Potbellied Heroics

A few years ago Deb and Collin Stolpe were driving to a new home in a small bus. It was cold outside, so the couple allowed their baby potbellied pig, named Snort, to sleep in the bus with them. During the night, Snort awakened the couple with loud squeals and oinks. They instantly realized that something was wrong: Deb's vision was blurred, and Collin went into convulsions. They called an ambulance, and doctors diagnosed near-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. When the story became public, newspapers hailed Snort as a hero. Well, it's a heartwarming story, but should we really apply the word "hero" to a pig? It's a good question. What is a real hero? Do we even know any? As Dick Keyes explains in his book, True Heroism, our culture has stretched the meaning of the word hero to include all kinds of people--and even pigs. Sometimes we call people heroes because they have great talents, like the violinist Isaac Stern. But great talent doesn't necessarily make a great person. As G. K. Chesterton, the wonderful Christian writer, explained, "If a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of 500 yards I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man." A lot of people look up to celebrities as heroes. How else can we explain why so many kids put Madonna or Michael Jordan at the top of their hero list? As Keyes puts it, you can be both talented and a celebrity and still be a public menace. For example, Pete Rose was a famous and talented baseball player--but he also deserved to go to prison. Then again, some people are attracted to power and charisma. How else can we explain why millions of people followed evil leaders like Hitler, Lenin, and Mao Tse-Tung? You and I, I would hope, would instantly reject such evil leaders. We implicitly recognize that evil people can't be heroic. Now, this reaction that you and I have, not the reaction of crowds carried away in a mob frenzy, is a clue to what makes a real hero. It is someone we are naturally drawn to for his high moral character: someone who personifies moral ideals that we respect, admire, and want to emulate. As Keyes points out, those who are almost universally accepted as heroic are those known, not for their abilities or renown, but for their moral qualities, developed over a lifetime--people like Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, and Corrie ten Boom. It's vitally important to be clear about what genuine heroism is because our heroes become a concrete personification of our own ideals. They shape our character and our aspirations. And when large numbers of people hold up the wrong people as heroes--like Adolph Hitler--entire civilizations can become corrupted. You and I need to help our kids understand what real heroism involves. Before we lift somebody up as a hero, we need to take moral stock of that person's life. We need to help them understand that we make a mockery of real heroes when we use the term lightly--when we lump together people like Mother Teresa… with potbellied pigs.


Chuck Colson



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