Big boys don’t cry – or so they are told. Girls may get similar programming in the form of ‘be sensible’ or ‘grow up’. The preference for heroism starts at an early age, and from society’s point of view it is very useful – it makes us tolerate all kinds of crap that maybe we wouldn’t do otherwise. The British are particularly good at this with their stiff-upper-lip. In fact society as a whole promotes all kinds of hero – entrepreneurs, celebrities and of course military personnel. In order to gain self-worth many young people feel they have to emulate the hero, and indeed society is not reluctant to bestow honors on the hero. What isn’t so visible is the price that is paid to be a hero, and the millions of people who do not make it to hero status and as a result feel inadequate to some extent.
Well, society is one thing, and we might expect nothing better of mammon. However for those pursuing so called spiritual, religious and even philosophical activities, the hero dynamic is still in play. It can take particularly pathetic forms in some groups and movements, and I personally know of one group of people where heroism equated to how much chicken shit one could move in a given period of time. More generally the heroes come in the form of the enlightened ones, gurus of various types, the wise ones, and anyone who cares to claim they have special knowledge. We are all suckers for this because we are desperate to transfer our fear and uncertainty onto someone who seems to have all the answers. In this way we abdicate responsibility. But there are no free lunches. If we have made such a transfer there is an implicit understanding that we must emulate such a person – do as they do, say as they say, understand what they understand. We will be advised to be mindful, to meditate, to study, to make efforts beyond the norm – in a word to reinforce our already overloaded superego with should and shouldn’t.
Abandon heroism in all its forms – the guru, the enlightened, the entrepreneur, the celebrity, the movie star, the striving student. Spinoza is very clear that we should have a true understanding of our capabilities – what we can do and what we cannot. The world around us is infinitely more powerful than we are and can destroy us in an instant (oops you didn’t see that 40 ton truck?). Capitulate to the power of the universe, and as the Stoics would say – reason never demands anything contrary to nature. So, if it is raining you really must abandon your plans to go sunbathing. If you are unwell, take it easy. If math just isn’t your thing, put in minimum effort to achieve what you need to achieve. If your philosophical pursuits are not fun, simply drop them. In any case life laughs at our self-importance and pompous pretensions. Learn to capitulate, and in the immortal words of Homer – if at first you do not succeed, give up. Practice weakness and taking the easy road – because this easy road is actually the hard road!
Abandon enlightenment, the search, striving and effort, and as it says in the Tao te Ching, bend like a willow in the wind. Do not resist, and drop ambition. Easier said than done, but we all recognize unnecessary and forced effort. Ultimately we will abandon desire because we see how futile and vain are the things that we desire – even life itself.