The recent firestorm over the just-released torture memos has elicited opinions from anyone and everyone. Is it torture? Is it not torture? Is torture every justified, and if so when? The questions that have germinated from the memos are not new ones. They are questions that look at the heart of what we value as a culture and as values change so does our interpretation of the actions of others.
Along with this debate of what actions are justified in war, there’s a lesser struggle that is undergirding the discussion. In times past, people would point to the military as instruments on justice, truth, and courage. As questions have arisen over tactics used, one might wonder who our new heroes should be. Again, the culture is quick with an answer. An answer, I’m afraid, that is often found wanting.
Dictionary.com defines heroes as someone with noble character or that does brave deeds. In a recent People article, Liam Neeson’s director on the film Chloe stated, “Liam is heroic…He came back and finished.” The quotation is referring to the actor’s quick return to the set after the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson. Now, please hear me carefully, I think Mr. Neeson conducted himself exceptionally well under the circumstances. He maintained a sense of dignity in the midst of an unthinkable family tragedy. “Heroic”, though? For returning to work? I’m not sure that qualifies. Sure, what he did may be noteworthy, but to put in on par with those who sacrifice their lives or their freedom, those that are true heroes, seems far-fetched to me. Just as it seems equally ridiculous when we hail someone because they can run fast, or because they can catch a ball. Sure, there talents are extraordinary, but exercising the gifts that God gave them does not mean that we should look to them for anything else. They are, in other words, very rarely, good role models for how we should contact our lives. They very infrequently met the heights of the word’s definition.
When there cease to be high standards for those that we acclaim, we are often willing to accept less and compromise more. Let that not be the case. Let us retain the word “hero” for those that rightly deserve it, and maybe the debate on how we define other words, will get a little easier too.