November 11th is Veterans’ Day, when we recognize the heroism of those brave people who have served in the Armed Forces. The word “hero” comes to us through French and ancient Greek, most likely from a root originally meaning “defender or protector”. In many ways those in the military, along with police officers and firefighters, are regarded as the pinnacle of our hero-worshiping society. And they certainly deserve praise, as they all put their lives on the line in service of others. But I think sometimes the weight that we give to those roles eclipses any inclusion of others in that category. The pandemic forced us to consider the subtler heroism of our healthcare professionals and educators. It even generated lip-service about “essential workers” – restaurant and grocery store employees, factory workers, truck drivers, food processors and on and on. Sometimes we recognize the heroism – although we may not call it that – of mothers, fathers, parents, and guardians who sacrifice for their children. In each of these cases, we often place people on a continuum in our minds: who is more or less worthy of praise and the title of “HERO”. 

Unfortunately, this lionization of individual heroism substitutes for real, concrete commitments to one another. We publicly praise our soldiers, but we don’t provide nearly enough funding for veterans’ healthcare and education after they come home. We offer platitudes about essential workers but don’t create government sick-leave policies that support them in the long-run. We talk about the fundamental role of teachers and then underpay them compared to other professionals.

In each case, we substitute beautiful words for financial commitments. It is easy and empty to praise people while we neglect to put our considerable wealth towards supporting them. This attitude mirrors our general neglect for public good in the United States. We imagine ourselves the inheritors of mythical small-town values and community relationships while too often cutting funding for those very priorities that support one another in those communities, whether large or small. In infrastructure, schools, healthcare, the environment and climate change, and so much more, we rely on our words rather than our actions to carry the day.

So on this Veterans’ Day, let this be a moment for us to advocate honoring our heroic veterans through our concrete actions, including our financial commitments. And tomorrow, let’s bring that same action and financial commitment to how we honor all those heroes among us, common and uncommon, and the communities that support those heroes to thrive.

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