Choosing Our Heroes

A statue of hercules

A statue of hercules

 Heroes are selfless people who perform extraordinary acts. The mark of heroes is not necessarily the result of their action, but what they are willing to do for others and for their chosen cause. Even if they fail, their determination lives on for others to follow. The glory lies not in the achievement, but in the sacrifice.

In this Thursday's blog about courage, I've selected parts of a column which eloquently discusses the importance of choosing personal heroes. To see the entire article, click here.

The term "hero" comes from the ancient Greeks. For them, a hero was a mortal who had done something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that he left an immortal memory behind him when he died, and thus received worship like that due the gods. Many of these first heroes were great benefactors of humankind: Hercules, the monster killer; Asclepius, the first doctor; Dionysus, the creator of Greek fraternities. 

Today, it is difficult to detach the concept of heroism from morality; we only call heroes those whom we admire and wish to emulate. But still the concept retains the link to possibility. We need heroes first and foremost because our heroes help define the limits of our aspirations. We largely define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals -- things like courage, honor, and justice -- largely define us. Our heroes are symbols for us of all the qualities we would like to possess and all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. Because the ideals to which we aspire do so much to determine the ways in which we behave, we all have a vested interest in each person having heroes, and in the choice of heroes each of us makes.

Teaching about heroes really isn't hard; heroic lives have their appeal built in, all we need to do is make an effort to tell the stories. Tell what a difference people of courage and nobility and genius have made to the world. Just tell the stories! We should recommit to that purpose. Start by going home tonight and listing your five most important heroes.

abraham lincoln

abraham lincoln

The greatest obstacle to the appreciation and adoption of heroes is pervasive and corrosive cynicism and skepticism. This obstacle of cynicism has been seriously increased by scandals like professional athletes using steroids or by our leaders' opportunistic use of heroic imagery for short term political  gain.

The best antidote to this cynicism is realism about the limits of human nature. We are cynical because so often our ideals have been betrayed. Washington and Jefferson held slaves, Martin Luther King is accused of philandering and plagiarizing, just about everybody had sex with someone they shouldn't, and so on. We need to separate out the things that make our heroes noteworthy, and forgive the shortcomings that blemish their heroic perfection: these magnificent spirits, these noble souls, amazingly, they are like us, they are human too. And perhaps, then, what was possible for them is possible for us. They stumbled, they wavered, they made fools of themselves - but nonetheless they rose and accomplished deeds of triumphant beauty. Perhaps we might do so too. Cynicism is too often merely an excuse for sparing ourselves the effort.

Again, the critical moral contribution of heroes is the expansion of our sense of possibility. Heroes can help us lift our eyes a little higher.

Who are your five heroes? Why did you choose them? Are they courageous? Feel free to add a comment!  

Let's hop over to PJ Fiala's blog to discover what she has to say about courage. 

P J Fiala is married with four children and three grandchildren.  She and her husband travel around by motorcycle seeing new places and meeting new people. It never ceases to amaze her how many people are interested in where they are going and what they have seen along the way. At almost every stop they make, the locals ask them where they’re headed and offer advice on which roads in the area are best for travel and seeing the sites. They are also more than willing to share what others before them have told them about great rides and the best scenic routes to take. She has written two series: Rolling Thunder and Second Chances.