As a student of history, I’m often inspired by the lives of the people who lived through and shaped great events. I think we need heroes, and not just the ones we watch for 30 seconds on a news program’s “profile” short. Great men and women from history should inspire us to see our own circumstances in light of how they conquered adversity and achieved greatness.
Sometimes we reduce historical figures to “ordinary” status by over emphasizing their flaws and under-selling their accomplishments. I think that’s a mistake. What makes our heroes “great” is not merely their virtues and accomplishments, but that they did great things despite their flaws. Celebrating only a hero’s virtue without acknowledging the flaws is dishonest, but so is discounting their accomplishments because of those flaws. Sometimes a historical person’s human weakness and failings are defining characteristics, but most often those people are like the rest of us: a mixture of weakness and strength married with the courage to rise above and accomplish something remarkable. In my mind being mortal makes their contributions all the more inspiring: that somehow our heroes were able to rise above (sometimes even themselves) to do something great.
I think leaders need heroes and role models. We need them because even the most confident Type A leader has self-doubt. We need heroes because we sometimes take counsel of our fears. We need to be inspired to believe even flawed humans can do good, even in spite of their own flaws. Acknowledging that there’s no such thing as a perfect human, but that imperfect humans can do good is beneficial for our collective souls. Inspiration can come from the unknown person working hard on a cause they believe in, but let’s not overlook our national heroes.
Heroes can teach us something about ourselves and inspire us to greatness—if we allow it.