The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

No More Heroes

Who are your heroes? Who are your role models? If you could be anybody else, who would you want to be?

A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that I have no heroes. Oh there are plenty of people who I like, I respect, or who have talents or skills that I’d like to possess myself, but there is no one who I would say is my hero; no one I wish I could be instead of me. This struck me as odd, because I thought everyone had heroes.

Certainly when I was a lad, I loved reading books about the lone hero, specifically Conan the Barbarian and Batman, and I loved the James Bond movies too. It was something about having the ability to be completely self-reliant: drop any of these guys into any situation and they would cope. But these were all fictional characters. Where were the real life heroes?

When I started to reflect on this, I realised that my first real hero was my brother, who is 4 years and 2 days older than me (I was a late birthday present for him, apparently) - he was the one who I would become. To the mind of a 3-year-old, it seemed perfectly obvious that when I turned 7 I would be doing exactly the same as my older brother had done before me. I also knew, at that age, that when I grew up I would be my Dad. But Dad was an adult and occupied a different place in my head; my older brother, however, was closer, more tangible. I wanted his affection, I wanted to follow him: I wanted to be him.

When I was 7, however, my brother, now aged 11, disappeared off to boarding school, and for the next 5 years we saw him only every 3rd weekend during term time, and at the holidays. My parents believed that by sending him away to a private school they were doing the best for his education. Whether they were right or not has been a matter of family debate since, but it had a profound impact on my life at the time.

We’d moved to South Wales when I was five years old, and being English I was an ideal target for bullies. However, having an older brother in the same primary school meant I was afforded a certain level of protection that I might otherwise not have had. But when my brother not only changed school, but moved out of the area, that protection was gone. The bullies turned their attention to me and the next few years were pretty miserable.

Eventually I found strategies to deal with them, and by the time my brother had left school and returned to live with us I no longer needed his protection. I would still have followed him anywhere, but what 17-year-old wants a 13-year-old hanging about, cramping his style? As testosterone levels rose I began to see my brother in terms of competition, and when we moved away from Wales to South West England a couple of years later, he was no longer someone I looked up to.

So what has this to do with my lack of heroes today? Well, the fact is that I never had another hero after my brother; it’s like the disillusionment I experienced meant that I could never really believe in anyone else again. At the point where I needed my hero to come and protect me, and he wasn’t there, the mind and emotions of the child weren’t able to separate out the distinction between “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t” protect me.

In one of those rare moments of self discovery, this idea about my lack of heroes made me realise that I have spent almost my entire life expecting someone to be looking out for me; and have been in a state of almost constant disappointment that no one has been. For years I have wondered why the world isn’t a fairer place, why people don’t help each other more, why those in power are so happy to abuse those who are not. Despite the fact that intellectually I have known that the world is not a fair place, emotionally it has felt so wrong. I have continually expected someone to come along and sort it out, and then been crushingly disappointed that no one has.

Those in positions of power and authority who could make a real difference, but don’t (and that is just about all of them), have nothing but my contempt and disdain. And as for the long line of hideously overpaid pop stars, supermodels, film stars and sports stars that are paraded before us as heroes and role models, well don’t make me laugh. I guess what I would call heroic are the people who, against adversity, retake control of their lives.

The conclusion I had to come to was that I couldn’t rely on anyone else to sort out my life; I would have to do it myself. But whereas I have resented this up until now, this flash of insight means that I can now accept it. I am not 7-years-old any more, and I don’t have an older brother or anyone else who is going to bail me out of trouble.

And finally, I’m ok with that.


Gyrobo said...

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe EVERYONE is a hero.

SafeTinspector said...

Is a hero someone you would aspire to emulate or someone whose accomplishments are worthy of accolades?
I like to use the latter definition.
This allows me to have a few heroes, such as the late Jim Henson.

If we use the former, I don't know as I've ever had heroes. I've wanted bits and peices of others success, but never wholeheartedly lumped my dreams on any one person's boat.

Kim Ayres said...

gyrobo - part of the problem in this day and age is that few people have a village to help raise their children. In a culture that means we often move far away from our families for work, we are often quite isolated in bringing up our kids.

safetinspector - welcome to my ramblings!

For the purpose of this post, I was thinking of the hero in terms of someone you would aspire to emulate - like the hero in a book or film, it is the person with whom you identify the most, the person you become, or wish to become. In the same way, if you ask most people who they would most like to be, then they will mention some film or pop star.

Of course, built into the notion of the hero is that they are worthy of the title, and if they prove not to be, then there is inevitably a sense of disappointment.

Tied in with this is also the idea that the hero is someone who saves the day. And it is when politicians and those in power, who set themselves up in this guise, fail to deliver that we get disappointed and cynical.

The internal conflict lies in the fact that while I always desperately wanted to have heroes, I never found anyone worthy of the title.

kats said...

