I watched CNN name their Hero of the Year last Sunday night. While their winner was my third pick from a very impressive list, there were a number of things that stood out for me with all of the nominees. First, there wasn’t a depressed soul among them. Second, they appeared to be just ordinary folks who’ve managed to learn to regulate their limbic systems in ways that have moved them beyond fear and survival. Third, most all of them had lots of thanks to give – to friends, family and to some personal version of God. Finally, all of them had warts.
Will you teach me?
Were I as skilled in the art of voter “influence” as some, the 2008 Hero of the Year would have been Detroit grandmother Viola Vaughn who has answered the Big Brain Question for more than 15000 children in Senegal with a resounding “Yes!” Using the concept of “each one teach one” Viola has been responsible for her own significant micro-financing project in Senegal. Her work is awe-inspiring, her energy irrepressible and her presence electric.
As a retired homebuilder, I couldn’t be too disappointed in CNN’s selection of Liz McCartney, founder of the St. Bernard Project, as their 2008 winner. Liz has organized more than 8000 people to do the hard, hands-on work of restoring homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. What makes her most impressive is that she knew zero about houses and remodeling before she took on this project. What she had was good support and a brain that didn’t let anxiety and ignorance hold her back. She has heart and trust and a drive to have her life be meaningful.
Recalling Days of Yesteryear
But for the Action Jackson part of my own brain – where the kid who grew up on Superman, Batman and the Lone Ranger lives – the most compelling nominee was mild-mannered geek, Tad Agoglia. Agoglia founded the First Response Team, which has been responsible for saving thousands of lives in the wake of the seeming daily disasters striking across the country in the last few years. His four-man team drives to a disaster site in two Mack Trucks outfitted with more than a million dollars worth of really cool equipment that allows them to begin restoration work almost before the disaster is done, clearing roads, pumping floodwaters and rescuing people trapped in destroyed structures.
Each of these Heroes appears to me to be operating much like a well-integrated brain might. First of all, they each possessed high energy coupled with a clear, focused vision. There wasn’t a lot of “noise” – dissociated distraction – keeping them from accomplishing their missions. Next, their work in the world doesn’t appear to be overly inhibited by fear, ambivalence or uncertainty. They’ve identified the need and they’ve brought their own multiple intelligences to bear in order to address it. They connect and collaborate with lots of other people, and they bring a lot of creative flexibility along with them in their pursuit of the goal.
Bringing it All Back Home
I took a number of things away from the CNN Hero show. One is that the work of heroes seems to confirm what the altruism research of Stephen Post, co-author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People empirically suggests … that such work is good for what ails us. It’s good for our own and for other people’s bodies, brains, minds and hearts.
I also think we can model, teach and parent for heroism. We can hold up people like these in front of our children (a few of whom were children themselves), and explore together questions like: “What do you think makes these people tick?” “What things might you like to do as a hero(ine) in the world?” “Who might you like to get together and do heroic things with?”
Tears for Fears
Finally, while none of the hero nominees was depressed, there was a LOT of crying going on at the Awards Ceremony. Many of the celebrities in the audience, and those presenting on stage were crying, as were the recipients of the awards. Many of the beneficiaries of the good works were crying as well. Some were tears of overwhelm, some were tears of Wonder-Joy. From a heart-brain-mind-body perspective, what this mostly means is that people were navigating in uncharted waters, places where they were uncomfortably operating in unfamiliar territory. They were doing their best to process more energy and information than their neuro-physiology was currently capable of handling. But they were handling it nonetheless, perhaps aware that “the soul would have no rainbow, had the eyes no tears.” I, for one, am all for painting rainbows on our souls.