I find it disturbing that the long anticipated passing from the ravages of pancreatic cancer of Steve Jobs, Apple Computer’s headman, has occasioned so much rhapsodic eulogizing. The majority opinion seems to be that this man’s accomplishments as a marketing wizard with a penchant for packaging and selling electronic gizmos, who accumulated an estimated 8.4 billion dollars in net worth, makes him deserving of the status of an American hero and that his passing amounts to a national tragedy.
In choosing our heroes we mean to set them upon a pedestal in order that we and our children might look up to them and emulate or, at the very least, appreciate their exceptional bravery. In a palpably real sense, the people we celebrate as heroes are lifted up to inspire the values and actions of our children as they go forward in life. Do we really want our children to spend their lives aspiring to be clever salesmen?
If we can agree that the granting of hero status to some few among us is an important act, then it goes to reason that we should chose our heroes with some care. Does the fact that one man rises to the top of the heap make that person a hero?
In every heap some will be nearer the bottom and some nearer the top, and always by some measure one at the very bottom and one at the very top. This is always true for every heap and although the one at the top gives us reason to take note, a heap is still a heap, with a top and bottom. No great bravery is required in the heap.
It seems to me that the hero is the one who steps away from the heap–residing for some time at neither the bottom nor the top. Rather than scrambling up or down or just treading to stay in place, the hero takes heed of some other calling in which his status in the heap plays second fiddle to some greater purpose.
The hero is the one who surprises us all with his or her actions, doing what is unexpected in a manner that benefits others. The hero is the flip side of the villain who does the same in a manner that harms others.
The passing of Steve Jobs, neither hero nor villain, is certainly notable, residing as he did at the top of the heap. But he did exactly what everyone in the heap has been doing and by by cleverness, cunning, and good fortune, managed to scramble to the top as some few always do.
It is all well and good that we take note of the passing of others who have affected our lives, but in choosing our heroes we map a path into the future for ourselves and our children. We would be wise to chose our course going forward very carefully.