Heroes Are Not Perfect
Today, our country honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the impact his advocacy and leadership has and continues to make today. Our country is better for all that he did.
I have felt that there was no denying that fact (unless you were an extremist group bothered by the desire for equality), and to me, the evidence of his impact told the story effectively for why should see him as heroic figure.
Over the years since he was murdered, his message has become far more mainstream than it was in the days he was sharing it, and it has become clear that he stood "on the right side of history." He was courageous, he was revolutionary in finding a way that his message could have the most impact (even though it might have been years after it was delivered), and the entire time he was at risk of of the very thing that eventually happened - losing his life - for standing up for what he believed.
That is heroic. I think most of us consider him a hero for those things.
Yet, I have been surprised since posting something on Facebook a few hours ago, that I have received messages from people who feel he is somewhat less important or his impact somehow muted because they "have heard he had an affair" or might have somehow been different than what they knew of him. It has become widely accepted that the reason he was out on the hotel balcony where he was shot was that he was smoking a cigarette, a habit that biographers have noted has not been widely discussed even though it was quite common in the late 1960's.
Look, as long as he was human, he's not going to have been perfect. I'm not. You're not. No one is.
That's perhaps the danger of society dictating that the requirement to see someone as heroic is perfection. It requires us to accept a sanitized narrative and puts people we want to admire on a pedestal that requires they hide parts of who they are.
It's easier to believe in a sanitized version of people, but I believe we're all messy enough to know that's just not the case. I don't think the fact that he smoked, that he was overweight, or that he engaged in extra-marital affairs negates the incredible impact he had or changes what his impact proves. It means he had struggles, issues, and some less-than-stellar decisions, yes, but it doesn't change the fact that the flawed man still did something remarkable.
It makes him more human, less perfect, but not any less heroic.
He was then, and is now, a hero.