Should we praise high-flying heroes?
In the same week as September 11 stirs memories of what happened in New York City in 2001, a new movie about a plane going down in New York City has been released at our cinemas.
Sully isn’t about the 9/11 attacks, though.
Remember in 2009 how a pilot landed his malfunctioning airliner on the Hudson River, next to New York City?
Remember how every passenger survived? No wonder it was instantly referred to as The Miracle on the Hudson.
Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, Sully is a tribute to captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. But Sully is not simply an eruption of hero worship.
Sully presents how, straight after the landing on the Hudson, an intense investigation began into the extraordinary incident.
An investigation that challenged what seemed to be obvious: is Sully actually a hero? Could it be that he was reckless and endangered people’s lives?
The problem with humility
Sully seems biased towards the pilot’s version of events but it’s still hard to watch the seasoned flyer have to justify his actions. Because as much as putting someone on a pedestal has the danger of elevating their status, doing the opposite runs the risk of diminishing the person’s achievements.
The airline investigators aren’t trying to tear down Sully for the sake of it, though. They are doing their job – and important questions had to be asked of such an expensive, threatening mid-air crisis.
But Sully is an unexpected prompt to think about how much credit and acknowledgment we do give to others.
It can be easy to recognise the problems with treating imperfect, mortal men and women as gods. All we should really need to do is quickly consider that there’s only one God — here’s a hint: we’re not God — and a flood of humility and perspective should drown out any delusions of grandeur.
But as right as it is to uphold humility and shoot down arrogance or a god complex, we lose a lot when we always downplay heroics.
Responding to a hero near you
I know I can be guilty of not giving credit when it’s due, for fear of firing up someone’s ego or somehow overlooking God in our world’s events.
As I do that, I lose the opportunity to celebrate and point out the ways that God can work through people to do incredible things (big and small).
An airline official in Sully says to the heroic pilot about his incredible landing: “This is the best thing to happen to New York in a long time, especially involving an airplane.”
Hard to argue with that, particularly as we again note the annual anniversary of 9/11. As you ponder how to respond to those terrible events, spare a thought for how you’ll next respond to a hero near you.
Ben McEachen is co-host of The Big Picture