When I was growing up, DC Comics and comic heroes like “Batman”, and “Superman”, and “Wonder Woman”, were ubiquitous at local convenient store stands. I remember eagerly reading about the so-called comic book, “Justice League” and how these fictional heroes gathered forces and jointly fought off evil foes. The heroic exploits extended to Saturday morning cartoons in the 1970s to 1980s with the “Super Friends”. In grade school, I too had learned about Greek myths and Greek mythological heroes. So, there were overlaps in my readings about fictional heroes.
Today, I look back on these years and wonder how much such readings have shaped my current worldview. I know now the world is a much more complex place than comic books and Greek myths allude to. Even so, these past fictional heroes are still etched in my mind.
Most real heroes we know have feet of clay as indicated in the Book of Daniel in the Bible but so too in Lord Byron’s poem, “Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte” (1814): “…Those Pagod things of sabre sway
With fonts of brass, and feet of clay.”
The hero, Napoleon Buonaparte, is flawed, as all humans are and whether or not, one’s heroes are American presidents, or military leaders, or civil rights leaders, or peace activists, and so on.
This is also why the Greek mythological gods were so knowable and relatable because they are so humanlike. It is also how comic book heroes are depicted today, as human and imperfect, in films such as “Iron Man”, also the super-ego of character, Tony Stark.
Moreover, Mohandas Gandhi, despite being an icon for peace and political peace movements worldwide, allegedly mistreated women in his life, including his wife. Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. supposedly had several extra-marital affairs with women. While more recently, there have been more dubious claims from newly revealed FBI reports about King’s behavior as noted by historian David Garrow. Yet, as other historians have rightly pointed out, much of these allegations are based upon rumors.
Regardless, all human heroes, as mentioned, and no matter how famous, are flawed in some way because they are human. More importantly, the historic peaceful actions of both Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are undeniable and worthy of timeless praise. Their historic influences and legacies in how we view mediation, peace, and peaceful movements have left indelible impressions upon our world and also both men live on today in how we create a more peaceful existence.
It is my contention that we celebrate not only great peace heroes like Gandhi and King but the ones who are everyday peacemakers and peace workers. Here, by peacemaker and peace worker, I mean broadly those who work toward making a better society and through their actions create a more livable and peaceful coexistence.
Such monikers for these “everyday people”, may seem unusual for those who actually work in peace studies, but I think not.
Most are unsung heroes like teachers working in lower socio-economic public schools; or psychiatrists working in mental health clinics; or nurses in hospitals and different health settings; or medical doctors in emergency rooms; or social workers; or psychologists; or many governmental workers; or firemen; or policemen; or public defenders; or clergy who defend migrants; or clergy working with the poor; or those who work with the homeless; and all those who spend their careers in mediation and working in conflict resolution and peace studies. Some of these unsung heroes may find it strange, I call them peace workers, but I think it can be argued they are indeed such people for making our own existence more peaceable. And while we have made so many notable technological advancements, we hardly think how we have socially advanced toward better living.
There are so many unsung heroes who work behind the scenes in order to make our world a better place but we barely recognize them at all. As a society, we seem to be fixated by the lives of the Kardashians, or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, or The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or Hollywood movie stars, or rock stars, or sports stars, and so on, rather than those everyday heroes making our society livable and more peaceable.
We seem to forget how beyond the false glamor and veneer of the Hollywood-ization of America, there are those who work every day to make the world a better place for everyone. So, why are the everyday heroes “not” celebrated as much as they should be? Or, why are those working toward peace and those working in mediation less known and often ignored? It seems many of us would rather aspire to fame and wealth than work toward meaningful change. But there are enough of the latter in society who continue to do good works despite the non-recognition. Undoubtedly, most working toward a better world and those working toward making society better do so out of a sense of duty and a love of their work. Most of these good people do not expect to be recognized, nor want to be.
What is more, we know our world today is a much less violent place than it was in the distant past according to the likes of Steven Pinker in his well-regarded book (2011): The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. And even though I believe Pinker’s thesis to be true, there is still so much work to be done. For example, we cannot deny the numerous genocides of the twentieth-century, inclusive of the Holocaust. Nor can we deny the impact of World War II on humanity and its estimation of 70 million worldwide deaths, or even the almost 22 million deaths from World War I.
World War II was responsible for more worldwide deaths in the millions than any previous war. And yet, if we compare the millions of deaths in either World War I or World War II to the distant past and more distant wars, we find that in comparison to the general world population these wars in the 20th century were dwarfed by past major conflicts—an example, the Mongol Conquests of the 13th and 14th centuries with deaths numbering as much as 40 million out of an estimated global 380 million population, or 10% of world deaths. Whereas World War II caused approximately 3% of worldwide death of the 2.3 billion population at the time.
Moreover, since World War II the major economic world powers have not fought each other and in historical terms this post-war period has been labelled the “Long Peace” by historian John Lewis Gaddis. However, major world powers, such as the United States, have invaded smaller countries and have caused much damage as in conflicts in Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. Hence, the label of “peace” may be overstated.
In sum, my point is that because violence is overall decreasing as a trend among humans from the past to present, we should be more mindful of those who actually make our society better from day to day. We should be mindful of those “unsung heroes” who day in and day out work in “helping people”. They are not Supermen or Wonder Women per se as comic heroes, but certainly are in their own right, and in a real way they are “the real heroes”. They make a difference in people’s lives. And these differences have wide reaching consequences and effects—peaceful outcomes.
Additionally, all the major world religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all promote charity and peace and betterment. As such, the peace project does not have to be limited to practitioners or specialists but something we may share in, even in small ways. As the author and activist, Arundhati Roy wrote in her 1997 novel, The God of Small Things: “And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”
May the small actions of helping people become big things and may they be celebrated more often. May you all have “Peace and Joy” during this Holiday Season! And may there be more peace in this new year and in this coming decade beginning in 2020!