There’s an old adage that you should never meet your heroes because you will inevitably be disappointed, or something to that effect. As I ponder the people I’ve come to know and in many cases befriend over the past decade, I’ve come to believe the core premise of that statement is fundamentally flawed. We are all after all simply human beings and without our inherent flaws and frailties, raising anyone to hero status diminishes that humanity.
In many ways, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the course of my life and career. When I was young I spent countless hours pouring through car books and magazines wishing I could be the narrator or protagonist in those tales. After focusing on engine design and vehicle dynamics while studying mechanical engineering, my later work took me off in very different directions which would later prove be very valuable to me. However, throughout the first decade of my professional life, I never really imagined where my path would ultimately take me and who I would know today.
It was only the emergence of blogging and online journalism that opened new doorways that I was able to pass through. As a young reader and engineer I was aware of the many names on bylines and the characters they wrote about. Executives, designers, engineers, racers and writers. In some respects I saw some or many of them as personal heroes that I’d like to emulate.
Now however, as I’m well into middle age, having met many of these people, my view is more tempered. While I’ve obviously never met many of the people that are widely considered truly heroic like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Eleanor Roosevelt, we’ve all heard enough about other aspects of their respective lives to realize that above all else, humans.
This is not meant to denigrate the accomplishments or actions of any of those people. The accomplishments must be taken in context. The context of our limitations and flaws and humans and the environment in which we live. In some cases, that context will serve to further elevate while in others, we’ll find that the accomplishments came about by mistreating those around the person we might have admired.
I’ve been remarkably fortunate in that I feel like the balance in my life has been generally toward the positive people. Despite some of the personal struggles along the way, having the opportunity to know and befriend many of the people whose work has inspired, educated and entertained me over the 40-some years since I became interested in cars has been a wonderful experience and I’m eternally grateful to my amazing wife for supporting me along my path.
But there have been those that I now know enough about that I would never want to consider as friends despite still respecting what they achieved.
Ultimately though, I’ve come to believe that hero worship is not a positive thing and it should be discouraged. It would be better for society as a whole if we all looked at each other in the context of our lives. By elevating people excessively despite the decidedly not heroic aspects, we are dehumanizing them. In that, we lose the perspective that we are all capable of doing admirable things great and small and being better humans.