Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Should kids have heroes?

In a long conversation about Tiger Woods, Robert Wright subscribes to Tiger's spin that one of his great failings was to let down kids who had viewed him as their hero. But my mom, Ann Althouse, sees this as a good thing. Here's the clip, with my partial transcript below:

Wright: Do you agree that this kind of really matters, in the sense that there's all these kids who are at an impressionable age, he was God . . . Do you agree that this kind of matters in terms of affecting the future behavior patterns of these kids who are worshiping him?

Althouse: . . . Maybe a good lesson is: don't have heroes. Don't look at these people — these are just men; they're not gods. Maybe it's a little humility . . .

Wright: So you think it's good? . . .

Althouse: Yeah, yeah.

Wright: This is good for America's kids, to see that their heroes have feet of clay, so that they don't make the mistake of deifying other heroes?

Althouse: Hey, life is not a bed of roses — learn it now, kids! No, I think kids should have values. And maybe they should be taught religious values or secular ethical values. But the idea that, oh, here is an icon, you should worship him — I don't think that is good. I don't think those are good values. I think this idea of having heroes is not a good value.
Wright goes on to argue that it's futile to criticize "this idea of having heroes," because the idea is hard-wired into human beings, especially children. But I agree with my mom. I can't remember ever having a "hero" when I was a kid, or at any other time. And if I did, it was a ridiculous idea, not a concept that I'd insist remain untarnished for the kids of the present and future.

The clip below is their whole conversation on Tiger Woods. I don't generally follow sports, golf, Tiger Woods, etc., but Tiger Woods has turned out to be a very rich topic: in addition to heroism, they talk about race, Buddhism, addiction therapy, sex . . .

UPDATE: The same section I excerpted is now featured in the New York Times.


Jason (the commenter) said...

I think it is very valuable for children to have heroes. And if the hero fails them, that is a good thing. There is a similar situation with pets, children have them to learn about death. Some pain happens to the child, but they have their parents who love them there to help them through it. Considering the painful lessons life has to teach us, I think this is a blessing.

Synova said...

I think it matters what a person means by "hero."

I never did much get sports, but I'd think that admiring a sports star (not hero) ought to be about having them as an example of hard work, dedication, and success... in relationship to the sport.

I can't imagine encouraging my children to prop up people as heroes. Not Tiger. Not Mylie Cyrus. Not anyone like that. Not even me or their dad. What I would want them to do is to learn to identify what is admirable and understand that no one is perfect and to have compassion toward the imperfections.

I think it's probably more important how we deal with the flaws and how well we understand that we aren't perfect or always right either.

As for actual heroes. Heroes aren't perfect people or even close to perfect people. They are most likely deeply flawed people who found the courage or fortitude to do a heroic thing.

I wrote a post on my blog (it's just a couple down) about something I thought was the epitome of heroism. The men I was writing about might be good men, or they might be abusive, or bigoted, or otherwise bums. That shouldn't take away in the least from them being heroes. I think that a heroic act, at the heart of it, is something done because a person feels they must put aside what they'd rather do and do it.

A sports star may work hard and push through barriers and succeed, but they really are not at all heroic.

Jason (the commenter) said...

A sports star may work hard and push through barriers and succeed, but they really are not at all heroic.

True. To be accomplished is not heroic.

If we happen to know someone heroic, they're probably someone who's done something heroic for us, and they're someone we love for it.