Those Whom We Forgot: The Writers

By J. A. Schultz

Enûma Eliš.

In the Beginning.

Thousands of years ago something seemingly magical was invented. It was a magic that allowed one to read the mind of another. To speak across vast distances. From time immemorial voices of the dead could be known. The magic is as profound as all of human wisdom and as simple as the words you are now reading.

Like the taming of fire before it, it would become a seminal event in human history.

In fact, it would create history.

Writing.

It is an easy thing to take for granted, these little scratches that allow us to share our thoughts. But writing is the thing that has created the modern world we live in. Without it our cultures would have to be passed down from by word of mouth and fallible memory — as many non-literate cultures had done before.

So it is more than a little ironic that we don’t actually know who invented writing and precisely when. Simple scratches have been found as old as 800,000 years old in Java and 40,000 year old “hashtags” near Gibraltar. But the earliest evidence of actual writing comes from the Vinča culture in what is now known as Romania. The most ancient of these is known as the Tărtăria tablets dating back to 5500 to 5300 BC. However this find is controversial and the first definitive examples of writing date back to Sumer and Egypt in 3100 BC and China in 2100 BC.

Throughout history humanity sought to find separation between itself and the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet for every milestone we place, every divine aspect we imagined for ourselves, our natural brethren had quite happily knocked down. Except for writing.

Writing was most likely invented as a way to keep track of common things such as harvests or the numbers of livestock being kept at any given moment. It was simply a way to making life easier. Little could they have known the world they were setting in motion. For writing soon went beyond the confines of mere clerical work and allowed people to share their thoughts, loves, and madness and do so through space and time.

Because of that initially utilitarian invention we can experience the love the Pharaoh Akhenaten felt for Queen Nefertiti through his letters and poems to her 3000 years ago. Or Claudia Severa inviting her friend, Sulpicia Lepidina, to her birthday celebration in 100 AD. Or the amazingly erudite letter written by a ten year old girl named Elizabeth to her stepmother, Anne, on the 31st of July 1544. Or the words of my 5th great-aunt giving testimony on May 18, 1886 on why her nephew used various aliases.

These echoes, these preserved moments of time, are the result of the efforts of people who most likely had no idea what they were setting in motion. They had no intention of being heroes — at least not for inventing something so ubiquitous — but without their efforts our modern civilization would not exist. Lives would be slowly forgotten or garbled beyond any recognition. Lessons of the past would be left aside. Human history would shrink to that of a handful of generations. Death, already a tragic loss, would be catastrophic. Not just for their loved ones, but for society as a whole.

Because of these heroes, these ancient writers whose pens really were mightier than any sword, vast swaths of history are open to us. There for us to read.

Because they taught us how to write.

Enûma Eliš.

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The author, Jesse Schultz, tries to make the best use of the 26 letters of the English alphabet.

Why Our Fathers are Our Heroes

8By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

In our Mother’s Day blog post, we noted our research finding that people listed their mothers as heroes more often than any other person.  Fathers were a close second.   Why are parents viewed as so heroic?  Developmental psychologists tell us that the relationship we have with our parents is the first significant relationship of our lives.  It is a relationship that indelibly shapes our values, our aspirations, and our future behavior.  Thus when we experience successes in our careers and in our personal lives, it is not surprising that we attribute those triumphs, at least in part, to our parents.

The origin of Father’s Day is not entirely clear, but there are several fascinating possibilities.  Babylonian scholars have discovered a message carved in clay by a young man named Elmesu roughly 4,000 years ago.  In the message, Elmesu wishes his father good health and a long life.  Some believe this ancient message represents evidence of an established tradition of honoring fathers, but there is little evidence to support a specially designated Father’s Day until modern times.

There is some debate about the origin of the Father’s Day that we celebrate today.  Some claim that a West Virginian named Grace Golden Clayton deserves the credit.  fathersIn 1907, Clayton was grieving the loss of her own father when a tragic mine explosion in Monongah killed 361 men, 250 of whom were fathers.  Clayton requested that her church establish a day to honor these lost fathers and to help the children of the affected families heal emotionally.  The date she suggested was July 8th, the anniversary of her own father’s death.

