Where Have All The Heroes Gone?

In ancient Greek myth, heroes were humans, of the remote past, endowed with superhuman abilities and descended from the immortal gods themselves. They were admired for their intelligence, strength, bravery, loyalty, and cunning.

The concept of a hero has evolved over time. Nowadays they are no longer descended from the gods and may come from a variety of backgrounds. In modern culture, a hero is seen as someone who is admired for their courage, selflessness, and noble qualities, and who is willing to take risks or make sacrifices in order to help others or achieve a noble goal.

Today we have our own hero myths like Superman and Batman. Like the Greek myth heroes, they have special powers and overcome seemingly impossible challenges and save the day.Real life heroes exist too. They take risks and act with courage in the face of danger. It’s easy to see that many in the military, firefighters, and policemen are heroic, but others are as well, for example, Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the most famous and influential British suffrage leaders who took direct action in the face of stringent, often physical opposition. Rosa Parks refused on principle to surrender her seat because of her race, which was required by the law in Montgomery at the time. Parks was jailed and paid a fine. She faced a dangerous situation because racial conflict at the time frequently erupted into violence.

Somehow, we have expanded the definition of heroism so that it is meaningless. Instead of someone who takes risks and acts with courage in the face of danger, we have the idea that a hero is someone who embodies virtues and values that are admired and respected by society. That sounds good, but what does it really mean?

I did an internet search for “qualities of a hero.” Here’s what I got back.

Qualities of a hero (I added the definitions):

Bravery–taking risks and acting with courage, even putting your life on the line, in the face of danger or other serious consequences. Spot on.

Determination–resolve. Acting with a firmness of purpose. This is a part of bravery. An act of bravery implies that the hero resolved on a course of action.

Protection— a motivation for bravery–saving others, protecting your property, protecting your country, or maybe saving the world. There are other motivations, though, like revenge, but that does ‘t sound quite so pure. Odyssius blinded Polypemus, leader of the cyclops, for revenge and stole the Cyclops’ sheep to keep from starving. Those were considered heroic acts. Of course, the Cyclops were the bad guys.

Conviction–the state of mind of a person who is sure that what he or she believes is true. When I’m hoping for a hero to save me from a burning building, I don’t care what he believes.

Helpful–Well one hopes that an act taken in the face of danger would be helpful. When I’m stuck in that burning building, I don’t care If my rescuer is helpful doing the dishes or feeding the cat.

Honesty–again, from my position in that burning building, I don’t care about a guy cheating on his taxes.

Inspirational–making one feel full of hope or encouraged. Acting with courage in the face of danger may made a person feel hopeful or encouraged…or not. Whether or not a person acts with heroism doesn’t depend on the reactions of others, the media for instance.

Moral integrity–connotes moral soundness, rectitude and steady adherence to an ethical code. Once again, if he is carrying me out of that burning building, I don ’t give a damn if he is number one on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Self-sacrifice–the giving up of one’s own interests or wishes in order to help others or advance a cause. In carrying out a heroic act, a person may have sacrificed his own interests…or not. The act and the result don’t depend on motivation.

Selflessness–concern more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own. Concern is not action. This may help no one. Sounds good though.

Strength–this is a part of bravery. a person has to be mentally strong to take action in the face of danger. By itself it doesn’t mean much, but is sounds good.

What I learned from this list:

Heroism and bravery mean the same thing. without bravery, acting with courage, even putting your life on the line, in the face of danger, all the rest of this list is just fluff. The bad new is that when we confuse those other terms, determination, conviction, helpfulness, honesty, inspirational, integrity, self-sacrifice, selflessness. and strength, with heroism, we include a number of things that, while admirable, are not heroic.

Philanthropy by itself is not heroic. Simply writing a large check or starting a foundation, if there there are no consequences other than a possible IRS audit, are laudable but not heroic.

Being rich is not heroic.

Heroes take risks and act with courage, even putting their lives on the line, in the face of danger.

Search and rescue squads searching for survivors after a massive earthquake are heroes. A citizen who enters a school and takes out a shooter who has shot entire classrooms while local police dithered around outside, is a hero. Instead of putting these heroes on pedestals, we’ve replaced heroes with celebrities. We worship people who haven’t done anything.

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