Matt Knutson: Find a way to become an everyday hero

Published 9:29 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“I love that quote from Mr. Rogers,” I reminded my wife when it popped into my head in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It normally appears on social media after some sort of tragedy, usually an act of terror. It seems quite fitting for the recent natural disasters.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Mr. Rogers said. “To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

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It’s incredibly comforting to hear someone say that there will always be helpers. Time and time again we’ve struggled as a nation, and people rise to the occasion to aid those in their darkest hours. Nobody wants a hurricane to strike, but it is inevitable that one will. Watching the response of our emergency teams on the news, seeing the outpouring of philanthropic support — it’s all quite inspiring. When an opportunity to help comes around, we’re here to step up as a nation.

For some reason, I keep encountering people comparing Hurricane Harvey and Charlottesville. Those are two very different types of disasters, but the common conclusion I’m witness is that the “real America” is our response to Hurricane Harvey. That’s the kind of people we are. What happened in Charlottesville isn’t American — we don’t want our nation connected to that.

It’s a fascinating line of thought.

We so quickly want to distance ourselves from the white supremacy in Charlottesville that we latch on to the next disaster to provide us hope. But there was hope in Charlottesville. There was a whole group of counter-protestors standing up against white supremacy, but nobody is saying, “That’s the real America.” I wonder why. Probably because pointing to the counter-protestors as the real America would mean we don’t have a problem. If something just becomes un-American, we don’t have to address it. In reality, America is complex. Everything is the “real America.” We are a nation made up of social justice warriors, white supremacists, indecisive bystanders, and a million other labels. We are united in our differences.

So when people get excited about Americans doing something good, like our response to Hurricane  Harvey, we want to put our name on it. We want to label it American. But it’s also important to call out when we’re not doing something right. We shouldn’t just ignore the negative attributes of our nation — we should address them. If there’s something you don’t like being attached to American values, it’s your job to take a stand, to help rewrite who we are so we can better know who we will become.

The generosity of Hurricane Harvey has proven that our nation can still rally together whenever people are in desperation. Let’s seize this opportunity to continue to come together when people need help — but maybe they’re not at that desperate phase yet. Just weeks ago, people we struggling in Houston and few of us cared. There were people going hungry, homeless and who knows what else. In addition to being the superhero on the day when disaster strikes, we need to be everyday heroes for people in our community. Americans are good at being there in a crisis. We could do more to prevent people from getting to that point.

My daughter and I occasionally watch clips of Sesame Street on YouTube. One of my favorite songs we listen to is called “Everyday Hero.” The song begins, “You don’t have to go leaping tall buildings. You don’t need to run with super speed. You just have to be ready and able to help out when somebody’s in need.” The lyrics are a little cheesy, but there’s a good amount of heart mixed in there. In addition to helping out when disaster strikes, I encourage you to find a way to be an everyday hero in your community.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.