The word “hero” evokes thoughts of historical figures, tales of lore, mystery and even romance. We have come to associate the term with both the person who was born destined for greatness and with the everyday man who stuns the masses with a spectacular act. But, what exactly is a hero? Is it simply an act of outstanding achievement as the dictionary defines or is it an extraordinary person who is continuously working above the bar?
What is a Hero?
The New York Times asked “Does heroism always involve physical strength, or are there other qualities that define being a hero?” The article continues with stories of heroism from soldiers in war and civilians who have faced terrorist acts and took action to assist in saving lives. When asked why they did these extraordinary acts the simple answer was often “survival.” We all have an innate need to survive and to help others survive. There is nothing that can make us feel more helpless then to see a problem that we just can’t help. So, is heroism a characteristic, or something that we would all be driven to do? Though there may be people who listen to that small inner voice more often than others, I would argue that we all have the potential to be a hero. The role of hero is a story as old as time itself and is seen in every culture, story, and historical account.
Great Heroes of History
An online poll conducted by History’s Heroes, maintains a running popularity vote of non-fictional heroes from history. Their top ten list includes: Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Mahatma Gandhi, Isaac Newton, George Washington, Alexander the Great, Martin Luther King Jr., and Queen Elizabeth I. All of these figures have impacted our thinking, our liberty, and the way our world works today. Their strengths vary dramatically from their physical strength, to their intellectual strength, to their political strength. For some, their heroism comes by birthright and for some their heroism was their strength to fight for a cause. This list of names tells the reader that heroism is a broad topic, just as broad as the top ten list of names above.
Great Heroes of Literature
Heroes of literature have the great advantage of both immortality and the ability to complete heroic acts presented to them. Non-fictional farmers may not be presented with too many opportunities to be heroic, but a fictional farmer can save a room full of children from a burning schoolhouse. Some of the greatest heroes from literature include Frodo Baggins, the small hobbit who never received any warrior training who then saves all of Middle Earth or Robin Hood who stole from the rich to feed the poor. Instead of the soldier who lead an army, many literature heroes center around the small man who performed great acts.
Great Heroes of Modern Fictional Media
Modern fictional media tends to focus their heros around the idea of the Super Human. Humans who due to genetic alterations or alien qualities have a supreme ability and therefore a duty to seek out those heroic events. Stories of Superman, Spider-man, The X-Men and more fill our imaginations with a more futuristic ideal of the perfected or superhuman who can perform unnatural abilities, therefore making them a hero.
Heroes today come in all shapes, sizes, celebrity powers, political powers, and intelligence. The topic is broad. We often complete small heroic acts every day. Larger acts of heroism are not necessarily planned, but are for those at the right place at the right time. We are all able to be a hero, and the best way to do that is to be involved in the world around you, all heroes are needed.