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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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Source Manager's Journal: Organizational Heroes

Memorial Day and the Fourth of July become more disturbing with each passing year. Rather than a remembrance of those who have fallen in service to our country and of the values associated with our independence, they are becoming celebrations of our "heroes." Increasingly, these heroes are defined as anyone who puts on a military uniform. As with much that is wrong in our popular culture, this new form of mass hero worship is driven by television — particularly cable news.
What is wrong with this new hero culture? First, it misrepresents the truth and trivializes the meaning of true heroism. Acts of heroism are fairly infrequent. That is why we recognize and honor them. If a large group of people become heroes just by signing up for military service, what does heroism mean? To use an analogy, the word "awesome" is used today to describe just about everything from mediocre to, well, awesome. Used in this way, what does it really mean? Hurricane Katrina was awesome. Not making spelling mistake on a one-page term paper is not.
The second thing that is bad about the current use of the term "hero" is that it is pretty much limited to the military, with firefighters sometimes thrown in since Sept. 11. Part of this is understandable, especially for soldiers fighting on the ground who confront life-and-death situations and who depend on one another in those situations. But the elevation of soldiers to hero status is part of a disturbing pattern of glorification of the military that, among economically advanced countries, is limited to the United States. Former President George W. Bush said that the military was the single most honorable profession. Based on what values?
And what about heroism in other sectors or professions? Soldiers, sailors and marines are government workers. Why can’t other government workers perform heroic tasks? And what about heroism in the non-profit and business sectors? In our anti-government age, how can a government worker be a hero? After all, most of them are "faceless bureaucrats" who shuffle papers or do other meaningless work, right? Wrong. Just as in the military, heroism is also infrequent in government, non-profit service or business. But it does occur. It is usually less dramatic in these sectors, but anyone who has worked in government or non-profit agencies has come across heroic behavior.
What is different about these heroes is that their achievements tend to be long-term rather than captured in a single dramatic event. Like military heroes, these individuals model behaviors that all of us can aspire to and admire. They often model excellence in places where low standards are considered acceptable, and they never give in to the lowest common denominator. Part of their heroism is having the courage to swim against the tide of mediocrity or to stand up for a principle when everyone else has abandoned it.
These heroes change and improve lives by teaching, caring for, nurturing, challenging and sticking with people after others have given up. They make everyone around them better. In business, they improve the community through excellence and also by making their workers and colleagues better than they ever believed that they could be.
There are different forms of gallantry, bravery and courage. One is to save your buddies when they are under assault by an enemy. Another is to stand up for and do right in the face of widespread opposition or indifference. Or to reject cynicism even when the facts seem to support it. And not just to do these things once or for a month or a year, but on a continuing basis, year after year.
We all know people who meet this high standard. What is interesting is that, in most cases, they have done it for so long that we naturally tend to take them and their achievements for granted. Most of them do not seek or expect any special recognition for what they do and the contribution that they have made. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t give them that recognition as heroes of our communities.
I have a friend and colleague who is a distinguished and decorated war veteran. From time to time, we would walk out of a meeting in which someone had displayed bad behavior, usually some form of dishonesty. I would look at Bob, and he would invariably reply, "Wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with that @#*&%&-@#*&#&." It was pretty easy to spot these people. It took longer to see the qualities that would lead you to say that this is someone that you would want to be in foxhole with. Same sterling qualities, just a different foxhole.


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Memorial Day and the Fourth of July become more disturbing with each passing year. Rather than a remembrance of those who have fallen in service to our country and of the values associated with our independence, they are becoming celebrations of our "heroes." Increasingly, these heroes are defined as anyone who puts on a military uniform. As with much that is wrong in our popular culture, this new form of mass hero worship is driven by television -- particularly cable news.
What is wrong with this new hero culture? First, it misrepresents the truth and trivializes the meaning of true heroism. Acts of heroism are fairly infrequent. That is why we recognize and honor them. If a large group of people become heroes just by signing up for military service, what does heroism mean? To use an analogy, the word "awesome" is used today to describe just about everything from mediocre to, well, awesome. Used in this way, what does it really mean? Hurricane Katrina was awesome. Not making spelling mistake on a one-page term paper is not.
The second thing that is bad about the current use of the term "hero" is that it is pretty much limited to the military, with firefighters sometimes thrown in since Sept. 11. Part of this is understandable, especially for soldiers fighting on the ground who confront life-and-death situations and who depend on one another in those situations. But the elevation of soldiers to hero status is part of a disturbing pattern of glorification of the military that, among economically advanced countries, is limited to the United States. Former President George W. Bush said that the military was the single most honorable profession. Based on what values?
And what about heroism in other sectors or professions? Soldiers, sailors and marines are government workers. Why can't other government workers perform heroic tasks? And what about heroism in the non-profit and business sectors? In our anti-government age, how can a government worker be a hero? After all, most of them are "faceless bureaucrats" who shuffle papers or do other meaningless work, right? Wrong. Just as in the military, heroism is also infrequent in government, non-profit service or business. But it does occur. It is usually less dramatic in these sectors, but anyone who has worked in government or non-profit agencies has come across heroic behavior.
What is different about these heroes is that their achievements tend to be long-term rather than captured in a single dramatic event. Like military heroes, these individuals model behaviors that all of us can aspire to and admire. They often model excellence in places where low standards are considered acceptable, and they never give in to the lowest common denominator. Part of their heroism is having the courage to swim against the tide of mediocrity or to stand up for a principle when everyone else has abandoned it.
These heroes change and improve lives by teaching, caring for, nurturing, challenging and sticking with people after others have given up. They make everyone around them better. In business, they improve the community through excellence and also by making their workers and colleagues better than they ever believed that they could be.
There are different forms of gallantry, bravery and courage. One is to save your buddies when they are under assault by an enemy. Another is to stand up for and do right in the face of widespread opposition or indifference. Or to reject cynicism even when the facts seem to support it. And not just to do these things once or for a month or a year, but on a continuing basis, year after year.
We all know people who meet this high standard. What is interesting is that, in most cases, they have done it for so long that we naturally tend to take them and their achievements for granted. Most of them do not seek or expect any special recognition for what they do and the contribution that they have made. But that does not mean that we shouldn't give them that recognition as heroes of our communities.
I have a friend and colleague who is a distinguished and decorated war veteran. From time to time, we would walk out of a meeting in which someone had displayed bad behavior, usually some form of dishonesty. I would look at Bob, and he would invariably reply, "Wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with that @#*&%&-@#*&#&." It was pretty easy to spot these people. It took longer to see the qualities that would lead you to say that this is someone that you would want to be in foxhole with. Same sterling qualities, just a different foxhole.