Who is a hero?

It is something many of us aspire to be, sort of like being famous, but better because to be a hero is to make some kind of difference, surely?

We like to praise others and give them glory for something they’ve done, and we also like it when others praise us for our actions, but to be a hero requires something more than that doesn’t it?

As far as I can tell there are two different types of hero; the personal and the public. The personal hero is someone we praise for something they’ve done for us specifically, like a doctor; whereas, a public hero is someone who does something on a grander scale, receiving greater attention from a group of people (which could be anything from ten to a billion). It is these people that we more often aspire to be like, but what does it really mean to be a hero? Can just anyone achieve such greatness?

Are you acquainted with the American TV show Heroes? If not, it revolves around a large cast of characters who are ordinary individuals but who have, supposedly, gained special abilities and powers through genetic evolution. In other words each of them has a super power. There’s one who can paint the future, a flying guy, someone who can bend space and time, the cheerleader who can regenerate, one who can remove certain memories from others, and another who can look at something and know how it works and how to fix it.
            The question they are faced with, is what to do with their abilities. For some it’s a chance to nobly attempt to ‘save the world’, something they continually struggle with. Others meanwhile use their powers for petty crime or worse, getting as much personal gain as they can and not caring for the consequences. Some are just trying to work out how to harness their power and prevent it from overtaking them, while a few try to ignore anything that makes them different.
            Most of them try to use it as a force for good, but a few see an opportunity to achieve what they want, while one is determined to eliminate all of the others and in doing so steal their ability. At the same time the friends and family of these people are left dazed, confused and disbelieving. As they start to understand, though, they ask why these so called ‘heroes’ are not using their powers to heal their own lives and the problems in their immediate circle.

For these characters being a hero means they have to do something with their power. They have to achieve some level of greatness, good or evil. They feel that they have been chosen for some greater purpose, whether they want it or not, and that not to make improvements to the wider world would be a failure of their calling. However, while they battle with the big problems – mostly power struggles and widespread destruction (it is a TV show) – their personal lives also come under immense pressure as they neglect those closest to them. Now I know this show is contrived to create drama and tension, but the ideas still match real life.

There is a common conception that a hero is someone who saves the world, or at least a large number of people, most of whom are strangers . In fact (according to the dictionary anyway) a hero is a man (or woman if we include heroines) of ‘distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities’. The word ‘Brave’ is described as ‘ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage’ or ‘making a fine appearance’. The scope of these brave deeds and noble qualities is not brought into question.

Personally I would describe a hero as ‘someone deserving of honour’.

Honour is a big thing for us as humans. There is a part of all of us that wants to be honoured. To be admired, praised and respected. For men I would say this is a desire to be honoured for their deeds and achievements, while for women it is a desire to be honoured for who they are; their personality and character. This is of course a generalisation and does not suggest that men aren’t interested in who they are, nor that women aren’t interested in great deeds, but those are our greater desires.
            So to be a hero is to be worthy of honour; for brave deeds or noble qualities, whichever you feel called to. Maybe both. But what is it that calls us to perform courageous acts or to display excellent qualities? In the TV show, the ‘heroes’ are initially driven to do things because they feel that they should, but slowly they begin to show different qualities and perform courageous acts, usually because of their care and love for others.

Many people wish they had some superpower, to be able to fly or turn invisible, and mostly that is for personal gain. But what if you did have a special ability? What could you do to help others? Would it be any more than you can do right now? Would you try to solve the big issues of the world or make small (but just as important) changes in your immediate environment? Do you need a superpower to make a difference in those places? I guess it depends if you call ‘love’ a ‘power’. If so a lot of people seem to disregard it.

There is only one way a person can be saved, or indeed the world, and it isn’t by great authority or wealth, and it doesn’t even involve people with special abilities, but instead it is by love. In fact a hero doesn’t need to rescue the world from all it’s problems, that is a task beyond any individual human. But we can begin with those nearest to us.

What does it mean to be a hero? You may as well ask, what does it mean to love? For to be a hero is to save a person and how else to you save someone except by loving them.
You are a hero in a world of heroes.
Every day we all have the chance to change lives.

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