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Thursday’s Heroes: Just What Makes a Hero

April 19, 2012

Old Superman Comic Book Cover

We live in cynical times; there is no doubt about that.  While I think most people look at their current times as more cynical than before, it just may be today’s technology allows a little bit of cynical to go a long way.  Moreover, that same technology shines a light on even the smallest of blemish.  This leaves us with a requirement of perfection than no human can possibly attain.  It leaves us wanting, wanting a hero.

What does it mean to be heroic?  Here is what Webster’s has to say about it[i]:

Hero: he·ro: noun \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\

plural he·roes

 

  1. a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
    b : an illustrious warrior
    c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
    d : one who shows great courage
  2. a: the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
    b: the central figure in an event, period, or movement
  1. plural usually he·ros : submarine 2
  2. an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

It is “c” and “d” of the first definition I am talking about, though the definition’s masculine reference is somewhat dated.  We will ignore that last point; women have proven themselves every bit as heroic as men, if not more.  We can debate whether or not Webster’s needs to change with the times later on.

While today’s post deals mainly with defining a hero and the scope of the topic, in the weeks to come it will go into details about individual heroes.  We will peek behind the curtain, so to speak.  By understanding just how people achieved “hero” status, we will not only understand them but we will be inspired all the more, as they mostly are not mythical, or illustrious.  No, for the most part, heroes are normal people faced with extraordinary circumstances.   What makes them heroes is how they dealt with their particular situation.

For example:

  • You will read about Nancy Hart of Georgia.  Her heroism during the American Revolution inspired such admiration she is the only woman in the state to have a county named for

    Nancy Heart

    her.

  • You will learn about Sergeant Alvin York who served in World War I.  He struggled with his deeply held belief that it is wrong to kill, under any circumstances, and saving the life of his unit comrades.
  • Further, you will be introduced to Robert Smalls.  A former slave and ship’s pilot that escaped with his family during the Civil War by stealing the CSS Planter.   Even more remarkable, after the war he purchased the home where he was held as a slave.  Showing his humanitarian side, he allowed the widow of his former master to live out her days in

    Robert Smalls

    the home.  I’m not so sure I could be that gracious.

  • There is also a darker side to being a hero, as Kit Carson found out.  Carson became famous in his lifetime and the subject of many a dime-novel.  After an unsuccessful rescue attempt to save the White family from an Apache tribe, Carson was shown a novel based on his life, found amongst the family belongings.  Throughout his remaining days he had remorse and wondered if Mrs. White’s vainly thought that day of him riding to her rescue.

There will be others too, from all walks of life and all parts of the world.  Some will be famous, some not so famous.  I promise you none are perfect.  In fact, some people will see them as heroes while others view them as villains.  For instance, in the United States we see Benedict Arnold as a traitor; in Great Britain they may see him in a whole other light.  In a lot of cases hero-status depends on your point of view, all the more reason to deal with our heroes as human beings and not gods walking amongst us.

Heroes have flaws.  They are human after all.  Historians attempt to white-wash over their faults and only show them as perfect.  This does our heroes, and us, a disservice.  We need to see them for what they were and are, the good and bad, the perfect and imperfect, and yes, the brave and cowardly too.  By understanding our heroes are not perfect; we can accept the qualities we admire about them as living within each of us.  It is often said the difference between a hero and an ordinary person is opportunity, while that may be true; it is what heroes do with that opportunity that make them different.

In the end, I hope you will see heroes as human, not mythical.  I hope you understand we each have a little bit of the hero in us.  I hope you see each of us can do a thousand little things that makes us a hero in someone’s eye.  It is not the fame of it that’s important, but the doing.

 


[i] “Hero.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hero?show=0>.

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