We Can Be Heroes …in High Heels?

Photo from the annual "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" supporting SARA

The signs read “Are you Man enough?” as a band of regular men walk around Red Wing, MN sporting donated high heels. Their goal is to raise awareness for sexual assault and violence against women in general. In addition, they are raising money for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (formerly, Goodhue Wabasha Sexual Assault Services). I’ve walked with them in 2011 and 2012 – I plan to do so again on April 20th.

I got involved with this event as part of an Overnight Website Challenge team. While my teammates were busy writing code and content, I was alternating between assisting our designer and soliciting artistic direction from the client. We finished most of the site on time, but we had some engineering hurdles to surmount so we pushed off the launch until just before their big event. I drove down to attend and made my donation via my cell phone to demonstrate the awesome work that our developers had put into it. I then walked around Red Wing (not a full mile – I was late due to Google Map coverage issues which sent me down a country road).

SARA provides “support to sexual assault survivors with educational materials, forensic examinations, and more. Donations also support outreach, prevention, and volunteer training materials.” It’s a noble cause worth backing, and they need support now more than ever. This year they are unable to provide classroom training due to the price of gas and a reduction in state funding. I’m not a female, so I can’t know the fear they have to face in our society.

I’m not normally one to ask people to spend their money on something they may not believe in, but I hope there are some of you out there who can agree with me on this being worthwhile. I’m even willing to raise the ante – pictures. If you donate via their donation form and either comment below or comment on the Facebook thread I post this under, I will put your name on a poster which I will carry through the streets of Red Wing and post on Facebook afterward. Give what you feel comfortable with (the minimum amount they will take is $10) and post before noon  next Friday (April, 19, 2013) – that simple.

Oh, and if you want to walk with me or watch grown men hobble down the street trying to balance on high heels, then I’ve got 2 available car seats (Cerbie takes the seat directly behind me as she gets to walk with us). My car leaves South St. Paul at 9am.

How the St. Peter Tornado Made Me a Better Man

St. Peter Tornado

Trees uprooted by the St. Peter Tornado, courtesy of the St. Peter Herald

It’s been 15 years today since a tornado cut a huge swath through St. Peter, MN. I’ve written previously about where I was the night it happened – I was on my way back from my grandfather’s funeral in Texas. There was an outpouring of aid from the surrounding communities and a glut of volunteers. I did little aside from drive past, gawking at the destruction; the once majestic trees that lined the lined 169 through downtown were gone. I had other things to do and manual labor had never been my cup of tea. I was working long hours and was active in the Community Education program teaching MS Office, Windows, and HTML.

That summer I was working 100+ hour weeks doing two jobs – Web Designer/Account Manager from 7-3 (eating at my desk) and Tutor/Counselor/Instructor at Upward bound from 3:15-10:30 with full days on the weekends driving kids around or helping them confront their fears on the ropes course. It was intensely rewarding, but I knew that I needed to find another outlet – another way to make a difference in the community.

A few weeks later I had a meeting with my financial adviser who was the president of the local Junior Chamber (Jaycee) chapter. They were having a membership initiative and she gave me the hard sell. I took the membership slip back with me to my office and it sat there staring at me. At the time I was an agnostic and so the first sentence of the creed stuck in my craw – “We believe that faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life.” It wasn’t faith in something greater than yourself, it was specifically faith in “God.” Like our national motto and pledge of allegiance which were changed in the 1950s to reference “God” as a bulwark against the spread of communism, I learned that the creed had added that line in roughly the same timeline.

After some internal back and forth, I signed the application, wrote out my check, and headed upstairs to drop it off. I told her that I was submitting my membership but I wasn’t promising to recite the creed exactly as it was written (in truth on multiple occasions I mouthed the first line just like I would fake singing when I would go to church with my parents). I told her how in my estimation, if there was an all-powerful deity, lying to him/her to make other people feel comfortable was a no-no. I also probably went on about my favorite philosophical rant about how only an atheist could truly do good because a theist believes that the good they do will be rewarded in the afterlife, so they’re just being selfish like putting money in the bank for a later day.

As a new member, the expectation was that I should run a project. She had just the one picked out – Rake the Town. I was to promote the event to the membership and convince a number of them to join me in raking 4 yards in St. Peter (evidently all of Mankato was covered by the time I called in). It was a chilly day and I arrived in advance of the team. I was nervous – while I was comfortable leading students from Upward Bound and gamers (first two-term president of the college gaming club), regular people were sometimes intimidating.

By the time we were finishing up the last yard, I was exhausted and questioning why I was out here and why I had joined. It was about that time that the owner of the house came out to thank us. There were tears in her eyes and I wasn’t sure why – it wasn’t a big yard and it took us about 10 minutes to do. Then she told us about how the day after the tornado she hadn’t known what she would do until people showed up and started picking up her yard for her. She was reliving that moment and so excited to see that people would exhibit this level of kindness for someone they didn’t even know. I could tell she was having a hard time coping with the emotion and we were also experiencing it with her so several of us exchanged hugs with her before leaving for the day.

