The Heroism Project will explore the complex relationship between Americans and our heroes. The project consists of an interactive Web site and comprehensive K-12 curriculum guides.
The hero, in the words of late mythologist Joseph Campbell, has a thousand faces. The Heroism Project takes on America's fascination with them all mythic icons, ordinary citizens, celebrities and action figures. Do we still need heroes? Is there a place for the "dragon slayer" in a society where the media play such a powerful role in deriding the famous and celebrating the infamous? What forms our notion of hero? How do individual circumstances, historical context, cultural bias and media reflect and influence our choices? Does anyone exist, who can endure the tests of time and public scrutiny; or are heroes simply an ever-changing reflection of the people who celebrate them? In Search of Heroes will address these questions, as we take a fresh look at our leaders, our values, our history and our future.
In principle at least, heroes represent the finest qualities of our collective character. Americans take pride in strength, independence and ingenuity, and we have traditionally identified heroes who reflect those ideals. Our country's first heroes rose out of the ashes of a fierce war for freedom. There was little room for ambivalence. We were the good guys fighting the good fight. This sentiment of being on the "right" side prevailed for nearly two hundred years and evolved through the mainstream heroes of Western expansion, industrialization and wars.
Then came Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement and Watergate. Black and white truths gave way to gray areas of question and disillusionment. After that, nothing was sacred pioneer legends morphed into environmental and cultural scoundrels, and our president's intimate behavior provided fodder for stand-up comics. Talk of heroes elicited a shrug of indifference as often as a sigh of nostalgia. Some Americans found inspiration abroad in the social activism of individuals such as Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa while others, particularly the younger generation, revered fame and fortune far above the qualities of courage, commitment and dedication to the public good. Genuine heroes had virtually disappeared from the American scene until the events of September 11, 2001.
Heroes personify our culture and our times; and since times have undeniably changed our nation's heroes have changed as well. Firefighters, police officers, passengers of doomed Flight 93 and ordinary good Samaritans emerged from the rubble to exemplify the country's mettle and remind us how the worst situations can bring out the best of human nature. How long this new way of thinking will last is unpredictable. One thing is certain: the only national figures that are truly cast in stone are those on the face of Mt. Rushmore.
The Heroism Project will engage people across America in thinking and talking about the changing values that define our culture and create our heroes.We will examine the many dimensions and complexities of heroism through scholarly analysis, historical background and compelling stories. But most importantly, we will engage people in talking about their values and their heroes. How have recent events transformed our priorities and our notions of heroism? Whom did we admire when we were children? Who are our heroes today? Whom do we hope our children will emulate? These interactive discussions, combined with a broad-based local and national outreach campaign, will begin to reveal what divides and unifies us, and ultimately, what we care about as individuals, communities and a nation.
If you have additional questions or would like to learn more about The Heroism Project, please contact us.
Copyright 1999, The Heroism Project