"Bring Out the Best"
"I don't understand how you do it,"
Lawrence said to Stan as they
strolled around the Mall.
"Do what?" Stan asked,
turning to look at his boyfriend.
"The whole hero thing," Lawrence said.
"I mean, I have tried to watch what
you do, but it's just ... I don't get it."
He sighed. "I'm not you."
"Of course you're not me,"
Stan said. "You're you.
It's okay to do things
a little differently."
"Which would be helpful if
I understood the core concepts,
but I don't," Lawrence said.
That was always his sticking point.
He could do almost anything --
if he understood the principles.
But he couldn't change anything
until he knew how the original
was supposed to work.
"Ah," Stan said. "Well,
I'm not really a hero."
He stopped to help a lady
whose shopping bag had broken and
spilled her groceries all over the grass,
his careful hands quickly picking up
the escaped apples and pears
before sending her on her way.
Lawrence stared at him,
but Stan blithely continued
as if that made any kind of sense.
"I'm just a kid who believes
in doing my part," Stan said.
"It's like this -- you can choose
to offer someone a hand up or
a hand down. What do you do?
When it's me, I give a hand up.
Sometimes people need it."
Lawrence was suddenly struck by
the memory of how many times Stan
had picked him up and dusted him off,
even back when they were nemeses
instead of being boyfriends.
"But ... how do you know?"
said Lawrence. "How can
you tell when to step in and
what is the right thing to do?"
"Well, knowing the right thing is easy,"
Stan said, as if that were actually true,
and maybe for him it was. "Doing
the right thing can be harder.
Sometimes it's gonna cost you,
but it's always worth it."
Stan went over to a boy
who was gazing glumly at
the racks of rental toys. After
a whispered conversation, Stan
put a quarter in the ball rack and
handed the ball to the boy.
"At least, that's how it is for me,"
Stan said as he rejoined his boyfriend.
Lawrence thought about how
Stan had handled the situation
with Lawrence's abusive father,
which had felt awful at the time but
turned out better in the long run.
"I envy your statistical samples,"
he said under his breath.
"So get some new samples of
your own," Stan said. "You're
always telling me to repeat
experiments to see if changing
the variables changes the results."
He waved a hand at the Mall.
"Plenty of opportunities here."
Lawrence looked around.
There were people everywhere,
enjoying the bright sunny day --
picnicking, sunbathing, jogging --
but he couldn't spot anything that
seemed to call for heroic action.
"I guess I don't see things
the way you do," he said.
Stan shrugged as he stopped
to right a fallen trash can.
"You'll learn," he said.
"I have faith in you."
"Well, that makes one of us,"
"You have to think about what
you consider important, and
what it means to do your part,
not someone else's idea of
what you should be doing,"
Stan explained carefully.
"What do you walk past?
What makes you stop?"
"I was pretty much raised
to keep my nose in my own business,
not butt in on someone else's,"
"Okay ... what would happen
if everyone did that?" Stan said.
"The world would be a lot quieter,"
Lawrence said, imagining a bunch
of bookworms all studying privately.
"And lonelier," Stan pointed out.
Well. That was true.
Lawrence had to admit
that the two of them never
would have gotten together
without Stan's buttinsky heroics.
In that case, Lawrence would have
missed out on the best thing in
his life, and that would suck.
Maybe it wasn't such a great idea after all.
"Point," Lawrence said. "I just ...
don't know where to start."
"You take it one step,
one day at a time," Stan said.
"It's just like anything else."
"Yeah, maybe," Lawrence said,
still feeling very much at a loss.
Then he ducked as a frisbee
came flying at his face -- only
to smack into Stan's hand as
Stan intercepted its trajectory.
With an expert flick of his wrist,
Stan sent it sailing back to its owner.
Lawrence hid a smile behind his hair.
Stan was beyond adorable.
"Look, you're coming at this
a bit backwards if you're trying
to focus on what I'm doing," Stan said.
"I've had more practice. You need
to put the bottom rungs on the ladder,
and you need to think about things
from your own perspective. You do
good things all the time, you just
don't think of them in that way."
