May 01

The Hero’s Doubt

3d white people leaning back against a question markWhat does it feel like to be a hero? Who out there ever wakes up in the morning and thinks to themselves ‘Yes, I am a hero’?

Probably none of you. Hopefully none of you. Because there is no ‘hero feeling’. Talk to anyone who has done something truly heroic and ask them if they ‘feel’ like a hero and they won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. They’ll likely say they were scared, uncertain, but somehow just knew they had to do the ‘right thing’.

That’s because good people have doubt. They are often uncertain; about who they are, what their purpose is, what is the right thing to do in a given situation, how best to help others… They question themselves.

And that’s a good thing.

Most of the great evils in human history have been caused by those who had absolute belief in what they were doing – they had no doubt about their actions, and left no room for questions. In short, they believed they were right, 100%. Worse, they believed that what they were doing was in some way ‘good’ or for a greater good. The dictators, the conquerors, the wars of religion, most of them were born out of an unmitigated, blind, absolute belief in what was right. And as we know, only a Sith deals in absolutes…*

The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

– William Blake

epi1-anakin6 (1)And invariably those who have stood up to them and stopped them did so because they questioned whether what these people were doing was right. They doubted themselves, they were afraid, unsure; but they knew what wasn’t right, more than they knew precisely what was, and that something had to be done about it. And that’s a fundamental difference between those who end up acting heroically and those who end up being villains. Villains are certain their actions are ‘right’ in some way, no matter how twisted the reasoning, while heroes are certain only of what isn’t right.

Good people are unsure. They maintain a dynamic tension between self-interest and service to others, and try to find a healthy balance between the two – and that’s how balance works after all; it’s actually a constant management of imbalance. Good people strive to stay in balance. They are constantly reassessing, reevaluating, seeking to understand. Constantly learning. Constantly questioning.

So it’s the questions that matter. Your answers will change, with time, with perspective, with experience. But the fundamental questions remain with us always and provide a framework within which we can develop as individuals.

Be concerned when you have no doubt anymore, when you stop questioning. That’s when the darker aspects of yourself can take root in you. That’s when you feed the wrong wolf. Because that which has concluded has ceased to grow.

I think that we all do heroic things, but hero is not a noun, it’s a verb.

– Robert Downey, Jr.

So embrace your uncertainty. Take a moment now to accept your doubt and realise that it is a sign that you are on a healthy path – a path of learning, of curiosity, of improvement, of development; of self-knowledge. You’ll make mistakes, of course. But as long as you question everything, you’ll be able to amend and fix and correct your course each time until you get where you want to be.

‘Hero’ is a verb not a noun. It’s something you do, not something you are. So don’t worry if you don’t ever feel like a hero. That means you have exactly the right raw materials for heroism.

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*And, seemingly, Obi-Wan Kenobi. 🙂