Still others believe that the first Father’s Day was held on June 19, 1910 through the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington.  Inspired by the newly recognized Mother’s Day, Dodd felt strongly that fatherhood needed recognition as well.Her own father, William Smart, was a Civil War veteran who was left to raise his family alone when his wife died giving birth to their sixth child.  Dodd was the only daughter, and she helped her father raise her younger brothers, including her new infant brother Marshall.

Whereas Mother’s Day was met with instant enthusiasm, Father’s Day was initially met with scorn and derision.  Few people believed that fathers wanted, or needed, any acknowledgement.  It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day an official holiday.  Today the holiday is widely celebrated in the month of June by more than 52 countries.

Why are fathers heroes?  fathersThe respondents in our survey listed two main reasons.  First, fathers are given credit for being great teachers and mentors.  They teach us how to fix a flat tire, shoot a basketball, and write a resume.  Fathers are less emotional than mothers, but they lead by example and devote time demonstrating life skills to us.  Former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, once said, “I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week.”

Second, fathers are great providers and protectors.  Our respondents told us that their fathers were heroes in their commitment to provide for their families, often at great sacrifice.  Many fathers work at two or more jobs outside the home to ensure that their families have adequate food and shelter.  Fathers also provide us with a sense of safety and protection.  Sigmund Freud once wrote, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

On this Father’s Day, we wish all fathers, and all men who serve as father figures, all the kudos they so richly deserve.  Happy Father’s Day!

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Do you have a hero that you would like us to profile?  Please send your suggestions to Scott T. Allison (sallison@richmond.edu) or to George R. Goethals (ggoethal@richmond.edu).

Can Heroes Be… People?

By J. A. Schultz

On December 12, 2018, University students took down a statue they believed to be racist. It had been erected only two years prior but was almost immediately the subject of controversy and vandalism. However this wasn’t a Confederate statue in an American school.

This was at the University of Ghana.

And the statue was of Mohandas “Mahātmā” Gandhi.

In the West this would come off as rather shocking as Gandhi is often seen as a hero. A man of wisdom and nonviolence. However this view turns out not to be universal. Gandhi had lived in South Africa for two decades in his youth but his critics argue that while he had advocated for the rights of Indians, he had ignored the blight of native Africans even referring to them as “kaffirs”– a derogatory term used against the native people. A man who wasn’t necessarily opposed to Apartheid. This is a legacy not often heard of in the West, but it is one remembered in Africa. And due to this, Gandhi is not always regarded as a hero there.

And this is an important lesson when dealing with heroes or even people have grown to admire. Understandably we tend to like these people to be “pure” in thought as deed. Perhaps mistakes were made in the past, but our heroes have grown past them. Improved. Move on. Inversely however there are also critics of our heroes — or perhaps we’re the critics of some “media darling” — who point out their failings and question the legitimacy of their heroic status.

So which is it?

The thing that is often lost in the debate is the fact that heroes (whether we believe the title is warranted or not) are in fact people. Flesh and blood people who have good days, bad days, slips of the tongue, or simply don’t completely understand the world they live in.

Just like everybody else.

And while this may seem like common sense — an obvious truism that doesn’t need to be stated — it is still a question that haunts us: Do good deeds outweigh the bad? Does the bad outweigh the good? Can people actually change and if so, how much should the past be put aside? Do our own prejudices and preconceptions cloud our judgments? Most importantly: is heroism diminished by other, unrelated, deeds? Is Martin Luther King Jr.’s life’s work diminished by his extra-marital affairs? Are the founders of the United States diminished due to their position on slavery? What do we focus on?

In the end this is a subject we have to agree to disagree on. But it is just as important to understand that we’re not dealing with fictional characters here but real people. People who are often just as lost in life as you or I. People who not only make mistakes and don’t always repent for them to our liking.

Admire Gandhi the Mahātmā.

Criticize Gandhi the young lawyer living in South Africa.

But don’t forget that they are the same person.

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The author, Jesse Schultz, is a writer who is upset that he will be portrayed as a villain in the 2103 movie release of “You Call That A Book?”.

