Jackie Robinson: The Fearless and Determined Hero

Jackie_Robinson,_Brooklyn_Dodgers,_1954By Jackson Krase

It is hard to believe that the grandson of a slave and the son of a sharecropper would go on to become baseball’s civil rights legend and not only change the way we look at sports but also the way we look at race relations in the United States. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was ambitious, determined, and fearless on his journey to break through the prevailing race barriers of his time.

Born in a cabin in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919 and one of four children in the Robinson family, Jackie grew up extremely poor. The Robinsons sharecropped for a white family called the Sassers, where they planted and grew crops in exchange for a place to live. Six months into Jackie’s life, his father deserted the family and soon after, Marlie Robinson, Jackie’s mother, decided to move to Pepper Street in Pasadena, California with the hope of giving her children a better life. Soon, Jackie realized his athletic ability, and the rest was history.

As a teen, Jackie joined a neighborhood gang, but was told by an older friend “that it didn’t take guts to follow the crowd, that courage and intelligence lay in being willing to be different.” Soon Jackie flipped his life around and at UCLA, Robinson was the first person to letter in baseball, football, basketball, and track in the school’s history. However, Jackie’s courage in standing for civil rights really showed itself during his time in the army. g210270_u57210_ip-111After being drafted in 1942, Robinson and boxer Joe Louis created an officer candidate school for African-American soldiers. While serving, he was threatened with court-martial, which he eventually beat, for not getting up to move to the back of a bus.

After his tour of duty, Jackie left the military with the rank of second lieutenant. Later on while playing baseball for the Monarchs of the Negro American Baseball League, Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, saw Jackie as the perfect candidate to fulfill his vision of bringing African-Americans in into league. In 1947, his first year with the Dodgers, Robinson earned rookie of the year and even though some people respected Robinson for his abilities and courage, others issued him death threats. During Robinson’s ten year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team won a total of six national league titles, the World Series in 1955 and he personally won the title of most valuable player in the league in 1949. He retired with a .311 batting average and stole home 19 times.

The chronicler of myth, Joseph Campbell, believes that there are three stages in the hero’s journey. The first is departure, followed by initiation and return. In the eyes of Campbell, the hero reluctantly departs on a journey in which he faces the unknown. Jackie crossed 516c891f22417.preview-620the threshold of racial boundaries in the United States, thereby leaving the ordinary and familiar world for the unfamiliar and uncharted one. He learned through his suffering while facing an eclectic bunch of confrontations, even including the possibility of death.

After examining the actions and life of Jackie Robinson it becomes clear that he is both a highly moral individual, as well as highly competent. In the words of Rev. Jesse Jackson, “Jackie Robinson’s impact was greater than just that of baseball. He was a transforming agent and in the face of such hostility and such meanness and violence, he did it with such amazing dignity. He had to set the course for the country,” Robinson was strong, resilient, charismatic, and inspiring, many qualities that make up the great eight of characteristics for a hero.

However, these qualities were not just present during his years playing baseball. After he retired from the sport, he used his unique position and fame as a platform to call for an end to racial injustice. His work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and with the Southern Christian Leadership Council helped create many new opportunities for african-americans as he spoke on the injustices of racial segregation.

It was in the year 1962, his first year of eligibility, that Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jackie Robinson’s actions both on and off the field served as a means of inspiration to a whole generation of minorities who were in desperate need of a hero of their own. His breaking of the baseball color line helped to also break various other color lines all across the United States. His unbending principles and control under this intense and demanding role was equally balanced against his passion for winning. Because of this, Jackie Robinson is a hero for both the sport of baseball and all African-Americans.

The Effortless Benevolence of Heroic Figures in Buddhist Traditions

90510941_oBy Richard Mercer

History, tradition, and legend have it Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni, the Buddha, achieved enlightenment at about the age of 35 during the course of one night after renouncing the life of severe and life threatening austerity which he had followed for six years.  This grand moment of cognition happened somewhere around 450  BCE in what is now northern India and was accompanied by feelings of happiness, confidence, concentration, and equanimity.  From it has grown the immense belief system called Buddhism.

