Transitions, Ink

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #34: Hero (Supererogatory Action)

In moral philosophy we sometimes talk about a category of action called “the supererogatory.” Supererogatory actions are heroic. They are not required, it’s not the case that anyone has to do them; they go beyond the call of duty. But they are not forbidden either. They’re optional. But they're very good. Very, very good. Now, the thing about this particular moral category that we have to watch out for is that sometimes, because it is human nature to be lazy about doing what is required by morality, it is easy for us to slip into thinking that when we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re doing something especially laudable, supererogatory, heroic. But remember, supererogatory acts are more than what we're supposed to do. We can be morally good without being heros.

For example, imagine a household in which there is a father and a mother and two small children. Imagine, further, that both parents have day jobs. Stretch the imagination still a little further to picture that, usually, at the end of the day, the mother gets the meal on the table, cleans up the kitchen, and gets the kids ready for bed. Except on Fridays. On Fridays, the big treat is that Dad picks up pizza and a DVD on the way home from work and makes a salad and puts the dinner on the table and disposes of the box and puts the glasses in the dishwasher, gets the movie going, puts the popcorn in the microwave, and eventually gets the kids ready for bed and reads them a story. Sometimes, when Dads do this sort of thing, everyone jumps up and down with praise. Wow, isn’t Dad wonderful! He takes over every single Friday night! Hello! This is not heroic. In fact, this Dad is not doing his fair share of the domestic labour. And when Mum goes out to her book group for the evening once a month on Wednesdays, Dad is NOT, I repeat, he is NOT, babysitting. He’s a parent. Parents spend time with their children. He does not deserve a hero cookie. If anyone deserves one, it's the mother. She's doing more than she should. That’s just one example. It’s nice to encourage people, but let’s remember that doing what you’re supposed to do is not heroic, even if lots of others don’t do it.

For more writings about heros, heroines, heroism and the heroic, see this week's Sunday Scribblings.

14 comments:

Bug said...

I love it! The line about fathers babysitting is my favorite. I hate it when people say that!

sarala said...

Great! I like how you speak about how the mundane can be mistaken for greatness. I think most women in two career marriages sometimes feel like unequal partners. Although at times, I feel like the babysitter when dad too casually relies on me to take up the slack.

ian russell said...

excellent writing, I enjoyed being drawn in by the learned and interesting philosophy piece only to find myself trapped in a semi-rant - is it autobiographical? i hope so, it would add to the fun.
Men are heroes just by being ''Dads'', of course. We aren't the natural parent. It's a tough job. ;o)

TI said...

Oh, it's so easy to fall into a rant about that. No children here, so not autobiographical though I have witnessed it all too often. I can see now that responses to this post may end up being quite gendered! But the specific example makes a far more general point.

PtCakes said...

So true.

AnnieElf said...

Fine points and so true. I like the way you moved from defining the term superogatory to bringing it all down to a reality we can all relate to. Well presented.

Rethabile said...

And that's the honest truth. Thanks for the reminder

Khendron said...

I know too many families that work like this.

This is probably covered in your link that I haven't bothered to read, but what is an action that lies beyond the call of duty? Are there morally good things that a person is not required to do? I would feel morally obligated to save a drowning man, therefore that would not make me a hero. But if saving a drowning man does not make somebody a hero, then what does?

GoGo said...

So true. I enjoyed the way you set us, the reader up, like a good joke...which in this case is very true. Dad is not a superhero, even if he thinks he is.

TI said...

Khendron, the whole category of the supererogatory consists of morally good things that you are not required to do. Saving a drowning man (or child, which is the most common philosophical example) *is* required if you can do so at no peril to yourself. If it's easy, then it's not heroic. Things are usually beyond the call of duty when they are morally good, but *very* risky or difficult to do. Of course, it's philosphy, so that there is a ton of debate about where to draw the line between duty and what lies beyond. Good question. You must know some philosophy or know a philosopher.

Repeater said...

I too love that you're bringing your philosophy knowledge into your writing. I think you could easily do this in your creative writing without making it seem pretentious (you did it in this piece). This was a really interesting post.

Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

Very well said! My ex had that philosophy of being the "hero" whenever he pitched in & did something with the kids once in awhile. We're still good friends, but now I have a spouse who believe and practices true partnership in childrearing and keeping the house going. Thanks for a great perspective on the prompt! much peace, JP

paris parfait said...

Excellent points! If only more people thought about this - sadly society has preconditioned us to think of defined roles for each sex - these stereotypes no longer fit reality, as your post shows.

blackdaisies said...

so very true ..