That moment made me feel a bit like a superhero, getting me in touch with my dream job from childhood. If I hadn’t been such a slacker and gotten yards in Mankato, I don’t know if I would have stuck with the organization. I’ve faded in and out of the organization a number of times when I felt like I was sacrificing too much of my time and career, but I’m back again, helping out the state organization as a trustee for the foundation. It’s a rush to hang out with people who are inspired to change their communities.

Going Viral on a Plane

Airplane cabinDelta announced that the plane would be delayed even further so I was in a pissy mood, which was just where I needed to be emotionally for what was to come.

I’m often the rosy colored glasses type, but I could see my half day of vacation planned for Friday slipping away. The airport lacked the omnipresent power stations I was used to from MSP and so I couldn’t plug my computer in to get work done, which meant I would have to push it forward to the following day. I found some solace in the airline’s offer of a $6 meal voucher (which does not go far in an airport food court) and $50 in credit for a future flight.

I passed the time reading through old forum entries on the political Facebook group I co-moderate. The conversation reflected the broader stage of partisan politics with little to no effort to reach across the aisle or restrain each faction’s most vitriolic proponents and we were heading down a path to bannings or dissolution. I had formed it because I was tired of reading posts on Facebook from friends and family on the other side of the aisle and feeling the need to bite my tongue rather than correct or contradict them, but I’ve accepted that my Facebook profile is not the place for acerbic repartee.

So that was the miserable mood I was in when I got on the plane 4 hours behind schedule, mirroring for the most part by the rest of the travelers. As I approached my seat, I could see that it was occupied. An older couple had misunderstood the difference between D and F and I didn’t want to hold the rest of the plane up so I climbed over them and took the window seat. In the time that it took to seat the remainder of the plane, I fired off one last salvo to the group via my iPhone and then shut it off.

I usually fall asleep seconds before takeoff, but with the center light shining down on me, I couldn’t de-focus and with the glare I couldn’t watch the scenery below. The lady asked me if it was bothering me and I paused when responding, trying to put myself in her position and if I wanted to read, I would want the light on so I said something to the effect of “If you need it to read, then it’s alright.” I wound up catching about a 20 minute nap, but for the most part I spent the flight pondering the direction of politics and wondering what was being posted while I was untethered from the web.

As soon as the seat belt light went off, the people on the aisle were up and ready to move. The agitation was still palpable. I looked over at my neighbor and she didn’t seem to be part of the mob mood. There was a different posture and expression. My phone was back on and I saw that there were 2 replies to my post and I had just enough battery life to read them and respond, but I decided to wait.

“What’s wrong?”

“We were supposed to meet my son and his family at the airport, but they’re in bed now so we’re going to rent a car, and I’m worried about finding their place in Lakeville.”

I smiled as reassuringly as I could. “Don’t worry, there’s an app for that.” clicked on my navigation icon and asked her for the road her son lived on, then input that in as a destination. The route came up and I walked her through it step by step twice, discussing visual cues and where the on ramp would be. Her face brightened and I found myself mirroring that. I noticed a few people on the aisle taking notice as well.

“Thank you, very much.”

“No problem, ma’am. That’s what we do in Minnesota.” I beamed and watched the people in the aisle out of the corner of my eye to see if there were any knowing smiles. There were a few.

As the forward rows cleared, the gentleman stood up to get their bags, but instead one of the audience in the aisle stepped in and helped him out, eliciting sincere appreciation for the effort. Another couple was waiting in the row ahead of us to get back to their bags, so I asked them which ones they were looking for and another passenger voluntarily passed them up. I was still beaming as I de-boarded and all the way back to the car. It was still there when I woke up after four hours of sleep to go into work.

Doug via Compfight

Comparing Heroes with Lord Raglan’s Scale

The AccoladeSince my post about heroism, I’ve known I would have to post on Lord Raglan’s scale for comparing heroes of legend. I learned about it while working on my English degree and was fascinated by the commonalities it revealed between various heroes.

Lord Raglan in his work, The Hero (1936), analyzed the legendary heroes of western culture and came up with a list of narrative features. Of all, Oedipus and Krishna scored the closest to perfect with 21 out of 22. [Note: Different experts interpret story vs. line item differently so you will see fluctuations on various sites regarding the actual numbers. Also, it doesn’t tend to apply as neatly to heroines, but I haven’t seen a scale built for them.]

  1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
  2. His father is a king, and
  3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
  4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
  5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
  6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
  7. He is spirited away, and
  8. Reared by foster parents in a far country.
  9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
  11. After a victory over the king, and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
  12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
  13. Becomes king.
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
  15. Prescribes laws, but
  16. Later loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
  17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
  18. He meets a mysterious death,
  19. Often at the top of a hill.
  20. His children, if any, do not succeed him.
  21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
  22. He has one or more holy sepulchers

The scale was used to further the “myth-ritual” origin of religion and to demonstrate the commonalities across western culture. While many of its highest recipients are Greek, we also see English (Arthur, Robin Hood, and Guinevere at 19, 13, and 11 respectively), Judeo-Christian (Moses and Jesus at 20 and 19), and even heroes of current literature. People have rated Anakin Skywalker between 16 and 18, Superman @15, Optimus Prime at 14, Aragorn and Captain Kirk at 13, and Harry Potter at 8.

