So on Monday, Charles Ramsey heard a woman crying out for help in his Cleveland neighborhood. He kicked down the door to what turned out to be the resolution to at least three missing persons cases more than a decade old. With his boot, he ended the torture and imprisonment of three young women who had been plucked off the street years ago by a very, very bad man, Ariel Castro.
Charles Ramsey went on to numerous television interviews and proved to be an engaging storyteller. He’s funny. He’s animated. He’s bright. And he feels terrible that he’s lived next door for more than a year while these women were cruelly abused by a man Charles Ramsey has barbequed with.
And today we learn that Charles Ramsey has served prison time for felony domestic abuse. He went to jail for beating his wife.
It seems we can put heroes on pedestals or fillet them to their sundry parts, some of which are bound to be ordinary or even sub-par. Disappointment, either way, is inevitable. Construct a superhuman image of a mere mortal and that’s arguably psychologically unhealthy for both the hero and the rabble left to worship an unachievable standard. Dredge up a hero’s less-than-heroic moments and somehow the triumph is diminished.
It’s a struggle to find the right temperature of love for heroism. We need heroes. Or more accurately, we need heroic moments. Then it seems against our nature to let these intersections of time and place stand on their own. We cast the hero into both the past and the future, and only in the mode of their moment of glory. When that doesn’t match up to what they’ve done or what they will do, we seem to find that the particular moment that gave us goosebumps and a lump in our throat is farther away in our mind than where we thought we’d put it.
We dig. We dig knowing that it’s too good to be true. And I don’t know whether it’s the right thing, knocking them back. Maybe it serves a purpose, avoids too much distance between ourselves and our heroes. In the end, maybe it keeps us in their company, increasing the odds that we may dare to join their ranks if needs be.
Or maybe, as it feels this morning, we need to be careful sawing off our heroes at the knees. We can ill afford to have it play into those seconds or milliseconds of calculation in an emergency. The thought if I do this, and it helps, every other thing I’ve ever done is going to be held up in comparison against this moment would leave a lot of people stranded on the cold side of assistance.
6 thoughts on “Now what? Heroes: build them up, then knock ’em down”
I think each situation has to be evaluated separately. It was bad for him to beat his wife. It was good that he made an attempt to help someone. Society is too ready with the word “hero”.
I think we’re better off looking at heroic acts, as Mary Ellen suggests, rather than heroic people. We do throw that word around, “hero,” and it gets stuck to people who have a particular job rather than having performed a heroic act. By distinguishing the two, it’s easier (and logical) to differentiate between two acts that the same person may have committed.
I agree. Also, I find it fascinating that our curiosity and reasoning has propelled us to the top of the food chain, but in instances like this, we file the fishing expeditions in the box labelled ‘Please be what we want you to be, but you’d better not be it, just the same.’
In the past, people often just “didn’t want to get involved,” and allowed atrocities to be played out in front of them. The man committed a crime, he paid his debt to society, he went on to became a hero… but how many people in the future will choose to “not get involved” because they don’t want the media splashing every mistake or decades old stupidity across the headlines?
I have vowed (to myself) that if and when a microphone is thrust in front of me, I will silently walk away.
While I don’t disagree with your comments. My understanding was that Ramsey was put on a pedestal because he spoke English in this case (see video below), but he might not have been the one saving those women. I think that this points rather to an issue that too often we give the most attention to those with the loudest voices rather than those who truly deserve it.