At that time the Buddha said he recollected his manifold past lives–one birth, two births, three births, and so on up a hundred thousand births; there he was so named . . . such was his experience of pleasure and pain, such was his lifespan; and passing away from there he was reborn elsewhere; and there too he was so named . . . .   The orthodox and the faithful believe this literally; a modernist might interpret this in  psychological terms as being able to go back in memory to all the events of one’s infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and so on–to all our own developmental lifespans, and view it as an exploration of the unconscious and the forgotten leading to a life marked by an understanding of causes rather than one driven by unconscious, semi-conscious, and mysterious forces.

Next he understood how beings fare according to their actions stretching back into the timeless past.  This amounted to a verification of the principle of karma and led to the complex concept of causality known as dependent origination. We are rewarded and suffer by the results of our actions, not how they stack up against commandments.  The orthodox and the faithful think here of monkauspicious or painful rebirth; a modernist would take a shorter view and think once more of gaining a large understanding of causality and contextuality in one’s personal life–that is understanding and accepting how one got to where one is by one’s actions–for better or worse–at this very moment.

Finally, the Buddha achieved knowledge of the destruction of defilements–a new, original discovery that emerged from the familiar and traditional doctrines of rebirth and karma.  His recollection of earlier lives destroyed the past as a source of identity and replaced it with the happy experience of release from all that.  In the eternal present he saw that human identity is an illusion–the cause of suffering and the key to its remission.  In the chain of dependent origination there is no person, no agent, no self.  He reworked the human condition dramatized by the memory of past lives into the core of early Buddhist dharma–the four noble truths.  Siddharta awakened.

He then asked himself if he should undertake the wearying and troublesome task of teaching what he had just learned to others who might not understand or should he remain alone enjoying this new state of mind–concentrated, bright, malleable, steady, pure.  In the early Buddhist tradition it is here the Brahma Sahampati appears to him and says,

            Arise, victorious hero, caravan leader,
            Debtless one, and wander the world.
            Let the Blessed One teach the Dhamma,
            There will be those who will understand.

When Sahampati realizes the Buddha has consented to his request to instruct others, he departs; the experience of enlightenment has been completed by the promise of practice and activity for others.

Throughout the long course of Buddhist thought and practice after this, two role models  dominated the landscape—the Arhat and the Bodhisattva.  For the early Buddhists, the consummation of a human lifetime derived from a withdrawn, often monastic, existence marked by poverty, chastity, and obedience.   The successful monk or nun who realized nirvana became an Arhat.  For the later Mahayana Buddhists the ideal life evolved into one marked by heroic involvement in the world, an engaged life infused with wisdom and compassion—the latter often spoken of as highly skillful teaching of the Mahayana way. The man or woman achieving this enlightenment became a Bodhisattva and potentially a veritable Buddha.

But what is Enlightenment?  What is this idea that causes many to look longingly in the direction of Buddhism?

9781590306338In the Mahayana tradition, one answer to the question is sunyata (emptiness), open space in a paragraph implying an answer that cannot be put into words, an answer which clears the ground and prepares the way for a second answer.

It is Bodhicitta (awakened mind), the crucial, momentary experience of which awakens one to the possibility of becoming an enlightened being and motivates one to undertake the  arduous journey to that end.  Shantideva, the great 8th century Indian monk, poet, and scholar likens the experience to seeing a flash of lightning that rends the night, and in its glare shows all that the dark clouds hid; like lightning, he says, good and virtuous thoughts are brief and transient, but bodhicitta, like a hero, protects them.  It is a state of mind, an invaluable attitude, a jewel of the understanding that inspires a promise, a vow to advance step by step to help others.  This is the original vow.

William James, the American psychologist and philosopher, describes a similar state of mind and experience which causes “a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior, and unhappy” to experience a turning around or tipping over of these negative qualities.  There is great happiness, a sense of wellness and health.  Mysteries are cleared up, replaced by a sense of truth beyond words.  The world is fresh and new.  Equanimity replaces anxieties and there is an opening up of new reaches of fortitude and patience.  Motives to antipathy are reduced; there is a shifting of emotional center, an increase of tenderness and charity for fellow creatures.  This alteration of attitude carries charity with it, resulting in a feeling of jubilation, an expansive condition engendering self-forgetful and kindly sentiments.