The Science Behind Why We Celebrate Mother’s Day

By Scott T. Allison

It’s a familiar story – a mother sacrifices her life to save her children. On February 7, 2019, Kristina Stratton ran into her burning home to rescue her four kids from their upstairs bedrooms. The children made it out safely, but Stratton succumbed to the flames.

Each year we celebrate Mother’s Day, and for good reason. Our mothers are our Number One Hero, according to our surveys. Fathers occupy second place in our hero surveys, but they are a distant second.

Mothers are indeed the mother of all heroes.

For the past several years, psychologists have been able to pinpoint the precise reasons why people need heroes. Our heroes appear to serve four important functions, which spell out the word DIME: (1) Defense and protection; (2) Intelligence and wisdom; (3) Moral modeling; and (4) Enhancement and inspiration.

Our mothers excel at fulfilling all four of these functions. Here’s how mothers do it:

1. Mothers Defend and Protect

Kristina Stratton is certainly not the only mother who has died while defending and protecting her children. Hundreds of mothers around the world perish each year while shielding their kids from danger. Legendary stories of mothers sacrificing their lives abound, and in fact there are so many tales throughout the ages that Snopes and other fact-checking sites question their veracity.

Legends are usually based on truth, and there is no doubting the truth about our mothers’ willingness to make the deepest of sacrifices for their children.

The protection function of heroes is seen in our respondents’ comments about why their mothers are their heroes. Typical responses include, “My mother protected me from neighborhood bullies” and “My mother kept me safe from predators.” Rebecca M. Fischer, a student researcher at the University of Richmond, found that mothers are “biologically driven to protect, care for, and motivate their children to succeed.”

Other colleagues of mine at Richmond, Craig H. Kinsley and Kelly G. Lambert, have discovered that motherhood changes the brain, producing maternal behaviors directed toward protecting their young from danger.

2. Mothers Provide Intelligence and Wisdom

Scientists are beginning to uncover evidence that intelligence is inherited more from mothers than from fathers.

In addition, mothers tend to be fiercely committed to passing on wisdom to their children. My own mother taught me that the most important things in life are intangible and cannot be bought – love, integrity, character, and honesty.

Many of our most cherished heroes credit their mothers for teaching them fundamental truths about life. George Washington observed that “all I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”

Famed musician Stevie Wonder has said that his mother “was my greatest teacher”. Former First Lady Michelle Obama observed that “Life is practice. I tell my girls this every day, ‘you are practicing who you are going to be.‘ Do you want to be dependable? Then you have to be dependable. If you want people to trust you then you have to be trustworthy. Practice who you want to be every single day.”

A mother’s wisdom is often wrapped in compassion for others. Poet Maya Angelou’s mother encouraged her to “always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. Some people, unable to go to school, are more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”

3. Mothers are Moral Models

Our mothers are heroes to us because they role-model the highest standards of human conduct. Abraham Lincoln once noted that “all that I am, or can be, I owe to my angel mother.” Andrew Jackson claimed that “there never was a woman like my mother. She was as gentle as a dove.”

In his annual Presidential Proclamation of Mother’s Day, Barak Obama emphasized how mothers “shape America’s character”. Many mothers “struggle to raise children while pursuing their careers or as single parents working to provide for their families.” Mothers lead “by powerful example and overcoming obstacles so their sons and daughters can reach their fullest potential.”

As children, we watch our mothers’ selflessness and daily sacrifices, and we learn that we’re all called to perform these acts of kindness for others.

4. Mothers Enhance and Inspire Us

Our respondents to our hero surveys never fail to mention how much their mothers made them better people. Typical responses include, “My mother inspired me to become my best self” and “My mother motivated me to develop my fullest potential.”

Olympic champion Wilma Rudolph’s mother helped the track star overcome polio. “The doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother,” she said.

Inventor Thomas Edison shared a similar story. “My mother was the making of me,” he said. “She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has said that her mother “raised me and my sister to believe that we could do anything, and we believed her.”

