John Flannery
4 min readOct 30, 2022

BY John P. Flannery, II

In the various places I write and speak, I usually turn to the vagaries of law and politics in the public arena — especially these days.

When I thought to venture into political waters myself, many years ago, and shared this with others, a NY Daily News reporter sent along a song from an opera as a warning to be wary.

It went like this:

“To be a politician. What is that but feigning ignorance of what you know very well, pretending knowledge in subjects where you are totally ignorant and understanding where you haven’t the slightest comprehension,” and it goes on in this way, finishing with, “There you are: a politician’s portrait to the life.”

I framed it, it hangs on the wall in my home office, and I have read and re-read it over the years –to resist any impulse to become “that person” and fall prey to episodes of lazy thought and wrongful conduct.

If life teaches anything, it is that Heroes are hard to find among our elected leaders.

The few leaders we can identify suggests that’s why JFK’s, “Profiles in Courage” was such a thin “tome.” We have too few of courage. Too few Heroes.

It is why “we the people” must pick up the slack — to survive the bitterness of what passes for political debate.

We have no need for partisan tribe-like devotion to what is cultish in origin and practice.

We need something more than the impermanence of declared political “wins,” calculated only to gain power, and personal prestige to the pols, with little benefit to the rest of us.

The political fog spread by trash sound bites compromise any hope of a leadership that inspires, gives joy, or has lasting positive effect.

Too often our too few heroes in politics and the law are dragged to their destiny by our urgings, by “we the people.”

Hemingway once said courage was “grace under pressure.”

Plainly it must be more than that.

A classic hero makes a sacrifice not for himself but for others.

The sacrifice varies depending on the sphere of influence.

A small sacrifice in challenging times can be heroic.

It requires resolve and discipline and a worthy objective.

It may require an indomitable spirit.

We may not participate in a mythical heroism, like Odysseus in our dreamlike wanderings.

“We the People,” in this America context, in these unusual times, however, can and must make the difference our leaders seem to shun.

That takes some courage these days; for one must recoil from the lies of our leaders, the bias, the discrimination, the intimidation, to say aloud what few will say, that no one should accept this unbecoming chaos.

“We the People” must speak out and vote to end this chaos, encourage others to do the same, persist not just for this election, but in every election afterwards.

Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, spoke of how our birth is an act of heroism, coming down the birth canal from water to air.

It’s a tantalizing metaphor but none of us recalls that passage.

In contrast, heroism in its modest and magnificent forms, must be conscious, intentional, and not accidental or coincidental.

These days one can make a big difference by small actions, conjoined with the acts of others, repeated and swollen to good effect with the tacit understanding that we’ve had enough, “we’re not going to take it any more,” and it’s at long last time to put our house in order. Bobby Kennedy taught this same lesson to those in South Affrica.

When I was young and a street kid in the South Bronx, my Dad had a singsong rhyme to discourage us from fighting in the street– he said, tell them “sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt me.” I said it but my heart wasn’t in it.

It didn’t bear scrutiny because, before my father served in the Army Air Force in WWII, he was a street fighter of some skill; fighting, and the willingness and need to do so, seemed to be a part of life and to play a part in courage, even if fighting, with age, meant not with the fisticuffs of our early days, but with the words that can truly hurt us one and all.

Many of our “leaders” are hesitant to take on the spirit of a hero; so, it’s left up to us.

We must do what you might ordinarily choose not do, and that sacrifice may be to talk to a neighbor for a candidate, put up a poster, contribute a sawbuck, anything that could make a difference in this mid-term election.


@jonflan, jonflan@aol.com