Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Feel Like Diogenes

Diogenes of Synope was a Greek philosopher famous for walking around in daylight with a lamp. When asked what he was doing, he'd say, "I'm looking for an honest man." Reportedly, such a man was impossible to find. Here's a picture:

Well, today I feel like Diogenes.

Why, you ask? Well, I've been feeling like this for a while. I've caught myself listening to "Holding Out For a Hero" all too often and feeling an odd, wistful feeling. Yesterday brought it all to a head.

I recently came back from a lovely vacation - more on that later - and had to catch up on all the nonsense going on in the world at once after I returned (what on Earth is going on in Baltimore?!). Then, I took a trip to New York City to see An American in Paris with my family. It was going to be a nice day out, a sweet trip to see a charming musical that is supposed to be suitable for all ages. It started out that way.

Storytime: due to a computer error, our afternoon matinee tickets turned out to be for the evening's show. So we stuck around, visited Central Park and a few shops, and rested in Times Square. As we rested and talked, we spotted girls wandering topless around Times Square, yards away from families taking pictures of Olaf (from Frozen) and Cookie Monster. The girls wore thongs and body paint. That's all. Nothing else. Apparently this is legal now. There were also boys swearing blue streaks and speaking very disrespectfully about the topless girls, which makes me wonder what the girls would think if they could hear the words applied to them by underage boys. Somehow, I think they'd be offended, which leads me to another logical conundrum I don't have time to puzzle out right now.

The show itself was okay, although I don't know why it was labeled as "suitable for all ages" when there was some swearing that kids should not hear. I mean the kind of words that get bleeped out on television. But that was Disney-innocent next to the language I heard on the train ride home.

Granted, we left the city late at night. But I don't think that really allows for the three men, laughing loudly over their bottles of beer, using the public transportation to vent the ugliest words I've heard in a very long time. I am okay with a little profanity, used in the necessary places. I can handle a little more than that, as it's hard to avoid in public. What I can't handle is over an hour straight of three probably drunk grown men belittling women (including their wives) in disgusting terms, speaking loudly about sex, and incorporating DEFCON 1 and 2 level curse words in every sentence. That was not an exaggeration, I am sad to say. I paid attention as these grown, married men invoked a mountain of manure and enough F-bombs to shame the London Blitz. Meanwhile I'm trying to shield my sister, a tender-hearted, sweet girl who ached with every word.

I'm a writer, and that means that I believe words have power. The right words in the right circumstances can change a life, and the wrong ones can cut a heart as deftly as any knife. What I heard, both the words and the meaning, from men that are old enough to know better were ugly and painful. Their power was terrible. Mine is a mostly grown-up family. But we could have been a family with young children, up late after seeing Aladdin or Matilda. Imagine the cruel power of those words unleashed on them.

I'll try to keep this post from getting too long. Suffice it to say, I've been soured on New York City because I went there and everywhere I went I saw people acting far below their capacity, portraying themselves in shallow, ugly terms when they could be more. I've been seeing this more and more (what is going on in Baltimore?!) and it's worn on me.

More and more, I feel like Diogenes. I'm looking for honest people and coming up short. I'm looking for heroes and I can find so few. My definition of "hero" is not very exclusive:

A hero is someone who accepts the responsibilities of doing the right thing without demanding the rights.

This means that a hero does the right thing because it's the right thing, not because he/she will get some kind of benefit from it. A hero does it even if it will set them back in their goals. A hero doesn't demand that he/she get special treatment. A hero quietly and honestly lives up to their high expectations for themselves.

I'm seeing fewer and fewer people like this. They're not gone, but the lack is too obvious to me. I wonder if this absence is why Marvel is doing so well now; people crave the presence of heroic people who can be counted on to speak gently and fight for what they believe in. I am also writing my own heroes, trying to fill that space.

But that's a blog post for a different time. For now, I will lift my lantern and keep searching.

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