A Theory Of Just Measurement

"Joshua fit de battle o' Jerico...

        Within the jumbled maze of media culture and popular art of the frenzied moment that inundates our tired brains here in the 21st Century modern computer age, we can easily become confused as to exactly who or what a true hero should be.  Our impressionable children are constantly pressured by all manner of calculated advertisement to provide proof of their 'coolness', status and societal achievement by purchasing things of the immediate culturally popular.  Required ownership of such useless trophies of greed's hollow ambition is relentlessly programmed by deceptively sincere endorsement, parroting the absolute necessity of possessing an abundance of worthless corporation recrement that has no benefit toward survival, health or personal fulfillment.  Generously sprinkled in among the noisy confusion of the Wall street wizards of sound-bite sophistry, would be icons of greatness including entertainment, sports and other media personalities, seem to change in popularity almost weekly within the never ending quest of fame and a few dollars more.  As Paul Simon sang in his now famous album Graceland, "these are the days of miracle and wonder" and ". . .every generation throws a hero up the pop charts." ¹

        Americans are famous for worshipping dubious demigods of the miraculous moment such as Charles Lindberg, Albert Einstein and Babe Ruth, while individuals who are arguably more worthy examples of true heroism are often entirely ignored, left to die in the obscurity of some inner-city homeless shelter or small and impoverished African community.  If not for entertainment personality Jack Paar, it is doubtful that Albert Schweitzer would have been much known of here in the United States and today, most students, even sincere environmentally oriented college students, have never even heard of him.  Our society eagerly gave Charles Lindberg a hero's welcome, complete with New York city ticker-tape parade, yet is what he did more important and courageous than former slave Harriet Tubman's legacy of risking life and limb again and again to free hundreds of fellow slaves and who remains, rarely if ever even mentioned in our modern nation's classrooms?  Not only was this greatest of 'freedom train' riders not honored with a similar parade, our stingy government even refused to provide her with a miserly $30-per-month pension when she was of advanced age and living in poverty, even though she had served for several years as a scout in the Civil War, often leading Union troops as a more experienced guide than her male counterparts.  Perhaps before we hasten too quickly to hold up perceived noble individuals of achievement for our children to emulate, we ourselves need to rethink what it is a true hero really is. (See Rushmore for more information about Harriet Tubman.)

        There is nothing particularly wrong with admiring individuals such as Lindberg, Einstein and Ruth, three seemingly fine men of achievement in their own right, but held up to the litmus test of Human and Civil Rights, is it really a measure of absolute greatness how far one can fly solo in a small airplane over a desolate ocean or how high one scores on an I.Q. test?  Does it really positively contribute much to humanity in the long run if someone can hit a baseball farther and more often than the rest of us or if one can put a small ball in a small round cup with fewer strokes than most?  Is there a valid reason why there are no faces other than male White Anglo-Saxon Protestant on Mount Rushmore and is it fair that while women represent over one-half of our population, there continues to be no national holiday honoring an American woman of achievement?  And do motion picture and entertainment stars such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles really deserve our hallowed reverence, just because the ever-myopic media proclaims them popular gods of the frenzied moment?

        Of course it is true that eminent intellectuals, including in particular Einstein with his untiring efforts in his later days to promote peace and great athletes such as Babe Ruth, who it seems could never turn away from helping a child, sometimes possess what we may describe as a certain form of true heroism. And likewise many entertainment stars, including both Elvis and The Beatles, have used their 'star-power' to raise funds for various worthwhile charitable causes.  But looking in retrospective after they are gone, we sometimes view media icons as heroic, not so much for what they excelled at in their chosen field but rather, how they used their abilities to help their fellow human beings and to in turn, inspire us towards helping others.  Although Roberto Clemente was a very good baseball player, he is remembered more for devoting his life (and eventually losing it) to humanitarian causes than for anything he did on the baseball field and likewise, although the late George Harrison wrote and performed some of his generation's most beautiful music, even in the immediacy of his untimely death, he was eulogized more for his charitable efforts.

        Perhaps it is desirable and correct to measure greatness by the true and just yardstick of Human and Civil Rights.  In such a unbiased light, those most deserving of true heroism among us would be those who are best able to inspire and help other people while those at the bottom of anti-hero debasement would be individuals who hurt and discourage other people from helping others the most.  To refine and be even more accurate, it is probably fairest and most correct to measure human greatness by what an individual overcomes toward positive contribution, rather than by what someone superficially achieves.  By this truly just measurement, people who suffer severe paralysis and those with devastating disease would be given an equal chance at being honored for their contribution.  Indeed, it is just and right to consider Helen Keller the greatest of American heroes, as she overcame far more than most and yet, wanted to be recognized for her contribution to Human Rights rather than for the more obvious achievement of overcoming a severely physically challenged daily reality.

        In describing the history of nations, cultures and tongues, those who compile records of such tend to portray larger nations as "great civilizations" while in reality, some of the smaller and more isolated cultures have often left to posterity a more positive legacy.  Likewise, historians tend to hold up "great" military leaders as ostensibly being much more than the human butchers that most of them in reality were.  It is wise for us to pause and consider which individuals are truly revered in the ultimate litmus test of historical time; people such as Moses, Jesus, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and others in the long run, tend to be the ones that are most greatly admired and held in highest esteem.  As we go about our daily often-humdrum lives, perhaps most of us rarely pause to consider what kind of legacy we ourselves are leaving towards the enlightenment of future generations.  Nevertheless, our fragile planet and its future (and present) inhabitants would undoubtedly be a whole lot better off if we would stop to evaluate the consequences of our own presence here on Planet Earth once in a while.

        Since the death of Cesar Chavez, with the exception of President Carter, there perhaps has been no true hero of national media proportion to respond to in America.  And as badly as we need heroes to provide our children and the rest of us with proper vision and perspective, we are arguably even more in need of Someone to define for us what really constitutes a truly heroic champion among We The People of Planet Earth.  We need to move away from narrow thinking that causes people to cling to tinfoil heroes of sound-bite sophistry shallowness and little understanding and vision, away from reprobate religious fanaticism of al Qaeda and Christian Coalition superstition and strive to hold up those who, by deed rather than by word, promote the peace and goodwill of the founder of Human and Civil Rights.  "These are the days of miracle and wonder, this is the long distance call. . ." ²

 ...Joshua fit de battle o' Jerico,
    An' de walls come tumblin' down"

Special Olympics      Make A Wish Foundation

DEDICATED TO:   Helen Keller, the greatest American and to Harriet Tubman, a very great American hero who very few Americans know anything about, to the utter shame of our national government and modern 'education' system.  Why is there no national holiday or memorial in Washington D.C. honoring these two? And who is the mystery person in America who determines that paintings of flowers and pictures of automobiles are more important images for postage stamps than great heroes of our nation's past?  Also dedicated to Rocky Blier, severely injured Vietnam War veteran who came back and played starting fullback for the Super-Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and to 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti, "Something for Joey".


1. Paul Simon; from "The Boy In The Bubble", Graceland (1986).

2. Ibid.


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Copyright © August 20th, 2003 by Richard Aberdeen.

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