To the extent that he ever left, George Zimmerman is back in the news, an in a way that serves as an important reminder to both his defenders and his detractors. The Florida man acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin helped pull a man, a woman and two children from the van in which they were traveling, after it rolled over and eventually caught fire.
For that act, George Zimmerman, by any definition, is a hero. So how is it possible that today’s hero, is yesterday’s what? Villain? Vigilante? Fool? There is nothing at all surprising about it. In fact, it is very often one personality which places people into each of the two situations – for better and for worse. Not, for better or for worse, but for better and for worse.
The real story here is not George Zimmerman good guy or bad guy. It is George Zimmerman, guy who puts himself out there, sometimes with a good outcome and sometimes not. And that is how it often is with people who are comfortable injecting themselves into situations otherwise not their business; in order to do something that they believe will be good.
There is often a close correlation between what animates both heroes and fools — sometimes the only distinction between who is identified how being how others judge the outcome of their actions. Alexander Pope said it first, in his Essay On Criticism, when he wrote that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” And Elvis said it best when he sang, “Fools rush in where wise men never go, but wise men never fall in love, so how are they to know?”
Wise people – those who carefully deliberate about all of the relevant issues, those who seek all of the time to protect themselves from possible vulnerability, and those who need to know the outcome of the venture before it has been taken on, will never end up like George Zimmerman. But, I’d also suspect, neither will they ever fall deeply, truly, wonderfully in love.
And returning to pope, while it’s true that angels commit no sins, nor acts of folly, neither, as I once remarked to a world-famous rabbi who was explaining to me how angels are better than people, do angels choose to perform good deeds. Angels are simply tools of the mind of the one who sent them – never making the choice to jump in and try and make a positive difference, even as they know they may assume great risk in so doing.
That is not meant as an excuse for Zimmerman’s actions regarding Trayvon Martin. It is simply recognition that the traits which animate some people’s most noble acts are the very traits which get them into trouble, or even cause terrible pain to others, under a different set of circumstances.
The heroic impulse is, the “Good Samaritan” impulse, is worthy of praise, and even perhaps, adoration. And in order to fully understand the story of what makes any hero tick, it is also worth appreciating that what makes today’s hero, could be the very thing which makes them tomorrow’s villain. And perhaps more powerfully, that what makes at least some of today’s villains tick could make them tomorrow’s heroes.