The word “hero” is used every day by many people. Sometimes I think it has lost its real meaning. Heroes should be people whose actions we want to emulate. Heroes should be people who have sacrificed for some greater good. Their sacrifices should somehow benefit people or society in general. I suppose that’s why I’m bothered when people who entertain us are described as heroes or when action that provides no value other than entertainment is described as heroic.
I like to watch sports. I enjoy movies and television shows. However, I have a hard time accepting people who entertain the rest of us through sports or through the media as heroes. I know they work hard, and a number of sports figures clearly undergo great physical stress if not pain in order to provide the entertainment that they provide. Nonetheless, if another football game were never played or another movie never made or another song never sung, society would not collapse. If you want to find a hero, look for someone who has served in uniform.
The recent honor flights to Washington, D.C., carried a number of heroes there and back. Many people have written of the heroism and heroic action taken by the veterans of World War II. I agree all of those men and women are heroes because they were prepared to sacrifice their very lives in order to protect the freedom of those whom they cared for. But those World War II veterans are not alone.
A few weeks ago I was struck by a report in the newspaper about soldiers returning to war even though they were amputees. These soldiers wanted to remain on active duty and wanted to protect this nation by serving overseas in time of war even though they had been previously severely injured. I find this truly remarkable. The newspaper article reported that 41 veterans who had lost a limb were serving around the world in combat at that time. That is heroism. Those soldiers truly had done enough. They deserved a break. However, they chose instead to once again go in harm’s way.
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I also recently read of the first Afghan army female officers to graduate from training. Think about this for a moment. In a country where women take a secondary role in society, a number of them have now stepped up to serve in their army and put their lives on the line to fight their nation’s enemies, who also happen to be our enemies. Cultural norms will surely restrict the functions that they perform. Nonetheless, I cannot help but admire young women like that who are willing to step up and run against the norms of their society to defend their country. I think that takes special courage and determination. They, too, are heroes.
My challenge then to all of you is to take care when you decide to use the word hero. Think about what that person has done to deserve that title. Should the rest of the world really look up to that person? Was that person prepared to sacrifice himself or herself in order to help others? Was their action truly important? Would something terrible have happened without their action? I think you may find that sometimes you or someone you’re listening to uses that word hero or the word heroic in a way that isn’t justified.
That certainly does not mean that only soldiers are heroes. There are many people not in a military uniform who risk themselves in some manner in order to help others or protect society in general every day. Law enforcement officials, firefighters, and people providing humanitarian support in very dangerous conditions around the world are easy heroes to come to mind. A person who donates an organ risks his life to save another and is a hero.
My point is that making someone smile is not heroic. Heroes actually do something that matters and that has a lasting effect. A lot of people ought to remember that before they use the word hero.