Doing what you have to

Like my wife says, “You don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to.” — @clmazin on Twitter, 10 Nov 2016

I follow Mr. Mazin on Twitter because a friend showed me witty things he was writing. I am a sucker for witty and/or clever…though I’ve been considering dropping him from my reading now that his election-related witticisms will be waiting for a different election cycle. Only so many hours in the day, etc. But in the meantime, he slid the above into his Twitter feed.

It got me thinking about the weird thing that is “ordinary” heroism. Because when I read, “You don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to,” I nodded sharply. That’s how I was raised as well. Not just in my home, but in the Girl Scouting community–founder Juliette Gordon Low is known for saying, “Right is right even when no one else does it.” We do that right thing because it’s part of who we are, part of being a human in community.

For me, those right things have been small. I put away chairs and tables after meetings. I pick up trash as I go along, and put it where it needs to go. I speak to children who are on the edge of getting in harm’s way (an action more likely to get me yelled-at than praised). I can only recall one true emergency in front of me, and there it was My Sweetie who performed the care. Just as well, I’m sure, because I often faint at the sight of blood. 

But even though I haven’t been called upon, I recognize the feeling: knowing what to do impels one to act. That’s where  heroes begin.

And that’s why heroes so often seem perplexed. Having been trained to respond even before they can consciously think, their responses don’t surprise them. It’s what they were supposed to do. Why should they get credit for doing what came automatically? If one hasn’t exerted oneself, where’s the merit in the work?

I, myself, would like to both give and mute credit in those times. Mute, because I sympathize with wanting to feel one earned — sweated, exerted, strained for — the accolade at hand. Give, because, well…

because not everyone who has been trained responds. Also, I find awards useful for all the people who don’t earn them. Presenting an award reminds the rest of the community what our right actions are, and might even encourage more people to take those right actions.


My social media is flooded lately with people’s free-floating anxieties. Some of the posters are vowing that they will take particular actions in response to things that have not yet happened. I’m not persuaded that this is useful–either the projections of a terrifying future or the vows. Mr. Mazin encourages me, though. Perhaps we as individuals will do right things even when no one is watching, even on Twittter. That we will act rightly before we give it thought, because we were doing what needed to be done. Doing what we had to. We can find out later whether we were heroes.

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