Middle Characters

It is Heroes Day in Namibia today and there’s an article about the nature of heroism at allAfrica.com by Bill Lindeke to commemorate the day. Lindeke prefers not to praise the typical people that end up in hero worshiping articles. He considers the accomplishments of everyday people to be heroic and praiseworthy. I am with him on that and don’t need to expand too much further.

However, his focus on the Middle Character as defined by the Chinese is a topic I find very interesting. The Middle Character comes from being neither the Perfectly Good nor Perfectly Bad character in stories, but sitting somewhere in the middle. This concept allows for heroes who have flaws, which is necessary when studying heroes in real life. Only in fiction can we create heroes that stand in that Perfectly Good category. Even then, they are rarely believable.

Lindeke shows a few examples of Middle Characters in his article, such as James Madison and Martin Luther King, Jnr. These men had strong heroic sides, but had personal failings as well. I read another article today that complements Lindeke’s article. It’s an excerpt from Michael Korda’s book, Ike: An American Hero. In it he says, “We have a natural tendency to nibble away at the great figures of the past; to dig through their lives for flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses; to judge them severely by the standards and beliefs of the present, rather than those that prevailed when they were alive.” He mentions Washington, Jefferson, and Eisenhower all receiving this treatment.

The pity is that the modern tendency is to not understand that the Middle Characters are our heroes. The fact that we have access to the intimate details of every famous person’s life (whether we want it or not), means we will never see a Perfectly Good hero again. We must celebrate the heroic deeds of our Middle Characters, big and small.

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