Some have used the scale as a sort of Occam’s razor for the veracity of historical truth with scores above a 6 being considered of suspicious historical accuracy. Personally, I just think it’s fun to think about what these commonalities say about our shared values.

Exploring My Personal “Why?” and Heroism

Phong Nha Cave, VietnamDo you ever spend time considering the why you do what you do? Do you look for the kernel from which the bulk of your actions spring?

On Saturday April 7th, I attended Minnebar, a techie conference held at the Best Buy campus. My goal had been to learn more about the latest best practices which I could take back to my workplace for implementation. My biggest takeaway though was an epiphany about myself

The first session, I attended what was effectively a round table on mobile app best practices with the best and brightest jumping in to provide insights into all aspects of the mobile app pipeline. I’ll admit, I got bored early on and based on the overcrowding, a bit uncomfortable. I decided to scrap my second class in that track and instead go to the branding option in the theater where there would likely be more open space and very comfortable seating.

The discussion focused on self-branding and how to line up your personal goals with your business goals. It was the standard exercise of looking at what you wanted to do as a kid and how you can do that as an adult, but this time you had to discuss it with those around you.

I once had a boss ask me about my personal brand and I blithely answered “Green Lantern.” I then proceeded to note that I was inspired/fueled by heroism, had a lot of raw willpower to overcome obstacles, was creative, and valued being able to be a utility player/renaissance man. That pitch didn’t go over so well and I thought about it when I considered announcing to complete strangers that as a kid I wanted to grow up to be a superhero. I decided to drop the “super” from my pitch. I then analyzed that against what I had already thought about with regards to careers and the like, and it suddenly all fit. I felt bad for my associates as I tuned them out after the initial start up conversation because I wanted to test my new hypothesis further. I started plugging in choices I made in the past and trying to decide whether they fit the new model.

Romantic HeroismFor example, when I was in my teens I wanted to be an attorney or a politician because I thought of those jobs as heroic. As they began to lose their shine in college, I considered English teacher (“Oh, Captain, my Captain!” anyone?). When I did my student teaching, the teachers turned to me for all of their technology questions and so I signed up for a Master’s program in Educational Technology. When I didn’t find a teaching job, right away after finishing the bulk of my curriculum, I switched out to web designer as it had been an outlet for my creativity. I then spent a weekend a month and 6 weeks each summer working with Upward Bound. The rest of my free time I spent trying to make the world a better place with the Junior Chamber or exploring heroism in computer games.

As I began to accumulate outliers that didn’t fit the overall scheme, I realized I needed to adjust the model to be more inclusive. I began to see that a large part of my life wasn’t just wrapped around accomplishing heroic ideals, as a man I had certain romantic goals for myself. I found myself equally inspired by Batman and Lloyd Dobler, so I altered it to “romantic hero” and the vast majority of my choices fit. But that’s really the subject of a whole new post as it gets a bit deep and personal.

In retrospect, a lot of what I write about in this blog comes from that root motivation – whether it’s exploring my literary heroes or getting in touch with my courage and confidence through ValleyScare or a ropes course. I’ve decided for the next year, I’m going to re-tune this blog  to delve deeper into heroism and my opinions on it. I’ve got an idea on a monthly feature with interviews of real life heroes from the non-profit sphere, but we’ll have to see how the first one fleshes out.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: discopalace via Compfight

Literary Character

When we see persons of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see persons of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.
– Confucius
Cyrano de Bergerac
I don’t remember the year, but I remember my disgust with my mother that she was going to force me to watch Cyrano de Bergerac with her – an ancient (strike 1) foreign film (strike 2). In my teenage gut I figured it would be pretty lame. I was so wrong.

Almost right away, Miguel Ferrer started lobbing verbal darts and  then the rapiers came out. I was entranced, much to my mother’s amusement. I think she figured out that I would empathize with a man who had a physical deformity (my physical development was behind that of my peers) and chose to respond with eloquence. That or, she knew how much I had enjoyed the Musketeer movies with Michael York and figured I would place this within that genre, albeit with a certain degree more tragedy.

My dad has always been a fan of John Wayne and Roy Rogers characters, but those archetypes and characters never resonated with me. I grew up with 3 brothers and as the smallest guy in my class with a quick temper so my scrappiness could have been drawn to those characters, but spending a lot of time inside because of allergies opened up the world of myth, fairy tales, and literature to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am uniquely my own person. But the way we connect with characters from books, movies, and TV harkens back to Confucius’ point – if we value their perspective, we seek to equal them. That’s the impetus behind the “WWJD?” and “WWBD?” (What Would Batman Do?) philosophies. When I’m faced with a decision, I often think about not just the morals instilled in me by my parents and the people that have helped mold me, but also the characters of literature who have inspired me would handle the situation.

There’s a part of me that’s Cyrano, Mercutio, James T. Hart, Lloyd Dobler, and untold numbers of comic book and Austen heroes. It’s not the me of all the time, but when I shake off the lethargy that inevitably manifests as we struggle with reality, it’s the me I aspire to be.

Who are your literary heroes and what aspirations do you draw from them?