Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Of Google, Heroes, and Crossfit

HERO: A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his/her life.

I wrote an essay in college titled “There Are No More Heroes.” I actually wrote it in French–I was a pretentious fop in college. Raised on the stories of athletic exploits from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, with the memory of my Dad’s words about JFK and RFK front and center, I viewed the question of present-day heroes through the prism of a post-Watergate world in which sportswriters were no longer covering up the mis-adventures of the athletes they covered.  No one talked about heroism at home or at war, since the war at hand was Viet Nam. With such a narrow focus it’s no wonder that I reached that conclusion.

It turns out that other people have been looking at this same question of late. Maureen Dowd, columnist for the New York Times, was recently interviewing Eric Schmidt the CEO of Google. Ms. Dowd was taking Mr. Schmidt to task for Google’s perceived role in the demise of the newspaper as a viable business (and confusing “newspaper” with “journalism”, but that’s another post). Google, and Craigslist, have slowly usurped the newspaper as the “go-to” advertising location for enormous swathes of commerce. His defense is that Google has simply offered a better product: “The whole secret here is the ads are worth more if they’re  more targeted, more personal, more precise.”Schmidt calls this “[understanding] your history,” whereupon Dowd laments that Google is a “leader in stripping away privacy.”

” ‘It’s fair to say that there will be no heroes,’ Schmidt says. ‘Heroism requires understanding the person in the absolute best light. I’m not sure this is good. What was Barack Obama like in elementary school? Oh yeah, here’s a picture of him picking his nose. God, he’s no longer a hero.’ ” Here is where Eric Schmidt and I fall into the same trap. We are confusing heroes and celebrities; we are equating heroism with notoriety and fame. Another common (though inaccurate) definition of Hero is: a person noted for special achievement in a particular field; synonym = celebrity.

What Mr. Schmidt fails to do now, and what I failed to understand way back in 1978, is understand that heroes demonstrate the attribute “heroism”, the qualities characteristic of a hero such as courage, bravery, fortitude and unselfishness. Most acts of heroism, and indeed most heroes, are anonymous even in these days of Google. Even with our “gotcha” journalism obsession (you know, to sell newspapers, Ms. Dowd) the overwhelming majority of heroes pass among us in total anonymity, disguised by yet another heroic characteristic, humility.

Contrast Schmidt’s take on heroes with Crossfit, a fitness program that has spawned a rather curious community known for its fierce devotion to its fitness principles as well as to its founders.  The Crossfit community is also known for its open “hero worship”, naming benchmark workouts after Crossfitting Special Forces servicemen and other first responders who have died in the line of duty. This very special devotion has in turn dramatically raised the awareness of living heroes who walk in our midst, especially among those of us who are not in the first responder business. You know, like the off-duty Cleveland cop who was ambushed  along with a dozen other motorists and prevailed in a shootout with the thugs without any civilian injuries. Still unnamed, he was at work the next day. Would he be any less of a hero if I saw him doing bad karaoke on Youtube?

Nah. I think I had it wrong back then and I think Eric Schmidt has it wrong now.  The Crossfit mentality of seeking out heroes both living (Tosh) and dead (Murph, JT, Michael, Badger, et al) will prevail because heroism will prevail. Google is quite likely to continue to be successful, and to continue to be more powerful as time goes on, but Mr. Schmidt misses the point when he conflates heroism and fame; Google has no power over a hero for heroism has no need for fame, and heroes remain so whether it was a “pick or a push.” There will ALWAYS be heroes.

Tomorrow in the United States of America it is Memorial Day. Many in Crossfit Nation will do “Murph” in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy, a hero who gave his life as a Navy SEAL in the service of his country. You can read about him in the book “Lone Survivor” written by Marcus Luttrel,  another SEAL who’s life was saved by Murph.

Better yet, why don’t you Google him.

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