Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Heroes: why do they appeal to us?

What comes to mind when you hear the word hero? Do you think of a sport hero like Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth? Do you think of a mythical hero like Hercules or Robin Hood? Or do you think of a comic book superhero like Superman or Captain America? Or an ordinary person who beats extraordinary odds? Whoever you think of, a hero is an important person to you. The word “hero” is from the Greek and it represents a mortal who accomplishes a feat beyond the normal scope of human abilities that leads him or her to worship among the gods. Most heroes have certain characteristics which gives them the hero image and rise above a mere mortal. Heroes appeal to us in some way. They speak to us in ways we may not understand. Heroes are very personal to us.

Today, heroes are people we admire and want to emulate. A hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievement or noble qualities. Heroes can have five common characteristics. First, courage or bravery is the number one quality referred to when speaking of a hero. The triumph over fear and daunting odds in order to achieve a goal. It’s the firefighter who will rush in a burning building to save a complete stranger. In war, it is a person who sacrifices his own safety and possibly his life for others. There are many famous and not-so-famous examples of war heroes. So many stories which we will never know all their names and their incredible acts. Second, selflessness of heroes is another common trait. Putting others’ needs and concerns before his or her own. Heroes will often never think of the risk to themselves when others are in need. Third, humility and modesty, often wishing to hide from the spotlight is another trait of heroes. This trait is common among war heroes who don’t like speaking about the events which made them a hero. Lastly, caring and kindness for others which seems to be obvious otherwise the other traits wouldn’t be possible without concern for others.

What is the appeal of heroes? Is it because we want someone to look up to? Someone to strive to be like? In Greek mythology, heroes were godlike and would seem impossible to emulate. There are many reasons why heroes have an appeal, I’ve chosen my top 3 reasons. First, heroes often reveal our missing qualities. They display what behaviors are needed in order to succeed, better society and defeat the bad guys. They often behave in way we wished we would. Second, heroes save us when we’re in trouble. This can be seen in the powerful appeal of comic book superheroes. It is seen in real life with admiration for society’s protectors and rescuers: law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and military personnel. These men and women put their lives on the line in order to keep us safe and to get us out of harm’s way. Third, heroes bring hope in a dark world. Their stories are uplifting and inspiring that not everyone in this world is out to do harm and go above and beyond in order to provide safety, security and justice. These stories don’t always have to be about life and death situations. We’ve all heard the story of the Gainesville, Florida cop who responded to a noisy kids call by playing basketball with them. He was a hero that day.

When I think of heroes, I don’t think of a single person. I think of people who I admired for their extraordinary accomplishments despite their circumstances and their flaws. A hero is someone who isn’t afraid to fail and try again. I often think when people label someone as a hero, they fail to acknowledge someone’s shortcomings. They put them a high pedestal that when he or she does fail, it crushes the image of their hero. It can be seen most often with celebrities and sports stars. For example, recently with Cam Newton’s poor behavior after the Super Bowl. It was a disappointing loss and I understand his gloomy mood. But because he was so built up and elevated that people were shocked by his behavior. Even his “apology” a couple days later seem to me less than sincere. However, he has the opportunity to learn from this experience. To pick himself up and say “I’m going to try again. I’m not going to let one disappointment get the better of me.” To me, a hero is someone who pushes through despite fear, despite doubts and despite criticisms from others. A hero is someone who gives and sacrifices without thanks or recognition. Heroes are larger than life yet humble and gracious.

Heroes are very important to us. They demonstrate how ordinary people can be extraordinary. Heroes can be any one you look up to either real or imaginary from literature or film. They demonstrate what is right in the world and what the world needs more of. In a recent book I read, a character said “A hero’s bravery has to be unplanned. A genuine response to a crisis. It has to come from heart without any thought of reward” (Riordan). Along those lines, Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” The real and everyday heroes are the ones who I admire the most. Those who put their lives on the line to keep others safe. Those who sacrifice their own needs and wants so that others can have theirs. The heroes that you may never know their name or what they have done for you but heroic all the same.