What Makes a Hero?

A Congregation of HeroesAs the casualties pile up in Iraq, we’ve grown accustomed to hearing young men and women described as heroes, which would seem to suggest that there’s something heroic in perishing for obscure financial-political reasons that no one can quite identify.

Recently, as suspicion has grown that certain Major League Baseball sluggers hit their record-breaking home runs with muscular bodies aided by steroids, disappointed commentators have noted with obvious disgust that these great athletes had tarnished their heroic image. The crux of their complaint is that children, who don’t yet understand that money and celebrity matter more than anything in life, wouldn’t be able to fathom how their invincible batting heroes were actually evincible guys who relied on human growth hormones to pump up their biceps, statistics, and endorsement deals.

And now that Johnnie Cochran, the flamboyant attorney, has been laid to rest, the editorialists and “community leaders” have bandied about the hero appellSnowden Heroation with alarming promiscuity. How exactly one extrapolates heroism from winning the acquittal of a celebrity murderer we leave to smarter minds than ours.

Despite what the avatars of popular culture would have us believe, courtroom jesters, baseball players, and misguided youths in search of a job that pays slightly better than minimum wage and comes with a uniform and a gun don’t qualify, a priori, as heroes. Heroism, in our reading of the concept, doesn’t revolve around winning (or, in the case of fallen soldiers, firefighters and Highway Patrolmen, losing). Maudlin as it might sound, our real heroes are teachers and scientists, mothers and fathers, brave provocateurs and committed artists. A hero doesn’t have to inspire the entire world. She doesn’t have to foment revolutions or reinvent stereotypes. He doesn’t have to do anything that great masses will remember.

A hero lives by example. Behaves truthfully. Faces down long odds and does what he knows is right. A hero is mostly oblivious to his heroism.

We all create our own panoply of heroes. Ask yourself who are yours, and what do they all have in common? We reckon they’ll share one trait among their disparate characteristics: They leave the world a slightly better place than they found it.

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