Perfected enlightenment is implicit in that moment, but is only fully realized after a long period of cultivation leading to a state where one’s actions enact an understanding of dana (generosity), sila (morality), ksanti (patience), virya (effort), samadhi (meditative calm and insight), and prajna (wisdom).  The point where knowledge and behavior are integrated is the consummation, the point where doing the right thing becomes effortless and rewarding.  This condition is the perfection of the original vow.

Shantideva once more:

For all those ailing in the world
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.

Raining down a flood of food and drink
May I become a treasure ever plentiful,
And in the ages marked by scarcity and want,
May I myself appear as drink and sustenance.
            
For sentient beings, poor and destitute,
May I become a treasure ever plentiful,
And lie before them closely in their reach,
A varied source of all that they might need.

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This essay is Richard Mercer’s second analysis of heroism from the Buddhist perspective. His first essay focused on the Bodhisattva. Mercer has been a Visiting Instructor of English and Core (especially Edgar Allan Poe and Samuel Beckett) at the University of Richmond. He has studied Buddhism since the early 1990s. Only recently has he realized that the Bodhisattva ideal is a wonderful and practicable model to follow.

Why We Love “Star Wars”

star-wars-which-classic-film-have-you-not-seen-ftrBy Bennett L. Schwartz, Ph.D.

Heroes in the real world are in short supply and usually ambiguous.  Consider the three brave men who took down the terrorist on a train in Belgium.  I certainly think of them as heroes, and they did likely save many lives, but, in reality, they waited until it was apparent that the terrorist’s gun had jammed before they rushed him.  In the movies, such heroes would bring down the villain amidst a hail of bullets.

In the original “Star Wars,” a lone orphaned “farm boy” with only some folk wisdom to guide him single-handedly attacks and eliminates the Death Star, the most lethal weapon ever invented.   For forty years now, many of us have waited with much anticipation for the next installment of “Star Wars,” expecting to escape from our own ambiguous and complex world to “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” in which good and evil are easily distinguished.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Green, a social psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, contemplating acts of heroism inspires us to find meaning and virtue in our own lives.  Green invokes the concept of “terror-management,” which refers to the manner in which we deal with the dread of our own mortality.  We know we are going to die –but what of our lives will survive our death?  Heroes – from real ones like Martin Luther King, Jr. to fictional ones like Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter – achieve an immortality through their heroism.

In Green’s view, by identifying with the hero, we perhaps find a bit of immortality for ourselves.    For this reason, we identify more with heroes who SausageServlet-4-379489are like us in some fundamental way. Luke Skywalker, from his humble beginnings, must find the courage to do the right thing.  In this way, Luke is an American hero, self-taught, self-made, accomplishing great things because of his will, his inner belief in himself, and just a bit of manifest destiny.   Thus, his triumphs are also ours.

But “Stars Wars” provides other archetypes – so, if Luke is not the hero we identify with, there are other we can.  Hans Solo acts not to right the wrongs of the world, but embodies heroism through loyalty – he won’t leave behind a friend in trouble.  Princess Leia, is already a hero at movie’s start – we admire and aspire to her intelligence, courage, and determination. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a hero past who sacrifices himself so Luke can do what’s right.   Regardless of who we identify with, through that identification, it brings meaning and comfort to our own struggle to make sense of the world.

According to Green, the true hero sees his or his archenemy as redeemable.  This is a fundamentally Christian notion, that even the worst of us can repent and find salvation.  The true hero recognizes this and offers this change to the enemy. In “Star Wars,” this Christian notion of forgiveness emerges many times over, including in the final scene of Episode 6, in which Luke’s faith in the goodness of Darth Vader allows Darth Vader himself to conquer both the evil in himself and the evil that controls him.  At first, this ending may make us uncomfortable – for years, “Darth Vader” was a synonym for evil.  But we also see the complexity of our own lives reflected in the epic struggle of hero and villain, leaving us uplifted by this concept of redemption, so central to our belief system

Thus, deliberately, George Lucas has created an enduring epic myth that appeals to some of our most fundamental beliefs, which spares us – at least for two hours at a time – of the buzzing confusion and ambiguity that is our normal lives.

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The Grinch: A Villain Makes a Hero’s Journey

tumblr_lwoa32M1pW1qcyr71By Suzanne Lucero

Around this time of year a person might find his or her thoughts turning to a well-known literary character whose ultimate redemption holds hope for even the most hard-hearted of individuals.

