Once a month the news gods have delivered these parables to us, gifts in a gold box reminding us where value lies. It’s so much better to discover that Superman could be anyone; that everywhere you look, there are hidden reserves of majesty and honor and genius and luck. The stories wouldn’t have worked if Susan Boyle had been a yuppie barrister or Phillips a SEAL himself. Their normality gives them wings.
The qualities these stories celebrate are telling. Competence–as manifested in a pilot with a perfect feel for his machine. Sacrifice–in a captain who would trade himself for the sake of his crew. Persistence–in the singer who knew from adolescence that this was what she wanted and would allow no humiliation to deter her. These are, not by accident, the qualities Barack Obama, national life coach, regularly exalts. He commends the public for its patience, which convinces me that he has read the parenting books that instruct us to pre-emptively praise our children for the qualities we want them to develop. Any real recovery will require an “extraordinary sense of responsibility,” he says, which just means we roll up our sleeves and clean up after ourselves.
This epoch rejects the glamour virtues: it calls for modesty, patience, perseverance, proficiency. We crave the company of ordinary heroes, especially now, when we’re all on our own, thankful for small distractions from all the big threats we face. It’s a karaoke moment: we can’t afford a band, but we’ll gladly sing of normal nobility all night long.