Simi Valley Sophist

The Simi Valley Sophist ruminates on all manner of topics from the micro to the macro. SVS travels whatever path strikes his fancy. Encyclopedia Britannica: Sophist "Any of certain Greek lecturers, writers, and teachers in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, most of whom travelled about the Greek-speaking world giving instruction in a wide range of subjects in return ..."

Location: California, United States

Retired: 30years law enforcement-last 20 years Criminal Intelligence Detective.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Who is this Hero Rosa Parks?

Rosa Parks’ passing at the age of 92 triggered many articles of tribute for the woman who helped spark the civil rights revolution in 1955. Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez once had the opportunity to spend some time with Parks, and he wrote,

There are few heroes in my life, and she's one of them. It isn't so much her iconic posture, now rooted in the past tense of history, but the quiet, almost whispery nature of her stance. She was a living self-denial of her own courage, understanding it completely but unimpressed by its size.

A dictionary definition of “hero” includes descriptors: warrior; admired for achievements and qualities; great courage; etc. For me, my definition is better: An ordinary person who commits an extraordinary act at an inordinate time for the direct benefit of another at the peril of oneself.

Ellen Barry wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Parks had been incensed by the arrest of a young girl for refusing to give up her seat on a bus,

Parks also had taken note of the case of a 15-year-old black girl, Claudette Colvin, who was arrested for refusing to yield a seat, and discussed its potential as a desegregation test case.

So, I suspect that there was much more going on in Parks’ head than the, "I was just tired of being humiliated and degraded." explanation given to Al Martinez.

Ellen Barry also wrote,

Ivery Giles, 80, worked several doors down from Parks in 1955 and was seated behind her on the bus that afternoon. From her seat, Giles watched as the driver grew angrier. Parks, she said, betrayed no emotion but that of patience.

Whatever the motivating factors that caused her to act that day in Montgomery, she acted in singular defiance. She was a women who had reached her personal crisis point and reacted to the indecent treatment accorded to all those with black skin. It was an act in direct disregard for her personal safety and welfare.

When Parks calmly defied the convention of the time and put herself in physical jeopardy, what could have been going on inside of her? Was her inner self calm and collected as her outer demeanor, or was she awash with fear and anxiety?

To act heroically does not make you immune to the physiological manifestations of the flight or fight conflict as a result of being placed in a fearful environment. Adrenaline dumps into the bloodstream and is instantly delivered to every nook and cranny of the body. The eyes dilate, the heart pounds, and there is a sickening wrenching feeling in the gut. The message delivered to every bodily cell is that there is peril and it is time to fight or get the heck out of Dodge. Yet, Parks, a black woman, sat there in unwavering and deliberate defiance of an angry white man in the Jim Crow south. Parks stoically handled the raging battle within that we all know she was feeling.

I do not believe that Parks acted impulsively which means that the anxiety had to be building within her as she anticipated the breaking of the gathering storm. Once the first verbal blow was received, anger may have taken over and buttressed her resolve.

There are many others who have acted similarly without the benefit of fortuitous timing that triggered a social revolution, and they were not accorded the “hero” appellation. I suspect that Parks understood this fact and accordingly did not take her act of defiance overly auspiciously. Parks’ accomplishment was possible because she had the ability to overcome the anticipatory anxiety preparatory to action. She was a humble person who acted when others would have been paralyzed with fright. To again quote Al Martinez, “She was a living self-denial of her own courage, understanding it completely but unimpressed by its size.”