[This Commentary originally appeared in the March 23, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Essentially, Heels and Heroes come from the same stuff. Only the outcome of their deeds differs (or at least we view them differently). Ultimately, the critical factor leading to labeling a man (or a woman) may result from nothing more than mere luck.
Today’s essay, however, does not concern what distinguishes Heels from Heroes. Rather, it will focus on the fundamental traits shared by, indeed vital to, the soul of both. You see, only Heroes can be Heels and only Heels can be Heroes.
Within us lies a drive from the moment of our very birth. Each of us has an innate desire to excel, to achieve, in fact, to go out of our way to climb mountains. As we grow older, life’s choices force us to corral this wild energy into a manageable and useful spirit. In assessing the risks of any venture, we rationally compare the rewards with the repercussions. For example, if, as our ultimate goal in life, we wish to raise a family in a sound environment, we decide against embarking upon a career as an itinerant Hollywood stuntman.
In the course of our maturation, a few people might actually lose all but the most meager of ambitions. Our society generally views such lifelessness with disdain. (How many of you consider “couch potato” a term of endearment?) A few others might never part with their uncontrollable spunk. We label these people at best “obnoxious” and at worst “convicts.” Most of us, however, learn to redirect this powerful force in ways constructive to our families, our jobs and our communities. The greater populace bestows the title “Model Citizen” upon such folks.
A handful, though, decide to keep just a little of that wild vitality in a special bottle. Every now and then, when they think the time is right, they uncork that vial. In a sense, their rallying cry (familiar to us all) yells “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!”
That pluck, my friends, constitutes the common link between Heels and Heroes. Both have the courage to let loose the contents of self-determination, the willingness to momentarily risk going beyond the bounds, or, as ascribed by Tom Wolfe to test pilots in his seminal book The Right Stuff, “to push to the outer edge of the envelope.” In the end, only poor timing separates the Heel from the Hero (just ask General George Custer).
(Of course, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s one thing for an astronaut to have these rugged traits, but if my kid ever tried them…”)
The point of the passage, then, yields the understanding of two different, yet similar, lessons. First, we all find ourselves in situations where we fail in spite of our good intentions. Dealing with that failure always presents a difficult challenge, but remember, the very same quality which led to smashing into a brick wall sometimes leads to discovering a pot of gold. To forever disavow such vigor remains far worse than any single failed event.
Secondly, we frequently place ourselves in the position of judge and render verdicts on the actions of others. We smile at those who achieve success and frown upon those who suffer miserable failures. To the latter, we say, “Anyone with common sense would not have done that…”
Individuals with the fortitude to promote innovation fill our community. It is our sincere wish to use the SENTINEL as a means to celebrate those brave souls who possess the confidence to even attempt to climb mountains.
Week #2: Rumors Resolved (originally published March 30, 1989)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]