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In search of heroes…

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Tue June 4, 2013

Editor: It seems obvious, but people must agree on their national heroes. Often this consensus is spontaneously internalized, from widespread communication and localized knowledge. Much depends on how the individual citizen’s imagination is fired by the witness and account of heroic deeds.{{more}}

National heroes are a special breed. They should be an inspiration to all citizens. Their achievements align with the fulfillment of the nation’s destiny and the exemplification of moral values the nation holds dear. And it is at this level that divisiveness can hamper general consensus. Sadly, not every citizen may agree that the national hero nominated merits such honour. That is why some say national heroes need not be legislated. Many nations have therefore venerated the birth dates of heroic figures, declared appropriate holidays, erected historical monuments and founded a “National Heroes Day” in celebration of all. All this, without actually bestowing the name “National Hero”. Some even say that with the increasing sectarianism in which persons now live, and the correspondingly greater burden of acclaim needed for national heroism, it is unlikely that there will be modern national heroes. Such lofty heights reserved for national heroes dictates that if there be any, there be few, screened by painstaking research. For surely, national heroes are forever. When we close the book on their appointment, in time they acquire an unquestionable quality which they rightfully deserve.

What will be accomplished by legislating more national heroes in SVG? I maintain that national heroes are especially important for the inspiring of national excellence and pride in the young. Notwithstanding that, such heroes also validate the pedigree of the nation’s foundation. We see ourselves in our national heroes and they remind us if what is always good and noble. Heroes never die. We, short-lived humans, are pre-occupied with eternity and good over evil. But in a recent American survey on national heroes, the overwhelming majority of persons polled recalled only two – J.F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

This indicates two things. One, the dimming of hero recall with time, especially without an active culture of heroes (e.g. distinct monuments, burial places, preservation of heroes’ birth places etc) and two the need for the young to see heroism in action. Many young people are distrustful of politicians generally. The view is held that heroic deeds are expected from doing certain jobs, where only in extraordinary cases will extra merit be given. The young are impressionable and idealistic and extremely critical of morality in adults. When is a flaw in hero character fatal to hero status?

Yet, within all this subjectivity, there is a place for national heroes. Our guidelines on the nomination of national heroes are quite similar to others, e.g. Trinidad, Bermuda etc, where, complimentary to heroic achievements, the national hero status must exemplify the moralistic values of the nation. After all, it was Dr Martin Luther King Jr who said “character plus intelligence makes a person.” Adolph Hitler brought Germany to dizzying heights, but who would hold him dear as a national hero?

What is clear is that much more knowledge about our National Hero and those who contend must be distributed throughout our society. Monuments need to be more visible, land dedicated to preserving our heroes and a culture celebrating our heroes infused into citizen life. In this respect, the use of the Dorsetshire Hill school as place-holder for Chatoyer’s history as announced by the Honourable Cecil Mckie is a good move. And it was the 1970’s Afro-headed activist Angela Davis who said “it is dangerous to romanticize the struggles of third world peoples”. For Chatoyer is not just a native in a loin-cloth, smoking under a coconut tree. Our struggle is just as real as any other. Our hero faced deprivation, harsh realities and the need to form visionary solutions to overcome existing problems. We must know these sobering details. A meticulous research committee with a serious public awareness campaign is always necessary.

And what better to inculcate this type of awareness than by a system of national awards for special achievements by citizens. This certainly would inspire the young and create the kind of experience we now lack in this business of choosing National Heroes.

We have seen the agnostic experience of the young in many nations, as regards national heroes. In some countries, nominees for national heroes have just remained nominees. Others have also looked outside of their own country (I think the Russian Leonid Bresher is a hero in Cuba). The caveat also remains that national heroes should be grudgingly few. Haste to investigate should be made slowly. In SVG I believe our priority should be on how best to connect our young people to heroic efforts and the pursuit of excellence. We must cut our cloth to fit.

S. J. Wyllie

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