim Hickey, covering the story
for ABC News, told of their heroism and dedication. "Those kids ware already
there working when we arrived with the cameras, and they were still working
when we left. They werenít doing it for television. They were doing it
for their town."
A similar quality was is evidence
during the early hours of February 9, 1984, in Hayward, California. Shaw
Ryan and his mother were asleep in their apartment. Shawnís father a night
watchman, was away at work.
At around four A.M., Shawn was
awakened by the smell of smoke. He leaped out of bed and made his way to
his parentís bedroom, where he awoke his mother and instructed her to call
911 for assistance. While she called, Shawn soaked a towel in water and
put it over his mouth as he led his mother outside to safety.
While the urge to save his mother
might be attributed to some form of animal instinct, a broader sense of
responsibility sent Shawn back into the burning apartment building and
took him from apartment to apartment, banging on doors, and waking the
other seventeen residents. Shawn Ryan was clearly operating above and beyond
what we normally demand of seven-year-olds, and in doings so, he demonstrated
what very young people are capable of.
Often, opportunities for heroism
arrive in the form of tragedy. At such moments we are offered the choice
of retreating into personal sorrow or stepping forward to take responsibility
for sparing others the same tragedy. Such was the choice facing Candy Lightner
on May 3, 1980. Hereís how she describes it:
On a beautiful spring afternoon
in 1980, I drove home after a shopping trip and found my father and ex-husband
waiting for me, their faces ashen and tears in their eyes.
Steve, my ex-husband, said,
"Weíve lost Cari."
I patted him on the back and
replied, "Itís okay, weíll find her."
"You donít understand, " he
said. "A man came along with a car, and killed her-and left her to die!"
As Lightner was to learn, her thirteen-year-old
daughter had been walking to a church carnival with a friend "when a drunk
swerved off the road and hit her with such a sickening force that she was
hurled a hundred and twenty feet through the air." She was dead within
As if the pain of her loss were
not enough, Lightner was horrified as learned more about her daughterís
killer. In the four years prior to killing Cari, he had earned three drunk
driving convictions-and spent a total of forty-eight hours in jail! Moreover,
at the time he killed Cari, he was out on bail from a hit-and-run drunk
driving arrest two days earlier. Despite this unenviable record, Cariís
killer was able to plea bargain "no contest" to a single charge of vehicular
manslaughter and all other charges pending against him were dropped.
No one would have blamed Candy
Lightner for retiring from life with her tragedy. Her friends surely would
have whispered about how she should get out more, how she couldnít mourn
forever. But they would have "understood."
Candy Lightner chose a different
course of action: "I promised myself on the day of Cariís death that I
would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive
in the years ahead." Forming Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), Lightner
set out to reform the nationís laws on drunk driving.
In California, MADD was credited
with prompting the nationís toughest anti-drunk-driving law, and drunk
driving laws and arrests were reported to have decreased by twenty percent
in the first moth after the law went into effect. Moreover, some two hundred
MADD chapters had been formed throughout most other states.
Candy Lightner is an example
of the modern hero. Her heroism did not require her to kill anyone, nor
even risk her own life. What it did require was her willingness to take
personal responsibility for a public problem she didnít cause. Where some
heroes earn their stripes by putting their lives on the line for a few
seconds or minutes, those like Lightner do so by committing themselves
to the less dramatic day-in day-out work of creating a better would for
Heroism is still alive in modern
America. And yet, it is stacked up against heavy odds, as weíre going to
see. Letís start looking at some of the obstacles that confront those who
would take responsibility for public affairs.