Hearts of Gold, Feet of Clay

By Annie Tobey | October 3rd, 2018

Of benevolence, humanity, superheroes and Sly


Sure, superheroes are great: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and good old Spidey, plus the modern, superpower-wielding, gadget-brandishing do-gooders. I have a special fondness for superheroes that my sons were enamored of, like Wolverine and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But give me secret agent Maxwell Smart, the misunderstood Incredible Hulk or, “Not plane or bird or even frog, it’s just li’l ol’ me –” Crash! “Underdog.”

I’ve always had a weakness for underdogs (especially those whose underdog status arises from external value judgments rather than personal flaws). I’ve also had a fondness for “Everyday People” and the diversity of humankind. As Sly & the Family Stone remind us, we’ve got to live together.

For about five years, I had the opportunity to celebrate everyday people – everyday women, specifically – as co-publisher and editor of V Magazine for Women. I’ve brought my affinities here to my work at BOOMER. Minus the women-only focus, the BOOMER publishers also appreciate people from humble walks of life.

So when we decided to feature generous Richmonders in the October-November issue, we determined to search for everyday people who joyfully share of their time, their skills and themselves (quite literally). They may not wield gadgets, possess superpowers or defeat evil villains out to conquer the world, but they aid many who are in need. I hope you enjoy reading about this diverse group of givers on Pages 54-68.

‘We’ve got to live together,’ sang Sly Stone’s band

It’s easy to find reasons to reach out to others: religious prescriptions (the Bible’s Golden Rule), logical evolutionary possibilities (social behaviors like benevolence assist the entire community and thus benefit the giver) and internal motivations (kindness just feels better than bullying).

As the “Be Kind” sign lady Gini Bonnell said in the August-September BOOMER, “A kind word or gesture has power and can change the trajectory of someone’s day.”

In my writing, I apply what I call “The Thumper’s Father’s Principle.” Picture the scene where Thumper, his sisters and his mother go to visit newborn Bambi. The young fawn struggles to his feet, wobbles and falls down.

“He doesn’t walk very good, does he?” says the young bunny.

“Thumper?” says a female voice from out of the frame, with that familiar chiding inflection.

“Yes, Mama?” he dutifully replies.

“What did your father tell you this morning?”

Thumper’s answer is an admonition worth heeding: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

‘The butcher, the banker, the drummer’

Unless you’re vegetarian or you live off the grid, your life is made richer (so to speak) by the butcher, the banker, the drummer; by the farmer, the cashier, the guitarist; and by family, friends and even strangers.

‘Different strokes for different folks’

In our heated political atmosphere, our appreciation for diversity of thought has faded. As a twist on the mantra “WWJD?,” consider asking “What would John (McCain) do?” Many who eulogized the late senator celebrated his ability to debate political rivals, then shake hands and treat them as friends.

“Our shared values define us more than our differences,” McCain said. “And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.”

‘Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong’

Admittedly, my do-good values are often mitigated by my imperfections.

I applaud all who devote time to volunteerism and activism – but I have so much of a workaholic streak that I rarely volunteer personally!

I do value underdogs – but not without reservation (like the “hero” that the refrain in “Everyday People” reminds me of: “And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”)

When waiting in lines of traffic, I’m happy to let other cars into the flow – but I may get miffed when someone doesn’t acknowledge my good deed.

I prefer to bring people joy, not sadness – but I’ve been known to procrastinate in telling a necessary truth.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one with clay feet. After all, cartoon creators impute weaknesses to fictional characters so fans can better relate. So take heart: it’s OK to have a little kryptonite sensitivity!

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