I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a coward.
I’ve always been a big guy–or a big kid. Knowing this, my mother always instructed me to never fight back, to look for solutions other than physical fighting. When I didn’t fight back in school, some of the guys considered me a coward, and I started believing them. Later, when I would speak up in class, often saying inappropriate things, I was ridiculed. Knowing this, and coupled with the idea not to fight back, I started keeping my mouth shut. I had good ideas, and then as I had fewer and fewer reasons to share them, I kept my ideas to myself. I carried that into my job, and while many got a reputation of speaking up and being leaders among the faculty, I’ve learned to, for the most part, keep my mouth shut.
But it’s amazing what having a family and becoming a father does to change that. They talk about the maternal instinct of always protecting your children. Well, that goes for fathers too. I remember my son being bit in the face by a dog. When we took him into the ER, the staff there seemed to take forever, bogging me down with paperwork and seeming to ask the same questions over and over again. I realize now that they were trying to get me to calm down, and were already taking care of my son. But I was there to make sure they did their job.
Later, when I saw that my kids weren’t getting anything out of church, I started a earliteen Sabbath school that was designed to prove to them that church could be fun as well as inspiring. It was a great success, but I found that I became persona non grata to the conservative members in my church. It got to the point that one mother came into our meeting room and tore the posters off the walls. I had learned to open my mouth and stick my neck out when it came to my kids and their future, but not for myself.
It’s ironic that my self-view of being a coward flies in the face of what I write. Because most of what I write about is heroism, often in a Christian setting. But I think my background helps me put a new coat of paint on how we view heroes.
In general, we seem a lot more likely to stick our neck out and do the “heroic” thing when something we value is put at risk. Heroes don’t just pick up their sword and ride off into their crusade for no reason. They need to feel that their beloved wife, or children, or sweetheart–or cause–is put at risk. And the more tangible that love object is and that danger is, the more viable and plausible their campaign will be. Your story should start small, and grow bigger. Consider the most important thing in your life. Now take that away–or threaten to take it away–from your main character. And you have the makings of a hero.
I would imagine that villains are built the same way. They feel strongly about something, but how they go about protecting it is different, and often less socially acceptable. But their passions are just as strong.
I am much older now, and I can be philosophical about my life. But I can’t say I don’t have regrets. Mostly I regret how I treated people along the way.
But remember that every experience we have in our life is fodder for another story. Even our mistakes.