When I say that I do not believe in heroes, I am not saying it in an attempt to be pessimistic, or to tear anyone who has earned the title of ‘hero’ down.
And when I say that I do not believe in heroes, I am not saying that there are no people that I, personally, look up to.
For example, I’ve always found the figure of Walt Disney to be an incredibly inspirational one – particularly because he stood so strongly for never giving up. For suffering hardships and still rising beyond them to do what needs to be done. For that, Walt Disney will always be close to my heart, and I will always note him as a figure that I look up to.
But at the same time, as much as I love Walt Disney, whenever I tell people that, I often hear them make comments about how he shouldn’t be an idol to me.
“Wasn’t Walt Disney racist?” they’ll ask – and, truth be told, he probably was, to some degree. I mean, I don’t think he was the leader of the KKK or anything like that, but he did release some movies with some questionable content, like Song of the South and Peter Pan. I can’t say how much influence he had over those films or scenes, but he did allow them to be released as they were, and even more than that, he was a white man who lived between the years of 1901 and 1966, when racism was even more rampant than it is today. He would have had to be an extraordinary man indeed to overcome the dominant belief of his time. I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done, just that it couldn’t be expected of him.
In the same vein, people will also tell me that I can’t idolize Walt Disney because he was sexist, representing a very patriarchal view of society, where the men rule the household and the women are pretty and thoughtless. And, again, to some extent, that’s probably true. I still think that Walt Disney was relatively progressive for his time – but, again, for his time. From a more modern perspective, yes, he probably was a bit sexist.
I’ve also heard people claim that Walt Disney just wasn’t a very nice guy to be around at times. He was a business man, he could be cold and anxiety-ridden and a little bit inflexible at times.
So if all of this is true, how can I look up to him?
Well, here’s the thing – those are not the parts of him that I look up to. I am painfully aware that Walt Disney was human – he had his failings, some that he simply couldn’t overcome, and because of that, I don’t put him on a pedestal. I don’t think he’s a ‘hero’, if we’re defining a hero as someone who is always selfless, flawless, and, at the end of the day, a good role model. I think that he was a man – one who was very admirable in some ways, and very flawed in others.
So I’m always surprised when I see other people disappointed that the person they look up to isn’t flawless. I hear it often about celebrities, or a figure in someone’s field of work – something ugly is discovered about them, and suddenly, people are unsure of how to feel about them. We can only go in one of two ways, it seems – we can either idolize them as a god, or despise them as a demon, and when we discover that our perception is wrong (and we always will, because no person is just one thing), we’re shocked and uncertain.
Why can’t we just look at our heroes for what they are – people? Why can’t we accept that just because someone does something bad, it doesn’t completely erase the good, and vice versa? I’m not saying that we need to forgive everyone for their wrongdoings – of course not. As someone who looks up to Walt Disney, it is my responsibility to admit that, yes, he probably was a bit racist and a bit sexist and a bit unpleasant at times, but he was also a brilliant man who never gave up and created an entire empire off of his hard work. He was both, and I will acknowledge him as both.
And the idea that heroes doesn’t exist is not a sad one – if anything, I prefer it. Because if there are no heroes, then that means that we are not fundamentally different from those we look up to. They were flawed, and we are flawed. They had their strengths and weaknesses, and we have our strengths and weaknesses. And what that means is that if we work hard enough and never give up, then we might someday achieve their success. Because at the end of the day, we are all equally human.