This is the third post in which I am discussing Charlotte Mason’s section of her third book on “Some Unconsidered Aspects of Physical Training.” In the first post, I talked about what we mean by physical training and in a more general way about its benefits. In the second I looked at the specific virtues that Charlotte associates with physical training. Now I would like to talk about heroism.
Charlotte sees one of the benefits of physical training as the making of heroes. Not that heroes are only characterized by brute strength but that physical ability is often necessary for them and that the attributes that such training produces make one a hero. All those qualities I listed in my previous post, like courage, fortitude, even chastity, should be characteristics of our heroes.
All of which makes me ask who are our heroes today? And who should they be?
Too often I think we compartmentalize our lives. We make heroes of great athletes and use their prowess on the sports field as an excuse for their lack of morals in other areas of life. Instead of thinking “Johnny Quarterback is a hero on the gridiron; we must expect this self-control to carry over into other areas of life”, we think “Because he is so physically talented, we cannot expect anything else of him. Indeed because his performance is testosterone driven, he may be excused for all his reprehensible behavior after the game.” It is not just that we don’t expect moral control to come with physical control, we actually have come to expect the opposite and to excuse it.
Now I am sure there are professional athletes who are also upstanding individuals but the fact is we rarely hear about them or hear their moral courage praised as much as their physical abilities.
One hopes that there is still some shadow of what a true hero is in our Olympic athletes. Certainly, the pictures we are given of them are more palatable. We love to hear how they have overcome poverty, grief, and adversity. Still sometimes the stories we thought were the most inspiring disappoint us. It is very hard to find that Chariots of Fire ideal of the athlete who excels at his sport and yet still esteems his Creator above all.
There are other sources of possible heroes. Perhaps I was brainwashed by our recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center but I tend to think that our astronauts, past and hopefully future, have the potential to be true heroes. And then there are people like Navy Seals and for that matter more ordinary soldiers who use their physical training not just for amusement but also for the good and advancement of us all.
The key though is that we must not let them off the hook morally. We must expect and demand that our heroes be heroic in all areas of life. We must not glamorize those whose only accomplishment is their physical prowess. Charlotte spends quite a long section talking about the virtues that come from physical discipline. But our own society has shown quite clearly that these things do not come automatically. It takes some effort and conscious thought for such virtues to transfer form the physical to the moral realm. And while we may not be able to change our culture as a whole, we can at least begin with our children and implant the ideas in them. We do this by reading them stories of the true heroes of old (and it seems often better and wiser to find one’s heroes in the past; they are less likely to disappoint us) and by subtly drawing their attention to the connections in their own lives. I envision a nervous boy at the dentist (an example Charlotte uses) whose mother tells him simply “You were so brave when you got tackled playing football yesterday; I know you can get through this too.”
What do you think? Who are your heroes and what makes them so?