Matt Sanford

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On Heroism – A Rocky Analogy

After reading Alex Payne's post on heroism (Don't Be A Hero) I have to say I was a little irked. I disagree somewhat on the details of what defines a hero in this context and that seems to be the crux of my discomfort. I don't think hero's have to work until four in the morning. Nor do I think a hero creates inherently lower quality software. A hero is someone so dedicated and passionate about what they are doing that they are willing to work hard and deliver when other people are not (and for some people, what they are passionate about is not low-quality "feature work"). For some "heros" this becomes late nights, for others early mornings, and for still others it's a during the day activity with no extra time. I'll be honest, that last case is pretty rare, because the passionate usually see time as flexible and success as a rigid goal.

I was never really sure how to some up my feelings on the post until last night. Oddly, it was the Eye of The Tiger scene in Persepolis that enlightened me. I've seen Rocky many times – and even once in the last few weeks – but somehow seeing that well-worn scene re-used highlighted my feelings. What's great about Rocky is that it gives me a way to sum up not just The Hero, but also the personalities that often surround them.

The Supporter (Adrian)

The role of support is one that is often overlooked but shouldn't be marginalized. Many would-be heros fail because nobody is there to provide the unwavering support needed to keep up the hard work and dedication. While The Hero does things out of a sense of passion even that can be worn down by the continual hardships created (See: Anti-the-hero later in this post). Without The Supporter's positive support it's easy to get discouraged. This positive support contrasts the criticism of The Catalyst (more on that next) to create a balance that sustains The Hero. The role of The Supporter is so obvious there is not much to add other than it's a small but critical requirement.

The Catalyst (Mickey)

The Catalyst is someone unfazed by heroism who pushes the hero to continue. This person is key in that they provide the criticism. This is the criticism discussed previously by Alex (Criticism, Cheerleading, and Negativity) and constitutes the best undiluted feedback The Hero is going to get. The Catalyst is usually the only person as hard on The Hero as they themselves are. Without The Catalyst, The Hero will plateau at some point where they feel they are trying to make it but they're still a bum. The pre-catalyst stage is essentially where the movie Rocky begins.

Anti-the-Hero (Paulie, not to be confused with an anti-hero)

I've often said: "People love to see an underdog win. Almost as much as they want to see a hero fail". I started saying this early in my working life as what I thought was great satirical hyperbole. It turns out that long after the fact I've only confirmed it is true in some cases. Throughout Rocky Paulie acts in selfish and crude ways that undermine the success of Rocky and the happiness of his own sister. Paulie is a believable character because there are people like this throughout our lives … they are not directly against us but through their action they continually derail us.

I'm not saying that anyone against heroism is out to stop The Hero. In some cases it's simply a misunderstanding of why The Hero exists. It's not to be a martyr, nor to prove something to someone. It's simply to prove to themselves that they can go fifteen rounds with Ap0llo Creed and come out on the other side. There is an important point in the finale of Rocky, he doesn't win the fight. It's about passion, not success.

The Hero (Rocky)

At the end of the film, after the fight but before finding out he lost in a split decision, Rocky has the following to say to Apollo Creed:

Apollo Creed: Ain't gonna be no rematch. Rocky: Don't want one.
The Hero does not exist to please you. The Hero does not exist to feel better than you. The Hero exists to feel better than they did when they got up this morning. Where Alex and I can certainly agree is that The Hero is a detriment if he or she is focused on fire-fighting and slap-dash software development. Where we seem to diverge is that I have seen many a hero who's passion is high quality software AND features. This issue isn't heroism, it's heroism with the wrong focus.

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