Our mothers think the world of us and want what’s best for us. They help us all reach for the stars and maximize our fullest potential.

Mother’s Day far exceeds Father’s Day in terms of greeting card sales and gift expenditures, and for good reason. Mothers are our Number One Hero because of the free offering of love that they give us. They are there for us when we need emotional support. Mothers hug us. They comfort us when we cry and let us sit on their laps. They kiss us on our cheeks before school and at bedtime at night.

Yes, social norms are changing and we now see more fathers taking on the role of nurturers than in previous generations. But the emerging science of heroism helps explain why we reserve a special place in our hearts for our heroic mothers.

Powerful Hero Archetypes in Game of Thrones

By Scott T. Allison

Since the advent of language, human beings have been magnetically drawn to tales of inspiring heroes. The powerful allure of heroism is wired into us, and science appears to support that claim. Hero stories fascinate us because we are all potential heroes, and we’re called to follow the same heroic journey as the protagonists in the stories we love.

Game of Thrones, one of the most highly acclaimed series in television history, owes much of its success to its effective portrayal of heroes. There are at least five deep hero archetypes that Game of Thrones uses to create alluring heroes. These archetypes are: (1) the underdog hero, (2) the hero’s secret royal heritage, (3) the hero’s redemption, (4) the heroic transformation, and (5) the hero’s mentor.

1. The Underdog Hero. There are over a half-dozen characters in the series that win our hearts because of their ability to overcome their underdog status. Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf whom everyone seems to underestimate. He uses his wit, intelligence, and wisdom to survive and thrive in Game of Thrones’ harsh world. Jon Snow is the bastard child of Ned Stark, a status that relegates him to third-class citizenship, yet his overall goodness and courage allow him to climb the social ladder.

Two legitimate Stark children, Sansa and Arya, are diminished and underestimated due to the lowly status of women in Westeros, yet their resilience and cunning enable them to overcome evil. Samwell Tarly is at first a lovable coward whom everyone dismisses but he evolves into a brave and stalwart member of the night’s watch. Daenerys Targaryen is, at the outset of Game of Thrones, mere breeding stock for the Dothrakis yet she emerges as the most powerful ruler of the seven kingdoms.

2. The Hero’s Secret Royal Heritage. In many classic fairy tales, the hero is oblivious to their true special identity, which is often that of a king, queen, prince, or princess. Jon Snow suffers the status of an outcast, and unbeknownst to everyone he is actually the true heir to the iron throne.

As mentioned, Daenerys at first is nothing more than a sex slave while her true identity is Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Protector of the Realm, Queen of Meereen, Yunkai and Astapor, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt Breaker of Chains, Lady of Dragonstone, and more.

Bran Stark has been reduced to a crippled boy but soon discovers his true identity as the three-eyed raven who can see the past, present, and future. It should be noted that the “third eye” is considered a sign of deep enlightenment in Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures. Bran grows from nothingness into omniscience.

3. The Redeemed Hero. Stories of redemption abound in Game of Thrones. One notable redeemed hero is Theon Greyjoy, an arrogant jerk who develops severe PTSD after enduring lengthy mental and physical torture at the hands of Ramsey Bolton. Humbled almost beyond repair, Greyjoy slowly regains his confidence and appears to be climbing to the status of a leader as the series enters its final season.

Jaime Lannister’s redemption looked next to impossible after he shoved young Bran Stark to his seeming doom in the series’ first episode. Seemingly irredeemable, Jaime has proven himself to be one of the more loyal and honorable Lannisters. In fact, he could be the only person willing and able to stop his evil sister Cersei. The Hound, who was once a vicious killer, is another character who appears to be slowly carving out a redemptive heroic path for himself.

4. Heroic Transformation. During their journeys, heroes undergo significant mental, moral, emotional, spiritual, and physical transformations. The two Stark sisters, Arya and Sansa, each undergo transformative arcs. Sansa grows in confidence and wisdom, whereas Arya grows into a fierce and daring swordsperson. Jon Snow, too, evolves from a mere guardian of the wall into a wise king of the north. Bran, of course, undergoes a striking spiritual transformation.

