The Real Heroes

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear of someone who risked it all or paid the ultimate price to help someone else in need. Soldiers, police and firemen are commonly cited for their heroism but sometimes it is just the common man or woman who went above and beyond.  And then there are those who have dedicated their lives to serving others, often at great personal sacrifice.  Surely these are the real heroes of our society, the people who make everyone else’s lives better!  Yeah, not so much.

Now don’t get me wrong.  These are amazing people who deserve our respect and our gratitude.  If one of these people saved your life or enhanced it immeasurably, they were certainly the difference for you.  But selfless individuals have existed throughout human history.  In fact, our earliest stories, whether legend or history,  are stories about heroic feats and the special people who performed them.  And modern day culture continues to be obsessed with heroes.  They practically monopolize TV and motion pictures.  But heroes aren’t what has made ours the most advanced society in human history.

No, the real “heroes” of society are frequently jackasses.  At best they are a blend of the good and the bad.  They are often obsessive and greedy.  They too often see people as valuable only insofar as those folks continue to line his or her pockets. They are workaholics who frequently neglect their friends and family.  They can be narrow minded.  But they drive the engine that actually makes our lives better.  I speak of (in the broadest sense of the word) the entrepreneur.

But you might object!  How about the scientists and engineers who discover new things or invent new applications?  Surely they are far more heroic.  Again, they might be more heroic but good ideas don’t change the world.  Hell, I like to think I come up with an amazing new one every week or two.  Once in a while I later discover that someone else had the same notion and actually did something about it!

And there is the difference.  It is the person who takes a good idea and develops it in some practical way that makes our lives better.  Whether it is an improved manufacturing technique, a method of making farmland more productive, a new drug that can save lives or a way to turn a phone into a supercomputer, it is the entrepreneur who takes the risk and invests the time and money that make those things a reality for the rest of us.  And it is those advances that move society forward and, in turn, give us longer, healthier lives.  And, yes, they often get filthy rich.  But more often they fall on their faces repeatedly.  

So if you really want to help sick people or poor people, help create a world where there are fewer of them.  Even the worst off among us today are better off than all but the super elite of a century ago, and that’s not because we have more people willing to sacrifice themselves for others.  We may very well have fewer.  It is because we have developed better ways to treat disease and better ways to grow food.  And it is the entrepreneur who made those ideas a reality.  And, arguably, there is no better way to improve any society than to simply let those women and men do what it is they do and get out of their way.

Join me again next week when I may very well try to convince you that puppies and kittens are evil and clowns are delightful. Or maybe it will just be a convoluted argument in favor of the private ownership of nuclear warheads.  Either way you won’t want to miss it!  Until then, have a great weekend!

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