The Clown

Jeffrey L. Bromberger, Dancing Monkey

06 August 2021

How can your everyday job, with its everyday tasks and responsibilities ever be “above and beyond” the everyday call of duty?

Last time I did a entry on a misused word, it started with an “H”.  Same thing today – maybe I have it in for this letter of the alphabet.  What’s today’s misused word?


When I was growing up, there were two types of heroes in the world.  There were real, living heroes and there were made-up, artificial heroes.

Saturday morning cartoons gave you plenty of the latter type, right?  With the Super Friends (Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman, plus the bonus of the Wonder Twins!), how could you go wrong?  These people (even if many of them were aliens or had special powers) were taking their time and risking their necks for the good of humanity.  Nobody paid them to do the dirty work.  They never asked for money, compensation, fame and/or fortune.  They never took advantage of us mere citizens by using their powers against us.  And they never rested or shirked duty when there was an issue.  With absolutely nothing to gain, why would anybody bend over backwards to save your average daily human on this spinning ball of rock we call Earth?  It wasn’t their JOB, after all, so it must have been an innate sense of altruism at play.  Altruism for the “little people of Earth.”

The first type of hero has always been harder to come up with.  As kids, we are taught (and rightfully so) that our parents are our first heroes.  They do things for you purely out of love.  OK, the law has some say, but this means little in reality (think of the sheer number of children abused by their parents).

But after your parents, who?  The mail man?  The milk man?  Who really turns out to be heroic?

Some people will jump up and say that firefighters and police officers are heroes.  I beg to disagree, and the base reason for this disagreement is summarized in three words: Duty To Act.

When you’re hired to do a job, anything you do within that job is “required” of you.  Nobody is saying to be stupid, but a fireman’s job is to go into burning buildings, rescue people and put out fires.  If you’re a fire fighter and you choose not to go into that burning tenement because you’re afraid of the flames, then not only are you in the wrong job, but you’re also violating your Duty To Act.  In other words, you’re not doing your job!

What about when a fireman rescues Mrs. Thompson’s kitty from a tree?  Does this qualify as a heroic act?  Nope – the firefighter is trained in using ladders and might be the only person who can do the job with the lowest possibility of risk and the highest chance of safely reaching the end goal.  You certainly don’t want to put a novice at the top of a 50 foot ladder and have them start reaching out across nothingness for the cat…

The same applies to Police Officers.  Even if there is no complete written list of everything they are supposed to do, I assure you that protecting lost children is as right up there as much as stopping criminals.  If the situation is more complex than a single generalist officer can handle, there are specialists available.  You have hostage negotiators, bomb squad specialists, even SWAT teams for complex problems.  They’ve got all the bases covered, primarily because it reduces risk and it improves your success rate of going home alive.

I lost way too many friends at the WTC that day, as well as a possible career, but even those personal ties do not change the basic facts.

Everything got corrupted on that miserable Tuesday morning in September, though.  The press started calling every victim of that horrible day a Hero.  The people who died at their desks at the World Trade Center?  Heroes.  The people who died on the first three of the four airplanes?  Heroes.  How about the 125 who perished at the Pentagon, who were just minding their business when the plane hit?  You guessed it – heroes, every one of them.

And it never slowed down.  Look at the world today.  Teachers are now called heroes routinely.  Medical professionals (especially front line nurses) are now heroes.  Well, nowadays, times have changed and they’re only considered heroes if they’re vaccinated…  Some people think that somebody like Oprah is a hero when she donates a sizeable pile of money for building a school for girls.  Ever ask yourself this big question: why is it when the New York Yankees win the World Series, they get a parade down our Canyon Of Heroes?  Is winning at baseball truly heroic?

Now, let’s really pour some gasoline on this fire, eh?  When soldiers come back from overseas, they get a heroes’ welcome.  Most of these soldiers, however, did their jobs and survived to make it home safely.  Doing your job in the Military doesn’t automatically make you Hero material.  It may mean you’re smart, careful, judicious, but certainly not heroic.  It used to be that solders were just like us – the guy down the street who went to help our contry in time of need.  Now, we have promoted them to godlike stature.

I’m back to the same point I made in my previous post on the word Holy – if everybody is a hero , then nobody really is.  Not only does this rampant overuse of the term make the honor into a type of “participation award,” it truly dilutes the meaning behind the actions of our real heroes.

I am not saying that there are no real heroes.  I can name four for you right now, and many of my friends will recognize their names:

These four men had their own jobs to do during World War 2.  And, for some reason known only to them, they went “Above and Beyond” what was called for in the rule book.  Without being told, operating way above their pay grade, not expecting a bonus or medal, they did what was necessary to aid and protect their friends and comrades – true altruism.  Usually, that meant that they didn’t make it home alive.  It wasn’t their job (or duty) to die – it was a side effect of showing something more than just personal daily living.

I know that everybody deserves their 15 minutes of fame.  Nobody out there wants to be remembered as just a victim, just part of “a cast of thousands” or just a worker who was paid to take a risk and, due to the situation, lost their life in the process.  Sadly, not every cop gunned down by a thug is a hero.  The blood shed upon the beaches of Normandy was mostly not from heroes, just normal Joes who were called by fate to be in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.  Those thirteen unlucky members of the US Military who perished in the suicide bombings at the Kabul airport aren’t heroes anymore than the thirteen lost at Columbine High School.  We have a special word for those people, and it, too, needs to be protected from dilution just as much as “hero” does.  This other special word is “martyr.”


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