Theon Greyjoy transforms twice, first from an arrogant lord into an emotionally destroyed cipher, and then from that cipher into a newly empowered lord. Daenerys owes her remarkable transformation to an unnamed servant to Drogo, a woman who teaches the future Queen how to empower herself in her marriage. This act of mentorship sends Daenerys on her heroic journey.

5. The Hero’s Mentor. In classic hero mythology, heroes receive assistance for someone older, wiser, or unusual in some respect. Daenerys has had several mentors giving her advice over the years, the two most prominent being Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister. Jon Snow was mentored by Ned Stark, Davos Seaworth, and Maester Aemon. Snow himself has served as a mentor to Samwell and to Theon.

There have been plenty of dark mentors, too — people who appear to mean well but are intent on steering the hero down a dark path. Sansa Stark’s dark mentor is Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish, who manipulates her into making several bad decisions. King Tommen’s dark mentor is the High Sparrow who steers Tommen toward betraying his wife and his mother. Some mentors are a mix of good and bad, as when Arya Stark is trained by the assassin Jaquen H’ghar, the mysterious man of many faces who teaches Arya important skills yet almost destroys her in the process.

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Game of Thrones has won 39 Emmy Awards for a reason – the series has crafted highly memorable characters who have undergone dramatic heroic arcs. We’ve reviewed five ways that Game of Thrones has used powerful hero archetypes in portraying extraordinary heroism. We look forward to the series’ eighth and final season when all these hero journeys reach their natural completion.

We Needed Tiger Woods to Win The Masters

By Scott T. Allison

For years I’ve been telling my students that the reason why we watch movies and read novels is not to be entertained, but to be inspired and educated about life.

The main characters in our favorite stories are telling our story. It’s a story of being swept into painful circumstances, feeling helpless and lost, getting help from others, transforming into something new, and emerging on the other side better than before.

It’s the story of life, and the heroes of our favorite stories are showing us the way. No wonder we pay such rapt attention.

Tiger Woods’ victory in the recent Masters golf tournament illustrates just how the world of sports entertainment parallels the drama and theater of movies, television, novels, and plays.

Tiger, as you may know, burst onto the sport scene as a golf prodigy in the 1990s. He dominated the sport as almost no one ever had. He even won the 2008 US Open while playing with a broken leg. Tiger seemed invincible.

You probably know what happened next. Tiger’s marital infidelities were revealed, suggesting a sex addiction. He took a long sabbatical from golf to get well. When he came back, he was no longer a dominant golfer. Even worse, he began to suffer significant injuries to his ankle, knees, and back.

Every one of his comebacks stalled, with Tiger’s injuries mounting in number and severity. In 2017 he could hardly walk and was worried he might never lead a normal life, let alone play golf again. He underwent spinal fusion surgery as a last resort, a procedure that would impair his ability to swing a golf club but would allow him to live a relatively pain-free life.

Stories were swirling about Tiger’s broken, decrepit body. He was written-off as a player who was once great but who would never again reach the pinnacle of golf.

After recovering from this major back surgery, Tiger discovered he could still swing a golf club, although not in the same way or with the same flexibility and speed. He made adjustments to his swing and practiced as hard as he could, although his aging body would not permit him very much practice time.

In 2018, against all odds, Tiger not only returned to professional golf, he won the PGA Tour Championship. Still, there were doubters. Surely Tiger would never win a major championship, not at the age of 43 and not while competing against today’s younger, stronger players.

Tiger’s victory in the 2019 Masters tournament was a stunning accomplishment. It is being hailed as perhaps the greatest comeback in sports history.

Human beings need good comeback stories. All of us experience loss and failure of some type. It can be a divorce, a disease, a tragedy, an injury, or a transgression. Whatever it is, we all suffer through times in our lives when we’re trying to come back from pain and adversity.

In coming back, Tiger role-modeled many heroic virtues – hope, hard work, determination, resilience, and inspiration.

The sports world is a stage and we are drawn to heroic protagonists on that stage whose stories parallel our own struggles in life. Tiger went on the hero’s journey, suffered, and transcended that suffering.

We needed it to happen.