[October 4, 2016] One of my close friends confided in me the other day that during his travels he had been asking people who their heroes were and has done so for over 30 years. The results are a bit surprising but more on that later. What he discovered for himself – and now sharing with me – was that the heroes people chose tells us a lot about the individual and about their society.
Humans probably had the concept of hero since the beginning of their existence. But it was the ancient Greeks that gave us the term “hero.” A hero was a mortal who had done something so extraordinary that it was beyond our normal experience and that left a timeless memory behind. Some of those heroes made great contributions to society while others who had committed hideous crimes. The concept of hero was to expand people’s sense of what was humanly possible.
Thus, the concept of heroism became closely associated with morality. Today we call heroes those who we admire and wise to emulate; they help define the limits of our aspirations. Thus, a person who chooses a rock star will have largely different values and ideals than someone who chooses a soldier or sailor. Their worldly experiences and concepts of human excellence will also differ greatly.
That was why my friend collected this information; at first for his personal entertainment, then later for how it helped him understand people’s views of the world. Some of the unexpected results were that many from Islamic nations were enthralled with Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. Those from the some of the Caribbean Islands enjoyed their hero Bob Marley. And as expected, from much of Western Europe and America he found musicians and movie stars were common.
While those heroes we admire changes over time and across cultures, associated values also change. We see this in young Americans who once considered individuals like Sergeant York or George Washington as heroes, we now see Paris Hilton and Brad Pitt as what they like most. Can it be that our values are slowly changing from the ideals of duty-honor-country to consumerism and self-gratification? Sadly we do see some of that.
The study of heroes and our promotion of the greatest of heroes from our past – those who have been a positive influence – is important to the continuation of those values and ideals that have made any country great. Coaches, teachers, and mentors all must be involved so that the young have someone they can look up to and to try to emulate.
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