Letter 044: You've Got to Be Kind
I often am asked, what makes a hero? What are the key elements that make someone ready to face a dangerous path and accomplish something truly heroic? Today, I want to answer that question. What makes a hero?
Heroes are strong. If you want to accomplish your quest, you’ll need strength of all sorts—emotional, internal, mental, and yes, good old fashioned elbow grease. I haven’t found many quests worth taking that didn’t need some level of straight up grit.
Heroes are smart. Not every problem can be outmuscled—you’ve got to work harder and smarter. There’s bound to be problems, puzzles, situations, complications, maybe even a riddle or two. Doing anything great in life requires creating something new, and that requires a brain to match the braun of a hero.
Heroes cunning. Sometimes, accomplishing your quest requires taking some creative liberties with the normal set of rules. You’ve got find new ways to look at old problems, and not every fight can be taken head-on. Sometimes the best route coincides with the sneakiest, even if it requires going a little out of bounds.
The picture I’ve painted so far certainly applies to the heroes I love, even if they favor one of the traits above the other. Because if we’re honest, these are the traits we tend to idolize the most. The things we want for ourselves—the self reliant, powerful individual, the hero at the end of their quest. Unfortunately, it’s also the perfect description of a villain. What was the last dragon or evil wizard who wouldn’t fit the description of being strong, smart, and cunning?
See, there’s something that separates heroes—in fact, it’s something so subtle and powerful that with it in hand, anyone can become a hero, no matter how much strength, intellect, or craftiness they lack. Because more than anything else, heroes are kind.
See most of training, most of our striving, focuses on the big and obvious traits. The ones we want the most, the ones we feel are most important. The strength and brawn and research and tips and tricks. And all that is good and necessary—but alone, without the vision of what those things are in service of, you might as well be training to become a villain.
Tolstoy said that “Kindness is for your soul as health is for your body: you do not notice it when you have it.” And he’s right. We can idolize the big external attributes of the hero only so long as they have the most important, subtlest one, the thing that makes them a hero in the first place: you’ve got to be kind.
May the road rise up to meet you!