Heroes or Role Models?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Author - Peter Schwab
AFL Coaching Director

Recently I was asked to speak at my sonís school around the theme of heroes. Initially I wasnít quite certain about how I would approach this topic, mainly because it had been quite some time since Iíd actually considered whether or not I had any heroes left in my world.

But the more I delved into the topic the more I gained. In light of what has happened recently in AFL football with the situation involving one of the games greats who is a hero to many, I have decided to write about heroes in this article.

Itís easy to visualise superman as a hero, clearly his character was created to embody what someone at the time thought a hero should be. Of course in a magical world he was given super powers because who doesnít want to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Not to mention the x-ray vision. You canít help but want to be superman, even before you have dumped onto you truth, justice and the American way (substitute appropriate country), but like all heroes Superman had a flaw. He was rendered powerless and vulnerable by kryptonite and as the band ďFive for FightingĒ sang so poignantly:

ďIím more than a bird...

Iím more than a plane...

Iím more than some pretty face beside a train

And itís not easy to be me.Ē

Those lyrics show so poetically that heroes live in the real world. Theyíre human and as such make mistakes and struggle with situations in life like everyone else.  This does not necessarily diminish heroes it actually makes them more real and if they maintain the traits we so admired then maybe they remain a hero.

It seems to me that most of our heroes are based on the following:

  • We aspire to be like them
  • They work In a field of endeavour we are interested in
  • Usually they are of our own gender
  • Often we donít know them

But I ask:

  • Do we need them to be perfect?
  • Do we need them to be a role model?
  • Will they last forever?

When I was growing up the champion full-forward of my youth was Hawthornís Peter Hudson. I didnít want to watch Hawthorn play I wanted to go and see Peter Hudson kick goals. And I wanted to be the next great full forward. It never happened of course, but I did finally meet Peter and have come to know him well, and even though my hero worship has gone he has never disappointed me as a person.

There were others like the champion boxer Muhammed Ali and the US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King who spring quickly to mind. The rest of the people who have had a profound influence on my life are people who I love and then there are those who have guided me in my life, often they are the same people. And at times I havenít really appreciated how much they have done in shaping the person Iíve become.

As we grow older we tend not to use the term hero, perhaps because it seems too childish and I guess as we age we tend to become more cynical, harder to convince that someone is worthy of our adulation.

Maybe as we age we swap hero for ďrole modelĒ or ďmentorĒ.  Role modelling and mentoring are incredibly important for people. Role modelling is the most powerful form of educating, itís a responsibility and a privilege, role models have great empathy and are willing to invest and develop others.

But the world needs heroes. They define the limits of our aspirations and are symbols of hope for us, they expand our sense of what is possible in life and our choice of a hero determines the types of excellence we aspire to. 

Finally, in a world which promotes instant celebrity we become confused, so remember not to confuse celebrity with excellence and most importantly understand that sometimes heroes make mistakes because their human like all of us.

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