I am speaking, of course, of the Grinch.

In the first sentence of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (by Dr. Seuss), we are introduced to the villain of the piece.

Every Who

Down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot …

But the Grinch,

Who lived just north of Who-ville,

Did NOT.

That’s terrible, we think. Who doesn’t like Christmas? A few sentences later, though, we are given the probable reason for the Grinch’s dislike. His heart, you see, is two sizes too small. Suddenly, the Grinch is a tiny bit sympathetic, and we sort-of understand when he declares,

“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now!

“I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!

… But, HOW?”’

This is the inciting incident. The Grinch thinks Christmas means noisy toys and feasting and singing, so how does he stop all this from happening? The Grinch comes up with a plan, a “great, grinchy trick,” and puts it into action. In other words, his journey begins.

He begins by making a Santa Clause hat and coat. (He foregoes the snowy-white beard, though. Maybe it itches.) Then he decides grinch+with+doghe needs a reindeer to complete his St. Nick impersonation. For this he enlists his tiny dog, Max. The Grinch ties a horn on top of Max’s head, thereby changing the dog from a mere pet to a minion: Max will be aiding the Grinch by pulling his sled.

The plan starts well. The Grinch has Max pull the sled into Who-ville and proceeds to steal everything from the first house he sees. The only obstacle that presents itself to the Grinch comes in the shape of a child who has woken up to get a glass of water. When she asks why he is taking the Christmas tree, he placates her with a lie and sends her back to bed. The Grinch continues to ransack the village until all the presents, all the decorations, and all the food for the feast is packed into bags, loaded precariously on the sled, and pulled:

Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpet,

He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it.

(You’ve really got to be feeling sorry for Max at this point.)

The Grinch gloats. He’s won! Christmas can’t come, now. Everything is gone and the Whos will all be crying. He pauses to savor his victory and puts his hand to his ear to listen.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow…

But the sound wasn’t sad!

Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn’t be so!

But it WAS merry! VERY!

In the hero’s journey, there comes a point where he or she must “enter the cave.” This is the ultimate low point in the story. The hero is alone, either physically or emotionally. Everything he or she has been working for is crumbling and the antagonist has triumphed; the hero is, actually or metaphorically, dead.

This is the Grinch’s cave. This is where he realizes he’s failed.

 He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming.

IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same.

But How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a hero’s journey, not a morality tale. For all villains, unless they are true psychopaths (which is a medical condition), the cave offers a final chance to redeem themselves. When their defenses have been beaten and they are no longer fighting but only trying to understand why they failed, their hearts can be touched with a little thing called grace.

Then the Grinch though of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

That was the elixir the Grinch found in his cave, the piece of him that was missing. He realized that material things don’t bring happiness. Simply being together with those we love is reason enough to sing.

the_grinch_cut_the_first_roast_beast_by_rhetoric_of_sushi-d4jyzdfAnd what happened then …?

Well … in Who-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart

Grew three sizes that day.

With this new understanding and (we hope) love in his heart, the Grinch completes his hero’s journey by returning everything he has taken from the Whos and sharing in their celebratory feast.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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Suzanne Lucero is a wife, mother, and pre-published author who knows a little about a lot of things and is constantly learning more. She is passionate about writing and is determined to publish her novel-in-progress within 5 years.

 

 

Dr. James Barry: The Hero with a Secret

By Jesse Schultz

It seems almost like the makings of a popular television show: A roguish doctor who travels the world, helping the sick and the poor, all the while fighting duels and enraging those in power. He’s an outwardly unpleasant man with a sharp tongue, but one with compassion for his patients and a determination to help those he can.

But this wasn’t the plot to some new medical drama but the actual life of Dr. James Barry. Little is known for certain of his early life, but he began his medical studies in University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1809 and earned his MD in 1812. He continued his studies in London and passed his examination for the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant in the British Army in 1813.

From there Dr. Barry rapidly rose in rank and served in a variety of places in the world; from India to South Africa to Malta to Crimea and to Jamaica. Wherever he went though he fought for better food, sanitation, and medical care for troops and their families, prisoners, and lepers. While in South Africa he performed the first successful Caesarean section, resulting in the infant being named after him. He decried unnecessary suffering and often advocated for the underclass.

