We don't need to be heroes (just for one day): men ringing the changes on their agency
Interesting to see two men, at the core of great public events and phenomena over the last few weeks, keen to resist the easy label of "hero" being applied to their endeavours.
Firstly it's Coventry's Rick Stanton, who was one of the British divers who helped bring the 12 boys and their football coach emerge from the Tham Luang caves in Thailand. In an interview for the Coventry Telegraph, Stanton made the following statement:
Are we heroes? No, we were just using a very unique skill set, which we normally use for our own interests and sometimes we are able to use that and give something back to the community. That’s what we did.
This was completely uncharted, unprecedented territory and nothing like this has been done. So, of course there were doubts.
I knew that we had a good team, with good support from the Thai authorities, the caving community and rescue organisations, so we had the best we could do to make a plan work.
The second instance comes from Gareth Southgate, the manager of the England football team, who is reported in today's papers that he “does not want the squad to be regarded as heroes”, and thinks it would be "inappropriate" to hold a public celebration next week on their return.
As the Sun reports, Southgate's reasoning may well be self-interested. The Football Association are reported as saying that "throwing a celebration for finishing third or fourth would send the wrong message to a young England squad. It is thought that would damage their mindset and suggest losing is acceptable."
But in both instances, one can see a different logic beginning to operate, underneath the surface of traditional male agency. Stanton wants to subsume any individual "heroism" to the collective skills and aptitudes of his fellow divers.
Putting their expertise at the service of a community, when that community needs it, is how Stanton wants his undeniably peril-laden actions to be regarded. The assumption is that they will all be there, if and when they are required again - part of a wider, care-driven society (which is now global than just national).
For different imperatives - that is, the steadily-developing, long-term success of a team of footballers - Southgate also downplays the "heroic" ideal, either for players as individuals or as a collective. The narrative becomes bigger than the rise and fall through a particular tournament - those emotional peaks and troughs, triumph and disaster, inflation and deflation, which have so often characterised the progress of the English and other UK teams.
Instead, Russia 2018 becomes a moment in the England team's overall growth, where the psychological as well as the skills development of the team are presumed to be directly linked.
In A/UK, we have an abiding interest in the way that gender and sexuality feed into how people manifest power and voice, in their own lives and their communities. It's interesting to note that these expressions of men's humility and modesty divert attention instead towards their craft, skill and practice, and the peer groups that sustain them. Maybe a motivational insight for other areas of life - not just football or cave-diving.