August 11, 2014

Why I don't like heroes

LAST WEEKEND I watched the golf on television, and I got to wondering why people love their heroes so much. Almost every move made by Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson brought the crowd to ecstasy. The gallery exploded with applause and whistles when one of them actually sank a putt.  It occurred to me, however, that if I were a golfer I wouldn’t want to watch the masters at work.

It’s the same with yachting. When I read about how John Guzzwell heroically saved Tzu Hang or Marcel Bardiaux dived to move a heavy anchor along the sea bottom to save his boat, I don’t feel exultant. I don’t cheer or whistle or stomp on the ground. I simply feel inadequate.

I know I’ll never be able to emulate the feats of the sailing greats. They’re not normal. They’re supermen. They have talents I can never possess and it makes me feel jealous and resentful. How can I love and respect and adore people who make me feel deficient and incompetent?

The sailing heroes I worship are the unsung ones, the ones who make their way from port to port, and across oceans, using a minimum of talent and drama. I like the skipper who loses an anchor now and then, or who forgets to compensate for the current and ends up where he didn’t want to be. Such sailors make me feel good. They make me feel it’s only normal to have to go back to rescue the dinghy because I didn’t cleat the painter properly. They make me feel it’s not a crime to run out of fuel because I left the damned spare cans  in the trunk of the car again.

I like them because they’re not capable of anything heroic. And most of all I like them because they’re not better than me.  I realize what that says about my character. And I don’t care.

Today’s Thought
The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.
—Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyper Reality

"How's your glassblower friend?"
"Not so good. He inhaled by mistake and had to go to the doctor with a pane in his stomach."
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

So, John, you must like the Redford character in All Is Lost?

John Vigor said...

Doc, I haven't seen the movie but I believe Redford did a good job in the view of many critics. I don't know how many of those critics are sailors. But I take your point. Redford is the anti-hero type of hero I prefer.


John V.

Tillerman said...

Heroes are dangerous people. They like getting themselves in risky situations and then performing heroic feats to get out of them. In most pursuits, including sailing, they should be avoided like the plague.

Never hire a hero. He will sink your boat or your company so that he can then rescue you. Instead hire quiet competent people who don't have hero complexes but who will help your business grow slowly and steadily or help you sail your boat around the world with no major disasters… or heroics.

Don P said...

In general I try not to have heroes as I feel it robs them of the ability to be normal and average. But I do have a few exceptions. One is a sailor. I've never met him but through his writing I have developed an "I can do this" attitude about getting out in the wind and water. His attitude about making your own luck through common sense, preparation and seamanship is simple and inspiring.
Best of all, when he shares his experiences and wisdom it is with humility and humour, plenty of humour, making it all that much more fun.
My hero is John Vigor.
Thanks for the inspiration John!
Don P.

John Vigor said...

Don P, I must thank you sincerely for those very kind words. I believe it's the first time anyone has called me a hero without first receiving payment.
But seriously, I am nobody's hero. I can't take the responsibility. The trouble with being a hero is that it inspires investigative reporters to start looking at your feet of clay. Nobody notices your feet if you act modest and keep your big trap shut, but the moment you do something heroic they're prying your toes apart to see what nasties are lurking there. Personally, I'm never going to take my socks off again.


John V.

57 degrees North said...

"...perfection takes no risks in and of itself you see. Therefore, it stands to reason that all true greatness must rise from imperfection."
--Cordelia Vorkosigan