He did seem to get into frequent trouble for his work. He made enemies, was demoted, accused of being homosexual, and even arrested during his career. None of that seemed to stop him or deter him from his work.

Dr. Barry retired in 1864 and died of dysentery in 1865. During the examination of his body it was reported that he appeared to have stretch marks indicating that he had given birth some years earlier.

James Barry had been a woman.

It is speculated that Dr. Barry was born as Margaret Ann Bulkley and took the name of her uncle, the Irish artist James Barry, in order to gain access to medical school. The ruse seemed to be a perfect one as no one apparently discovered it until his death. His enemies would occasionally call him “effeminate”, which reportedly led to a few duels as Barry would take offense to that.

But Barry was a woman who excelled all the while maintaining a near-perfect masquerade and in a time period when it was assumed that women could not do such things. Male or female Barry had a career that would make anyone proud. A life devoted to making the world a better place.

One of the dictionary definitions of a hero is: “somebody who is admired and looked up to for outstanding qualities or achievements”. In that case Dr. Barry is doubly so. One for devoting her life for others and the other for finding a way in overcoming the limitations that society had imposed on her.

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The author, Jesse Schultz, has often pretended to be a writer on this blog, but in reality he just dresses like one.

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Chris Hadfield: Rock Star and Hero From Outer Space

imageBy Rick Hutchins

There’s a first time for everything. The milestones that mark human history can be very illuminating and enlightening, giving us insight into the essential nature of humanity. The first telescope; the first rocket flight; the first satellite; the first man in space; the first expedition to the Moon. These are the events by which we measure our progress as a species; but there are other firsts that are more subtle, yet equally profound.

Canadian Chris Hadfield is a former test pilot and astronaut, who has served as commander of the International Space Station. In his long career as an astronaut, he has been director of NASA operations in Star City, Russia, chief of Robotics at Johnson Space Center, chief of ISS Operations, and chief CAPCOM at Mission Control at Kennedy Space Center. His accomplishments have earned him numerous civilian and military honors in both Canada and the United States. As the first Canadian to walk in space, he was commemorated by the Royal Canadian Mint on silver and gold coins.

He also happens to be a musician. And thereupon we find a unique milestone.

While serving as commander of the space station, Colonel Hadfield recorded the first music album in orbit. His songs were released on Earth through CBC Radio in Canada and YouTube. chris_hadfield_allstream_expertipThen he struck gold. Before returning home, he filmed the first music video in space, a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which became a surprise overnight sensation. The astronaut from Earth became the rock star from outer space.

In the two years since his retirement as a space traveler, Hadfield has not only built upon his success as a singer and musician, but has also used his newfound fame as a springboard to a new career as an inspirational speaker. It is something at which he excels. He talks of facing fear and death while standing on a thin trellis three hundred miles in the sky; he talks of the minutiae of living on a tiny raft bobbing perilously in the airless void of space; he talks of the amazing discoveries that have been made and the priceless knowledge yet to be gained; he talks of traveling into the future and gives simple directions that anyone can understand.

And he sings. He sings his shanties of the sea of space.

People come to listen by the hundreds and by the thousands. His appearances sell out and the venues overflow. Millions more have heard his voice and his message on the Internet, and television, and in print media. He inspires that spirit of adventure and discovery that both compels us and defines us.

For the human race is defined by the Arts and Sciences. There is no dichotomy; they are two sides of the same coin. It is the sense of wonder in the heart that inspires the explorations of the mind. Chris Hadfield has used his gift of music to lift up the eyes of those who might not otherwise have seen the stars.

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Rick Hutchins was born in Boston, MA, and has been an avid admirer of heroism since the groovy 60s. In his quest to live up to the heroic ideal of helping people, he has worked in the health care field for the past twenty-five years, in various capacities. He is also the author of Large In Time, a collection of poetry, The RH Factor, a collection of short stories, and is the creator of Trunkards. Links to galleries of his art, photography and animation can be found on http://www.RJDiogenes.com.

Hutchins is a regular contributor to this blog.  Two of his published essays, on astronaut and scientist Mae Jemison and the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, can be found in our book Heroic Leadership.