[January 14, 2015] We hear a lot about heroes in everyday life in the United States. “All our soldiers are heroes,” one lady told me yesterday when I asked her she thought about her son being in the U.S. Army. Our police officers and firemen are also called heroes. But common use of the term has us now applying it to just about everyone. Yet people ask me all the time, what is a hero?
Formal definitions, and I looked at a lot of them, are unsatisfactory.1,2 Most of us think of a hero as someone who displayed physical courage in the face of danger and adversity. Those who ask me about heroes are referring to military heroes because of my Army career and get pretty offended when I tell them we’re not all heroes. Yep, I still think those who face danger for the good of all would meet the definition of a hero.
We should be able to define it – what is a hero? Obviously a person rescuing a drowning child in a frozen lake places themselves at risk and is a hero. Anyone putting themselves in harm’s way, risking their health and safety, for the betterment of all, is also a hero. This means, for example, that those who work in the medical profession on the front lines fighting infectious diseases can rightly be considered heroes.
The physical courage component of being a hero, I believe to be settled in most our minds. But the unsung heroes of those who sacrifice for all are those who have great moral courage. Moral courage is, in my opinion, more difficult and the risks can be greater. What could be a greater threat than risking your life? A person’s reputation or their acceptance into a coveted group can be more important; at least to many people.
Let us not forget the moral component to the hero or we will be missing something important. The workers at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly that saw 12 of its members murdered a few days ago by Muslim extremists, have shown moral courage and they have done it for the good of all those who desire freedom. Are they heroes? Yes.
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