Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?

Does it seem to you that we've lost our sense of wonder and our respect for heroes?

The press is filled with stories of flawed or fallen heroes but little praise for the tireless work done every day to make the world a better place.

In the Northeast, 2 million people lost power due to an act of God - an early winter storm.   One week later, a few thousand were still without power.   Local politicians demanded answers from power companies to explain why it took so long and why their planning for the unexpected storm was so poor.   As an infrastructure provider myself, I can tell you that utility workers have done a heroic job - deciding what work would restore power most quickly based on a Pareto analysis, doing the main/trunk/substation work rapidly and leaving the most remote parts of the grid for last.   It's been 24x7, cold, wet, and physically demanding work.    They've done their best and I respect the people that did the work.

Steve Jobs, a remarkable person,  was brilliant and charismatic but could be overly demanding, emotional, and less than perfect with his family and personal relationships.   His death was met with initial shock and an outpouring of respect.   After a week, the press turned to the dark side of Steve's personality, as nicely summarized in this New York Times article  about the short sainthood of Steve Jobs.

I'm an eternal optimist and believe that mankind is basically good.  However, I cannot help but believe that society has lost its perspective when we spend time tearing down our heroes, highlighting their mistakes, and reveling in Schadenfreude when someone falls from grace.  

Everything regresses to the mean, but wouldn't it be best to capture people at their peak of creativity and remember them for what they did right?  Of course we can learn from their mistakes and failures, but we do not need to perseverate on their nadirs when their zeniths are where they had the most impact.

As someone who lives in operational roles 24x7x365, I can say that it is very hard to achieve and maintain perfection. I've written that I do not have power or authority - what I really have is risk of failure.

I would rather celebrate success, learn from failure and acknowledge those human beings who have made a difference.  

The héroes in my life are my wife, my daughter, my parents, economist Milton Friedman, Steve Jobs, former HIT National Coordinator David Blumenthal, former Harvard Medical School Dean Joseph Martin, my second in command at BIDMC John Powers, CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative Micky Tripathi, and the current head of CMS Don Berwick.    I'm sure each has had moments of incredible success and events they would rather forget.    They have all been inspirational to me.

So for one day, let's celebrate our heroes, flaws and all.   Let's ban all news about Lindsey Lohan and Kim Kardashian.

If we try hard enough, maybe our sense of wonder and magic will return.


XML4Pharma said...

In Europe, we put the powerlines UNDER the ground. So on an average, we do have no electrical power for less than 30 minutes a YEAR.
Most power failures that we have (if any ...) last less than a few minutes (due to redundancy in our networks).

Anonymous said...

I agree with your premise in the article but not sure if the title matches. I think there are heroes we just choose to cut them down for some reason. It is a very different society today than even 20 years ago. Respect for authority and therefore awe in accomplishments has taken a huge hit. We glorify things we can post on YouTube and were completed in five minutes of recklessness, but can't give credit for decades of good deeds. The recent case of Joe Paterno is a perfect example. Due to being present during a terrible time at Penn State the entire 61 year career of this man is in danger of being washed away. No one has even been able to really attach anything to him as an act he committed, but rather that he was just in proximity. He informed people of a strange incident he saw and then trusted them to do the same thing he did, the right thing. Apparently they chose differently and this is somehow now Joe's problem because of the exact process you describe. We just can't be impressed with a life well lived, we have to find a single bad instance and blow it out of proportion.

Anonymous said...

The world is full of pathetic people who've neither accomplished nor created anything meaningful. Rather than put in the personal hard work it takes, it's easier than ever before to tear down heros, when the opportunity presents itself, to their own pitiful level. A gaffe in the Lincoln-Douglas debates was seen by hundreds and was soon forgotten; in 2011 a gaffe is seen by millions and lives forever on YouTube. A reputation that takes a lifetime to build can be destroyed overnight. Welcome to the Kim Kardashian Age! If you've accomplished nothing, there's nothing to destroy and nothing to tear down.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments in many ways, but it seems that we often try to create "heroes" out of men and women who do not deserve it. While business acumen or physical dexterity may seem to make "heroes" out of the Steve Jobs and football quarterbacks, I find my heroes in those that make the effort to change the lives of their fellow man for the better. I am far more impressed with how Bill and Melinda Gates are using their vast resources in their foundation than with Mr. Gate's ability to market Windows! And I must say, to the other poster - anal rape of a 10 year old is not a "strange incident". Not reporting it, not screaming from the rooftops until a predator of young boys is caught? Yes, that does wipe out any kudos that you might win by teaching a bloody game.

Peter Jones said...

There are many pithy quotes to the effect of never under estimating what an individual can do.
People can (and do!) make a difference on an individual basis. We all have a contribution to make - the key issue is assuring human potential so that positive and meaningful contributions can follow.
A great blog John.
Peter Jones
Lancashire, UK
Blogging at "Welcome to the QUAD"
h2cm: help 2C more - help 2 listen - help 2 care!/h2cm