I believe the blood that runs in our veins is the blood of heroes. We’re a nation of heroes. There are many ways to heroism in the present times, and there’s no need for guns or spears, no need to shed blood.
– President Benigno Aquino III, from The Philippine Star
Today is National Heroes’ Day, and it’s a trying time for heroes.
Just a couple of days ago, they laid a flag on Inspector Rolando Mendoza’s coffin, and quite a few hailed him as a “hero.” In his deathbed, some preferred to remember Mendoza’s contributions to society before he became a hostage-taker. The outrage of an entire country be damned, to some, he’s a hero for what he has done, never mind what he did at Quirino Grandstand with a rifle and a busload of hostages.
Just a few weeks ago, they glorified Ivan Padilla. The notorious young carnapper became a victim of police brutality, lionized and glorified in video posts from N.W.A. The man became, for some members of a generation, the symbol of a state that does not care: that his death is a black eye for the criminal justice system. All the while forgetting Ivan’s debts to society, that every video post of “Fuck Da Police” was to stress on “Thou shalt not kill” at the expense of “Thou shalt not steal.”
The messages of the President seem to be hinged on some sense of irony. “Mabuting Pilipino,” much less “dugo ng mga bayani,” highlights and underscores something incredibly tragic about heroism today: that the simplest, most elementary expectations of good citizenship often become heroic. It becomes “heroic” to pay your taxes. It’s “heroism” to stop in your tracks when “Lupang Hinirang” plays. You’re a “hero” to do your part for a better place, whether you push around a cart to teach children how to read, or to pull crowds’ reactions to your singing or your beauty. In this country, “heroes” throw punches.
Here, everyone’s a hero. At least, that’s what they say.
No, we shouldn’t take away the pride we have for our achievers, let alone act all crab-like (we’ve mastered it so much that it becomes perhaps our most infectious negative trait). However, dwelling – and dwelling – on everyday, ordinary heroism by ordinary people distorts the extraordinary quality of heroism. There’s nothing heroic about crossing the road using pedestrian lanes, or wearing shirts and buttons with patriotic symbols.
Perhaps we’re exposed too much, as a people, to the defining moments that drain us of hope. Tax evaders, jaywalkers, litterbugs, rapists, rebels, corrupt politicians, hostage-takers, thieves, murderers, and terrorists become non-news, so much a part of our consciousness of “normalcy,” when in fact, they should represent what we aren’t and what we shouldn’t be. When the minimum demands of good citizenship become acts of heroism, we set the bar low enough for ourselves to say that what we’re doing is good enough, when it isn’t.
If we set the bar low enough for us to equate good citizenship with heroism, then indeed we are a nation of heroes. Yet good citizenship is not heroism: it is the platform by which heroism is bred, where heroism takes shape, and where that extraordinary act by an extraordinary person comes into being. It is only an extreme, hostile hopelessness in a situation to say that in a cesspool of evil will something ordinary, something expected, will rise up to become enough to become a paragon of virtue and a hallmark of heroism.
I believe we’re far from being that hopeless, but somehow I’m wont to believe we’re far from the heroes that some of us think we are. Heroism is the unexpected upper limit of human goodness, the highest degree of achievement, the closest to (if not the creator of) the ideal: not the mean, and definitely not the lower limit.
Today is National Heroes’ Day, where we honor the most extraordinary acts, people, and memories that are shining examples of what we can do, what we should aspire for, and what we hold dear. To hold the memories of a hostage-taker and a criminal in the same level as that pantheon of heroes is to shame all of that; as great a shame as to say that our ordinary lives should somehow be called heroic. In times that challenge hope, dreams, ideals, and the ought-to-be, it is indeed a trying time for heroes.