Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

This year's heroes


It's hard to say exactly when one generation of heroes begins to be eclipsed. For countries like Canada, the Nineties were a prosperous and carefree time. Our heroes, at least in terms of who was lionized in the media, were business leaders and sports stars.

At the height of adulation, baseball players were signing multi-year contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars (and often snarling about the terms) and business leaders (believing their own promotional hype) were lecturing presidents and prime ministers on everything from taxation levels to immigration policy.

The explosion of the "dot.com" bubble was the first indication for many of us that a shift was underway. Billions of dollars of "value" was lost in the space of a few weeks on the stock markets - a sobering demonstration of how shallow the thinking (and the values) of the business world can be.

Then Nortel's collapse was spectacular proof for Canadians of how few clothes the emperor actually had as he strode confidently through the halls of power and influence. As recession threatened, the business tigers pulled in their claws and slunk into their dens.

Then with the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, it became very evident who the real heroes are. First the firefighters and the police. Then the medical workers. Then the soldiers, sailors and airmen. Now it's post office employees whose daily work under the threat of bio-terrorism seems more heroic than anything your average million-dollar-a-year CEO ever does.

This a welcome change. I found the celebration of business leaders hard to take, especially when their success was often built on the brutal business practices of job cuts and plant closures. It's also satisfying to see sports "heroes" taken down a notch or two.

I listened to an interview on the radio the other day with a pair of Canadian Olympic athletes. Their stories are included in a recently published book called Heroes in our Midst. The interviewer worked hard to stay with the program of calling a commitment to get up every day and run or row for four hours straight "heroic." The athletes were in promotional mode and they were following the script too.

Still in the shadow of the September hijackings, I desperately wished that one of them would say, "Look, compared to the men who ran up the stairs in the World Trade Centre, compared to the people who brought that hijacked plane down in Pennsylvania, compared to the lone U.S. congresswoman who voted against hundreds of her colleagues not to launch a war on terrorism, my personal obsession with sports shouldn't really be seen as the stuff of heroism."

But they didn't.

Personally, I don't want to go back to the mindset that athletes and business leaders are supposed to be our heroes. As tough as this whole "War on Terrorism" might get, I'm glad that one result of it is that we're recognizing that firefighters and soldiers and aid workers and even postal employees are much more worthy of our admiration than last year's heroes.

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