The “Great Man” Syndrome – Everyday Heroism
I was recently reminded about having clipped out a letter written in response to an article (about William F. Buckley Jr. ) in the New York Times Magazine (5/09). The letter writer (Al Larkin of Milton, MA) expresses, more eloquently than I am capable of, his reservations about the “Great Man” syndrome. The tenor of his letter resonates with my abiding interest in “ordinary” people, and “ordinary” achievements. The letter [emphasis mine]:
I have long been a fan of both Buckleys — William F. Jr. and Christopher. However, the younger, in writing about the elder, has proved again that a son should think twice before writing publicly about his father. It is always a complicated relationship, and to blame William F. Buckley Jr.’s parental shortcomings — and some of them were simply astonishing — on the ”Great Man” syndrome does an injustice to the average guy who works two jobs, pays the bills and still finds time to coach his kid’s Little League team. If only he were ”Greater”: he could justifiably skip the ballgames, the hospitalizations and the graduations. And who could blame him? Worse, for those unfortunate kids stuck with paternal miscreants who don’t also happen to be Great Men, is there any convenient way for them to explain their plight? I agree that the elder Buckley was a great man. But I prefer the story of my mother, who never wrote a book or appeared on a television show but raised six happy children. At her funeral, someone described her as ”an extraordinary woman who lived a very ordinary life.” She was, in other words, a great mom.