By Henrylito D. Tacio
Three years ago, when I visited my sister in Livingston, Montana, there was one incident that I could not forget. It was winter time and the garage was very slippery. Daniel, my sister Elena’s husband, was in his office some 30 kilometers away. We decided to go to the Walmart to buy some groceries in the nearby city of Bozeman.
We were going out when Phil, the youngest son, skidded and almost fell into the ground. Erik, the eldest, saved the day by holding Phil before the latter fell. Instantly, Phil hugged his brother and told him, “You are my hero.”
This incident came into my mind when I read the story of Wally Lamb, author of such best-sellers as She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True. In an article, which appeared in Life, he tells of the most significant thing he ever learned in school. It happened when he was a secondary school teacher and a group of students started an ugly game.
The students circled a mentally-challenged boy and threw coins at him, at hurtful, hateful velocities. “I attempted to break through and stop this sickening spectacle,” Lamb recalls, “but a 15-year-old girl beat me to it.”
Entering the circle, the girl threw her arm around the victim and led him out of the firing line, despite the coins, taunts and four-letter words now being hurled at her. “I witnessed this incident about 20 years ago, but it lingers as a vividly imprinted lesson in the necessity of immediate moral response to human cruelty,” says Lamb. “Cathy James, wherever you are, whoever you’ve become, you remain one of my heroes.”
Here’s another heroic story. Remember Edmund Hillary and his native guide, Tenzing, who made their historic climb at Mount Everest? Coming down from the peak, Hillary suddenly lost his footing. Tenzing held the line taut and kept them both from falling by digging his ax into the ice.
Later, Tenzing refused any special credit for saving Hillary’s life; he considered it a routine part of the job. As he put it: “Mountain climbers always help each other.” Should the rest of us be any different?
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “but he is braver five minutes longer.” To some young people, heroes are look up as role models. In most instances, heroes become idols.
One of such idol is Orville Wright, one of Wright brothers who invented the airplane. Throughout his life, he maintained the role of modest and retiring inventor. Although, in later years, he received innumerable invitations, he rarely attended public functions, and steadfastly refused to speak on such occasions.
To a delegation of Dayton businessmen, the Ohio-born Wright explained: “Public speaking is not for me. I must remind you in the kingdom of the birds, the parrot is the best talker – and the worst flier.”
This reminds me of the words of Abraham Lincoln, one of the best-loved American presidents. He admitted, “I am never more embarrassed than when I have nothing to say.” In simpler terms, speaking for personal recognition is wasteful; speaking to provide a service to others is honorable. The best advice here is to have something to say and know what you’re saying, or keep quiet.
If you find the response of Orville Wright or Abraham Lincoln very unlikely, it’s because these people worshipped by some ordinary mortals are still human beings. Albert Einstein was once asked how he worked. “I grope,” was his immediate reply. Funny?
Thomas Alva Edison was talking one day with the governor of North Carolina, and the governor complimented him on his inventive genius. “I am not a great inventor,” Edison replied. The governor queried: “But you have over a thousand patents to your credit, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but about the only invention I can really claim as absolutely original is the phonograph,” Edison explained. “I guess I’m an awfully good sponge. I absorb ideas from every source I can, and put them to practical use. Then I improve them until they become of some value. The ideas which I use are mostly the ideas of other people who don’t develop them themselves.”
Here’s more to inventions. Charles Kettering had a unique method of solving problems. He would break down each problem into the smallest possible sub-problems. Then he did research to find out which sub-problem had already been solved. He often found that what looked like a huge problem had previously been 98 percent solved by others. Then, he tackled what was left.
Some heroes became idols because they refuse defeat in the first place. They turn their liabilities into assets. Arturo Toscanini owed his success – or at least his chance at success – to the fact that he was very nearsighted. How could that possibly help a musician? Well, at 19, he was playing cello in an orchestra. Since he couldn’t see the music on the stand, he had to memorize it.
One day, so goes the story, the orchestra leader became ill and young Toscanini was the only member of the orchestra who knew the score. So, he conducted it without a score and the audience gave him a good hand for it – and audiences kept on doing it. If he hadn’t been nearsighted, he might have continued playing cello in small European orchestras instead of becoming one of the greatest orchestra conductors who ever lived.
Someone once said: Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of man. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.
To point out this idea, allow me to share this story recounted by Zig Ziglar in his book, Something to Smile About: “I love the story, often told, about a man who was hiking in the mountains. He was taken by surprise in a sudden snowstorm and quickly lost his way. He knew he needed to find shelter fast, or he would freeze to death. Despite all of his efforts, his hands and feet quickly went numb. In his wandering, he literally tripped over another man who was almost frozen. The hiker had to make a decision: Should he help the man, or should he continue in hopes of saving himself?
“In an instant, he made a decision and threw off his wet gloves. He knelt beside the man and began massaging his arms and legs. After the hiker had worked for a few minutes, the man began to respond and was soon able to get on his feet. Together, the two men, supporting each other, found help.
“The hiker was later informed that by helping another, he had helped himself. His numbness vanished while he was massaging the stranger’s arms and legs. His heightened activity had enhanced his circulation and brought warmth to his hands and feet.”
If you have been considered a hero or been worshipped by lesser mortals, please bear in mind the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Every hero becomes a bore at last!” — ###