Monday, April 16, 2012

Diesel, Cena, Hesse, Favre - I Need a Hero

I'm sitting at the Dutch Club in Gulshan 2, Dhaka, Bangladesh, trying very hard not to watch a Vin Diesel movie that's playing on the flat screen hung in the corner of the cabana. Vin Diesel amazes me--I mean, that he is famous, amazes me. That he might even be considered some sort of archetype for a hero in our society amazes me. I guess I'm a bit disturbed by whom we make our heroes and that true heroism gets left by the wayside. I've seen in my various travels the near world-wide worship of people like Diesel and, say, John Cena, so this philosophical query in an international context is not new to me. But it is new for me here in Dhaka. And it joins a tormented host of many others. Living here as an expat, one's conscience suffers daily from philosophical attacks of moral consequence (like the fact that I, and not millions of others, have the privilege of sipping a cappuccino in this club--this bastion of wealth and calm--surrounded by the chaos and squalor that is Dhaka). But this new question of heroism prompted by the low grade action film before me (that's annoyingly tempting to watch) deserves some attention at the moment.

Right now, two young men--men who are Dhaka-dwellers, friends, husbands, fathers, educators, runners--are arriving in Kolkata, India, and preparing to run back to Dhaka starting tomorrow morning: a distance of 291 km covered in four days. They are doing this to raise money for the education of underprivileged children in Bangladesh. Knowing them as running partners (and from my most objective journalist's perspective), I think this "Bangla-Dash" is simply an attempt, albeit a valiant one, to attribute some sort of deeper meaning to their addiction to the masochism of long distance running. But knowing them as friends and colleagues (my more subjective perspective), I believe this is a cause that represents some of the qualities of true heroism.

One definition of a hero might be someone who does something courageous for the good of others. The courage (stupidity?) of running 291 km in the oppressive heat and humidity of Bengal is indisputable; the good done for others is perhaps the most valuable kind: better education for young people in an underdeveloped nation. But I would propose another definition for a hero that Chris Hesse and Marc Favre exemplify: someone who does something when few others will. This is the version of heroism that gets me excited, puts me on a pulpit, really, at the front of the classroom. Living in Dhaka and working as a teacher (a teacher of children from some of the wealthiest and most influential families in the city, I should add), I am confronted not just by the absurdity of the human misery around me. I am confronted daily by the greater absurdity that so many people (especially the most capable) believe that nothing can be done about it. Thus, millions live without basic rights and comforts of existence, while my neighbor in Gulshan owns three SUVs (and two Mercedes in the garage). So it is nothing short of heroic to battle this poisonous misconception--that we are somehow powerless to effect positive change in the individual lives of underprivileged human beings.

Now that Chris and Marc's heroism has been established and speaking of potential powerlessness, it must be said that this act of heroism will be nothing if money is not given to the cause. It's up to us to insure that the Bangla-Dash remains firmly in the category of true heroism and stays far away from the category of "mindless acts of physical prowess" (in the company of Diesel and Cena). We must, therefore, give. But why should one prioritize this giving opportunity? Why should we give money because two ambitious fellows happen to be running a ridiculous amount of kilometers in a place where running ridiculous amounts of kilometers should be banned for the sake of the health of all runners? Well, why do we give in the first place?

 I think we give for the following reasons (in no particular order):

1. For recognition of our generosity
2. To do "our share" (which comes from a conviction that we all have a responsibility to help our human family in some way)
3. Because it seems to be the "right thing" to do
4. Because it benefits us in some tangible way
5. Because we actually love the beneficiary

You will find that, for whatever reasons we choose to give, the Bangla-Dash can validate every one:

1. Our names will scroll on the "Honor Roll" on the Bangla-Dash website, indicating what degree of honor our generosity deserves. 
2. Guess what? We don't have to run 291 km to do our share. All we need (as usual) is a credit card!
3. As teachers, Marc and Chris (and I, for that matter) can testify that providing good education for young people is definitely the "right" way to help the world. This is true on a practical level: education is simply the most fundamental way to sustainably improve people's lives. It is also true, in this case, on a symbolic level: the money raised is going to help children who are often discriminated against in Bangladeshi society due to religion, ethnicity, and other factors. To help these children is to battle the poison of prejudice. Giving to them underscores that they are equal members of our human family. 
4. Indeed we can find a whole list of tangible benefits to giving on the website. But if this is the only reason we give, it begins to call into question the nature of giving. (Still, let's go ahead and give for selfish gain! Especially if an underprivileged child is getting educated in some far off corner of the world that you don't have to go to.)

5. Unless we personally know some of the Bangladeshi children that will benefit from this, the "love reason" is difficult--unless, of course, you've been gifted with an extraordinary degree of empathy...

Let us love, then, the men behind this charity instead. Remember, they are heroes. So let's trust them in their heroism, a heroism that can change children's lives for the better instead of give them a misguided view of manhood. Plus, Chris and Marc are pretty much as fit as Diesel and Cena, far more handsome, and much more down to earth.

Donate and learn all about the Bangla-Dash at
Notice the first two "heroes". Where are the gleeful children, jumping at the chance for a better education? I'll tell you where they are: behind television screens being brainwashed by misguided dreams and twisted versions of manhood. My loyalty lies with the true heroes: the second two.

1 comment:

  1. O.K., Nephew Tim, this is your Aunt in California. My question, why are you not running? I know you were climbing in the Himalayas a few days ago. How’s the ever lovely Christine? So, I want to contribute. Should I go to a particular web-site or may I do it through you?

    Love you to pieces. Jane e