Lawrence considered that,
and realized that he did know
after all, that he'd been orienting on
Stan all along and just needed to tilt it
a little to catch his own reflection.
A hero is someone who knows how
to bring out the best in people.
In that light, it's not so scary,
not as strange and unfamiliar
as he thought it would be.
It's helping a kid not panic
at his first science fair.
It's running the chess club.
It's thanking Mr. Marshall
for slipping in his own articles
alongside assignments from
the official textbook.
It doesn't have to be the same
for everyone, either -- Lawrence
hasn't done much with Sankofa Clubs
but he's wheedled Chatura into bringing
Indian sweets to the chess club
and that's kind of the same.
There could be, he realized,
more than one kind of hero.
It's not just Stan.
It's him too, and
has been for longer
than Lawrence thought,
but somehow, Stan had
seen it in him anyway.
That, too, is what it means
to be a hero: to see not just
what is, but what could be, and
how to bring out the best in someone
even if it's buried pretty deep.
When they strolled past
the chess tables and there
was a squabble starting up,
Stan looked at Lawrence.
Lawrence smiled at him
and said, "I got this."
The argument, like so many,
had started over differences between
casual play and tournament play.
Lawrence pointed out the sign
that listed the recommended rules
for playing chess in the park, and then
outlined how to negotiate variations,
including a coin flip if players
could not otherwise agree.
He got the two girls to settle
on their rules, shake hands,
and begin a new game.
Stan grinned at Lawrence
when he returned to the sidewalk
and said, "So how did it go?"
"Problem solved," Lawrence said,
and it was, and it felt good.
Given the right perspective,
being a hero didn't seem
so impossible after all.
* * *
The Gene Leahy Mall in Omaha, Nebraska is a popular gathering place with open green space. One way of gauging the value of a public place is how many things there are to do there. Just in this poem you can see superheroes on patrol, boyfriends walking together, a lady carrying groceries, a boy playing with rental toys, picnicking, sunbathing, jogging, picking up trash, frisbee, and chess. Here are some tips for making great community spaces.
Heroes share certain qualities. We need heroes for many reasons. Here is a sliding scale that lets you measure someone's heroic traits. Much of heroism, however, lies simply in perspective: heroes are people whose situational awareness orients on how they can help. Becoming a hero and becoming a superhero aren't very different. It's just that superpowers add another layer of training.
There are many types of heroes, some recognizable as archetypes. Consider which kind you are or want to be.
One interesting thing about heroes is that the real ones can't see themselves. They say things like "I'm not a hero" and "I just did what anyone would have done," and they believe that. There are several reasons for this. One is that Hero is not a title you pick for yourself, but rather, something bestowed by acclaim by a community -- much like Shaman in most Native American tribes. Another is that heroes have learned the virtue of humility. It simply isn't a habit for them to brag on themselves. Finally, they believe the best of other people, and that brings out the best. Just by being themselves, heroes encourage other people to do better -- and that colors how the heroes see the world. It reflects their own shining example.
Helpfulness is a virtue which most people learn growing up. There are many ways to be helpful. Understand how to teach helpfulness to other people.
People may not always know the right thing to do, but they can usually feel it. There are reasons for doing the right thing; however, sometimes it has high costs or unintended consequences. Even in confusing circumstances, people can strive to do good. There are steps for knowing the right thing to do. If you can't grasp the whole situation at once, then focus on doing the next right thing and doing the best you can. Here is a lesson about doing the right thing.
Ethics contain complex considerations. One enlightening premise is "What if everyone did that?" Looking at the ideas of past philosophers can help you develop a code of ethics.
Knowing yourself is a vital life skill. There are steps and questions to help with that. Think about your core values. Here is a tool for ranking values. These foundations can help you identify your calling and purpose in life.
Gaming tables provide an easy, cost-effective way to boost the usefulness of a park, especially if they can also be used as picnic tables. Most Terramagne-American parks larger than pocket size have at least one checkerboard gaming table suitable for playing either checkers, chess, or other grid games.
Street chess is an interesting part of culture in some communities. Chess etiquette includes some specialized rules for tournament play. People vary in their preference for more casual games, which can cause disputes. Board game etiquette and good sportsmanship are useful social skills.