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Who is your hero?

Posted: November 13, 2014 12:43 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Veteran’s Day celebrations over the course of this week reveal, in my opinion, some of the best of what rightly defines the love we have for our country and the respect and appreciation we have for our armed forces, past and present. We have all witnessed this week, through various modes, the inspiring tributes depicting heroic actions taken by our brave to protect our freedoms. It is not difficult to view the ones taking part in these gallant efforts to keep us safe as heroes and rightfully so. Our veterans demonstrate behaviors and decisions that are ethically and emotionally worthy of our awe. They have earned the title on many levels. All of this brings me to thoughts of what really constitutes a person a “hero.” What does one have to do to get this worthy title?

Dating back to Greek mythology, the word “hero” fulfills definitions of what is considered good and noble. This designation came to refer to those who, in the face of danger or adversity or from a position of weakness, demonstrate courage and the will for self-sacrifice. As a parent, I find I am quick to scrutinize the ones my children label as “hero.” Younger kids may see those who are able to leap tall buildings in a flash as “heroes.” Older children may see a NBA star playing for Miami or maybe for Cleveland as their “super hero” or may claim the Hollywood-types as theirs. Should comic book characters be deemed as heroic? Are career athletes or celebrities worthy of this title?

Perhaps there should be a moral test behind all wearing this badge. Seriously, with extremists in our world regarding suicide bombers as heroes, should we not look at a moral guide to heroism? Who do we want our young children to embrace as heroes?

Traditionally, we turn to a realm of thoughts guided by our moral compass to answer these questions, or we may turn to our religious disciplines to find interpretations. Buy it or not, researchers are turning to science to understand altruism and heroism. They are exploring how biology, upbringing and external influences cross paths to create selfless and heroic behavior. As odd as it may seem, scientists are even looking at ways we can inspire this manner of conducting ourselves in business, in the classroom, and in the individual.

Can an ordinary person learn to be extraordinary? Can we use our natural talents or abilities to turn ourselves in to a model of altruism and service to others? Researchers believe we can. But first, they have to examine and understand how we qualify heroism. What makes a hero anyway?

The situations that received the highest “heroism scores” involved first responders and soldiers, not a big surprise. Physical heroes ranked higher than social heroes like Elie Wiesel or Mother Teresa. “Social heroes” may not be as physical as their counterparts but still put their livelihood on the line for a cause greater than themselves. Is the ordinary Joe who spontaneously runs towards a burning car and drags the driver to safety considered a hero? What about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban because of her campaigning for girls’ education? Is Malala a hero? How about Captain “Sully” Sullenberger? He doesn’t consider himself a hero.

Though all those mentioned above may be exceptional human beings, they may not fit the classic definition of hero -- “someone who voluntarily leaves a point of safety to assume life risk to save or attempt to save the life of another.” But the definition is often broadened considerably. Among the people deemed heroes today include athletes and Hollywood celebrities. Perhaps this is when to get out our moral compass.

However we qualify the heroes in our lives, we admire them not because we want to simulate every aspect of their heroic lives, but because their courage inspires us to do the good, be the good.

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