Ode to unsung heroes

Human nature and the conventions of society have developed systems which produce heroes who enjoy immense fame and, often, totally disproportionate wealth.

Clever marketers and big business have long been aware of man’s innate need for entertainment and heroes and they have exploited this to generate vast sums of money.

Sportsmen, singers and musicians who have talent, but also fortuitous timing and powerful publicity backing, often achieve “hero worship” status. The entertainment industry has a ready market and its income-generating power is immense.

An examination of the top earners in society will show clearly how many of these “sung” heroes feature prominently and highlight their almost obscene wealth.

Do the achievements and fame that generally determine heroes in the conventional sense measure up to the unsung heroes who miss the glare of attention and mass appeal?

Does society apportion a fair measure of recognition to the anonymous philanthropist or the “Good Samaritan” who helps a person in distress?

In the words of Daniel J Boorstin: “In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher; the nurse; the mother; the honest cop; the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpubliciszed jobs.”

Consider the nature-conscious beach visitor who regularly and energetically removes plastic and other damaging debris (usually deposited by irresponsible humans) in an heroic service to our planet.

What of the highly skilled and successful businessman who leaves the comforts of his urban life to work for the upliftment of remote rural settlements?

And the welfare-conscious individuals who sponsor or mentor the less privileged?

Those who campaign and fight for river, forest and fauna preservation are true heroes.

Konica Annan put it well: “These often unsung heroes understand that poverty, disease and famine are just as deadly and destructive as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. Individuals are taking on these challenges in their communities, volunteering to make a difference. They remain the true champions of our work towards the Millennium Development Goals.”

Heroes of the sung variety have arguably been a part of humankind’s existence since time immemorial. This seems to be a defining and inextricable force in our way of life, and one that provides entertainment, role models and focal points.

Much is added to the interest, vitality and exuberance of life by these heroes for this they deserve recognition. But the unsung heroes arguably deserve recognition in equal measure in a perfect world this could happen.

While specific talent, skill and some luck often determine the fortunes of conventional heroes, the unsung heroes more commonly display courage, consciousness of the needs of others and a concern for the health and well-being of our planet.

This is well depicted in The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin: “Real courage is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. Doing the unpopular thing because it’s what you believe, and the heck with everybody.”


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