This got me thinking, and no I have never had a hero, or wanted one.

However I have learn't that disappointment can, surprisingly, be a crushing emotion and is my own personal achilles heel.

Don't stop blogging Kim.


Belovedlife said...

It took me until after I had Peanut to find myself a hero to look up to. THere is a woman in our community who has five kids, three of whom have special needs, some more severe then others. She lost one to cystic fibrosis not too long ago. She does not let anything or anyone stop her from doing what she wants. She is motivated, driven, passionate and is made of steel, as she seems to deflect every negative vibe from other people. For many years, I remember hearing about her. People would say she was crazy. That she had no business going back to school for her masters, she should be staying home with her kids. That was where she belonged. Taking care of her children and their special needs, not bossing other peoples typical kids around (she is the priciple at a private school here). She Is amazing. She not only completed her masters, but she went on to complete her doctorate and still took very good care of her kids, and was there whenever they needed her. She developed a good sense of self and selflessness, that I wish I could have. She doesn't let others peoples negativity pull her down. Instead she uses it to drive herself forward.After we had Peanut, she came to visit me in the hospital. Why was she here? I couldn't figure it out. I never had anything to do with her, ever, yet here she was in my room telling me that god gave me a blessing, peanut, and I would reap many rewards from her, and she would not just change my famliy, but give me a better sense of my friends. Boy was she ever right. To this day we still talk and get together with the families. They, both herself and her husband, are two awe inspiring people from whom we could take many lessons. I hope I can be half of that woman, as she just amazes me.
The other day someone mentioned to me that I reminded them of this woman, I said thank you, but was not half of what she has become. I have a lot to learn. But she is my hero.

Jeff said...

I am not sure I ever looked at someone I may have considered a hero as someone I wanted to become as much as I wanted to accomplish their level of success.

As a kid growing up in the midwest my hero's were usually sports related. As I become older they were successful business people and I usually measured success in financial terms.

Today I look at things much differently and as you am very happy just the way I am.

BStrong said...

Nice Post Kim.

There are certainly people in my community that I admire, however I wouldn't consider them my heroes. The only hero that I suppose I ever had was my father, but I guess that's pretty cookie cutter.

The people that I admire have certain traits and knowledge that I would like to posses one day, however they also have traits that I hope to never have. For that very reason I can't look at a single person and label them my hero. I think we can learn something from everyone.


Natalia said...

Good questions. I don't know that I have heroes. I think heroes can be dangerous. People are people and hence fallible and the lable hero makes it seem they are perfect and to be emulated. I think there are people I admire for different reason...but they are not necessarily heroes or role models. Does that make sense? And if I could be anyone... I would be me :)


Rach said...

So interesting! Thanks for making me think about this.

I think the idea of heros is long passed not that I think it should be.

Gyrobo said...

I just wrote a post on how the marriage age is going up. I attributed it to the rise in life expectancy, but I'm sure there's also cultural reasons.

And yes, we are becoming more and more isolated. There are all kinds of gated communities springing up in the middle of nowhere. People move out there and never really get to know their neighbors. I don't think I live in one of those places, but I sure don't know MY neighbors very well.

Then again, they did come greet me when I moved in, so the community spirit still burns.

Kim Ayres said...

Lots of thoughtful comments - I seem to have struck a chord with some of you - thank you for taking the time to add your thoughts and experiences.

Kats - no intention of stopping yet

Belovedlife - she sounds like an incredible person

Jeff - I know from my own experience that it's easy to start judging success in financial terms. I glad we both eventually managed to see through the falseness of that one.

Bstrong - well put - couldn't agree more.

Natalia - that's largely what I'm saying: I've always wanted to believe in heroes, but then been disappointed that they couldn't live up to the title. Ultimately I would rather be me than anyone else.

Rachel - welcome to my ramblings, and thank you for taking the time to comment. I think that "celebrities" are mostly occupying the ground that the heroes of old used to have.

Gyrobo - I think the marriage age going up is probably due to the number of people who are getting married a 2nd, 3rd or even 4th time. That's bound to skew the statistics.

Asher Hunter said...

Having a hero means that, to some degree, you surrender yourself to that person. As an adult, where we learn to be self-reliant and in control, it becomes difficult to surrender yourself to that degree.

Also, as we age, we see our heroes dethroned--sports stars with cocaine addictions, movie stars caught with prostitutes, political figures with cocaine addictions and prostitutes--and our faith crumbles.

How can we trust anyone enough for that person to be a hero?

Gyrobo said...

The world needs more heroes, plain and simple.

Kim Ayres said...

Are you offering, Gyrobo?

Mario Dimain said...

Everyone needs a hero. In my case, I have at least three.
Simon Peter, Michelangelo and Abraham Lincoln.

Kim Ayres said...

Mario - You say everyone needs heroes - this post was about why I don't have any...

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