I am a long-time blood donor. Every eight weeks, the blood bank calls me to provide another pint. I’ve never kept count, but they tell me I am somewhere north of seven gallons. I am NOT, however, a hero. That’s what the people who set up the appointments have been trained call me. Me, and the thousands of others who do so regularly. I’m happy to contribute to the cause in my own small way. But being called a hero for something like this troubles me.
As a society, we have taken to using hyperbolic labels for everything. Every little act, performance, and gesture seems to be awesome, phenomenal, fantastic, or unbelievable. Maybe this is a throwback to the parents who gave their kids trophies just for showing up. But the whole thing demeans those whose achievements are the product of real vision, focus, hard work, perseverance and sacrifice. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that the front-line employees who show up for work in the middle of a pandemic are not heroes. Yet we see large signs to this effect all over. Yes, we DO appreciate the risk they are taking. But if we compare that to the firefighters who run into burning buildings or the police officers who risk their lives protecting others, I’d argue there’s a considerable difference.
The misguided belief that a person will think better of themselves or improve their performance when you tell them they’re a hero for doing something ordinary creates a disconnect between management and staff. They know they didn’t do something extraordinary. In some cases, they even look at management as being silly for suggesting such a thing. The supervisors I know don’t want to look silly. Yet someone in leadership has decided that this is the way to inspire people. So they go along, not wanting to take a stand on something so insignificant.
The same thing is true of customers and those who contribute to a cause. Yes, I want to be appreciated. But a simple “thank you” will do. A salesperson who tells me I’ve made a phenomenal decision when I’ve purchased a set tires amuses me. They’re just tires! If someone wants to tap me for a pint of blood every two months, I am happy to comply. Pat me on the back, give me a tchotchke, or just say “thanks.”