I think that we have become such a cynical society that we go out of our way to make the word and concept of heroism to be very limited. In fact, Chris Hayes, an MSNBC host, and his panel on the Sunday of the Memorial Day holiday could not bring themselves to call our fallen military heroes. If volunteering to serve in the military and dying in combat doesn't get you a hero designation, then where is our source of inspiration?
I realize that all of us may have had our heart broken when a "hero" of ours turns out to have feet of clay. We found out about Martin Luther King Jr.'s infidelities, but you want to tell me he still wasn't a hero? There have been books written talking about some wild charges against Mother Teresa. Can you tell me someone who washed lepers, helped the poorest of the poor and inspired millions is not a hero?
To me taking a chance on heroes is like taking a chance on love. It is rare for anyone to not have their heart broken, but does that mean we never try for love again?
The main reason this is so important is that I believe that as much as adults need heroes, kids need them more. Sadly, recent surveys like the one by the Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a yearly prize for young heroes by an author who writes about young heroes, found that half of American teenagers could not name a personal hero. Superman and Spider-Man were named twice as often as Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Lincoln.
In fact Scott La Barge, philosophy professor at Santa Clara University, in a piece on the importance of heroes notes that one out of 10 students in the hero survey named winners on "American Idol." He also notes that even worse, in some sectors of the Muslim world Osama bin Laden and others like him still have a widespread heroic appeal.
So what do we do? What do we do for ourselves, but, more importantly, for our kids? The first is simple. As you're reading this, just say out loud, "I believe in heroes."
That's right, just say, "I believe in heroes." I want my kids to believe in heroes. I will tell them about people that have inspired me. I'll search for books that turn kids on to heroes.
I'll push back against those who are jaded, cynical and world -weary. You know the type: the people who take pleasure at picking off heroes and at best might settle for the tepid "role model" designation.
This will not be an easy task. This is not a parenting job that can be put on autopilot. Any parent that had kids who followed Lance Armstrong, for example, now has to deal with these allegations. It's also harder to direct kids to current-day heroes because the media spotlight is so severe.
It's often said that someone like Babe Ruth today would be exposed as a glutton and womanizer rather than the titanic home-run hitter calling his shot. That's true, but what about a hero like Lou Gehrig, who was not only a great player, but also someone who, when dealt a horrible disease, called himself the " luckiest man on the face of the earth."
I believe in heroes. I do even though the phrase "hero worship" has gained fashion as a way to diminish and alert us to the dangers of heroes.
Is there really that much danger in honoring with parades, events and monuments those who gave their lives to protect our way of life? Is there really a problem with honoring Dr. King, who fought to extend that way of life fully to all citizens? Is it really dangerous to acknowledge that Washington and Jefferson owned slaves but that their genius has given us the blueprint for America?
I think that parents should recognize that it is also very important that we nurture our girls with a strong belief in heroes. People like Lynne Cheney and others have written extensively about the women who made America. The influence of people like Abigail Adams can't be underestimated. It's particularly important in a world of Kardashians to surround girls and young women with female heroes.
So I hope Lance Armstrong is not dirty. I hope he was climbing those mountains naturally. But even if he wasn't, I will find others. Because I believe in heroes. n
Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard on WPHT (1210 AM) Radio. Contact Dom at www.domgiordano.com.