I was talking with a small group of first year students earlier this week, and one of them asked me who were my heroes. There are of course many ways of tackling this question, but I took it to mean that I was being asked to name people whom I particularly admired and, I decided, who were around in my lifetime – so excluding Charles Dickens, William Wilberforce, Charles Babbage, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and anyone else long gone before I was born.
So here is my little list – as far as I am concerned, all people who made a contribution to the world which left it a more civilised, fair, progressive and humane place. The first is Willy Brandt, German politician, member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), and Chancellor of what was then West Germany from 1969 to 1974. In many ways, he could be said to have brought Germany back into the world community from the horrors of Nazism and the guilt that followed: a visionary, tolerant and determined leader, who pursued and found reconciliation.
The second is Desmond Tutu, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa from 1986 to 1996, and a vocal opponent of apartheid but also an advocate for peace and reconciliation.
The third is John Lennon, a complex and sometimes difficult character, but whose music (with Paul McCartney and the other Beatles) defined a generation and helped push the western world towards a more open and confident culture.
So these were the ‘heroes’ I gave the students, off the top of my head. No doubt there could have been others, and maybe it is of doubtful value to have heroes at all, as this may push a search for values into the realms of celeb culture. But in the end individuals can make a difference, and can influence others to lead a better life. And so, that was my list.
PS. Wendy (see comments) points out that this list didn’t include any women! Many of my women heroes are writers (particularly Rose Macaulay, on whom I may yet blog separately), and maybe some musicians (Joan Baez). On the politics side, they include Hillary Clinton.