In 1949, Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Folklore and myths from every place and time, Campbell said, told similar stories — an ordinary man or woman must perform a seemingly impossible task to save his or her people. Along the way, the hero is victimized by powerful forces but with supernatural help achieves redemptive success.
Why is the myth of the hero’s journey universal? Because it’s how we all want to think of ourselves — as both victims and heroes. Life isn’t easy. All kids take some knocks. Getting through a day as an adult is tough. We all face opposition, at least in our own minds. But still we somehow keep going and sometimes we win.
It’s the same for everyone. “I overcame the hardship of poverty to rise to the corner office.” “I overcame the disadvantages of wealth and privilege to live a fulfilling life.”
None of this excuses Williams’ chopper whopper. He forfeited his $10 million-a-year job. A news anchor you can’t trust can’t be a news anchor.
But we can all understand what Williams did. As a volunteer firefighter, as a reporter in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and as a war correspondent in Kuwait and Iraq, Williams cast himself in the role of victim and hero. He couldn’t resist the temptation we all face.
The legendary basketball coach John Wooden had this warning: Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
Yet even in his public statement announcing a temporary break from the evening newscast (a few days before NBC suspended him for six months without pay), Williams followed his usual pattern. As a victim, he said “it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.”
As a hero, he said, “I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days . . . Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
God rewarded Moses not because he was heroic but because he was humble. The public too would have rewarded Williams if he had been humble. Because humble is honest.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.