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Heroes Aren’t Perfect

December 31, 2017 | by Emuna Braverman

And neither are we. So let’s cut them – and ourselves – some slack.

Children like a black and white world. The villain is obvious, twirling his Snidely Whiplash-style moustache, and the hero is equally clear, clean aquiline lines to his face and the quickest draw in town – or the fairy godmother look of tulle and puff.

According to the child development specialists, this rigid way of seeing the world is supposed to move towards a more nuanced perspective as we leave our teens. We begin to see a world of subtlety. We begin to see the shades of gray, the complexity and complications of the issues we must deal with.

Or do we? It seems that many of us never leave that childlike vision. We expect our heroes to be perfect and our villains to be immediately obvious and distinguishable.

But life is not like that. There are good people whose actions are not always perfect and bad people who actions may sometimes be good. This is reality. We burden ourselves and others if we expect perfection from the “good” and we may be led into dangerous or precarious situations if we expect evil to be garbed in black.

We learn this important lesson from the Torah itself. There is a famous line that “if the Torah wasn’t written by God it must have been written by an anti-Semite!” because it portrays the leaders of the Jewish people, not as idols but as flawed human beings.

The main purpose of this depiction is so that we can learn from their mistakes. If someone is perfect they have nothing to teach us. If someone is perfect, they are actually not a human being! But an Abraham, an Isaac, a Jacob, a Sarah, Rivka, Rachel or Leah who are the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people and yet make mistakes – these are people whose lives can touch mine, can illuminate areas of growth, can inform and teach me.

But that is not the only goal. In seeing their imperfections, we are also being taught a way to look at the world, to understand that appreciate that it is actually not black and white. It would be so much easier if we could just categorize everyone, if we could put them in boxes and take them out where appropriate, if we knew where everyone was. But that is not how people work. They are constantly surprising us – for good and not-so-good.

There are people in our lives who are mentors, role models, heroes even. Are they perfect? Impossible. If we expect that, we will be disappointed and discouraged when we see their feet of clay. A mature adult is able to see the bigger, broader, more nuanced picture. This is a basically good, kind and caring human being who can sometimes be – fill in the blank – selfish, greedy, jealous, insensitive… and that doesn’t invalidate the good they do.

Likewise very few people are all bad (even the great monsters of world history may have done some act of kindness loathe as we are to acknowledge it). The wicked Nebuchadnezzar was rewarded for honoring the Almighty. It’s not that their acts of good diminish their acts of evil, it’s just that it’s not the whole picture.

If we can see the rest of the world with clear eyes and not be disillusioned, we will have a clearer understanding of reality and the nature of being human. This is an understanding we should also apply to ourselves. We are our own worst critics. We are frequently judgmental and unforgiving of our own mistakes. We are prone to focus on our flaws and not on our more positive attributes. Yes, we all need to grow. Yes we all have what to work on. But we will find that job easier if we do it from a position of strength and hope rather than one of weakness and despair. That strength comes from the recognition that we all have unattractive character traits, we all have unflattering parts of ourselves and that the goal is not to be perfect but to try to be better.

God didn’t create us perfect. We are not robots; we are human beings. We are complicated human beings trying our best to learn and grow and move forward in this complex world of ours. The Almighty doesn’t ask for more than that.

Let’s save the heroes and villains for Hollywood.


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