Thursday, March 8, 2012

What Makes a Hero?

Hero. It's a short, four-letter word. It's also one of the best descriptions that we can bestow on an individual. But what is a hero? No, don't turn to the dictionary for a definition, just think about the word and maybe some examples.

If a fireman risks his life by dashing into a burning home and rescues a crying infant, such a person could easily be called a hero. In the eyes of a tearful child, though, a hero might be any person who can climb a tree to rescue her stranded kitty. Athletes sometimes receive  accolades worthy of a hero even though sporting events aren't typically life-or-death circumstances. In military conflicts, soldiers (and medics and chaplains) have often forfeited their own comfort and survival for the sake of aiding others in peril. Fans of various movies and TV shows have often expressed "hero worship" for their favorite actors and actresses. But can a person truly be a hero just for pretending to be something he's not while reciting memorized dialogue?

Other types of behavior can earn a person the status of "hero." The missionary who leaves home and family to minister the Gospel and other helps among poor people in a distant land could be called a hero. Of course, even in novels the main character of a book is often called the hero of the story.

I've noticed that some people are much more generous than I would be with the title of "hero." To me, a true hero isn't the person who simply earns lots of money, or the person who can outrun and outperform competitors, nor the person who becomes famous simply because his job keeps him in the public eye. I believe that, in essence, a hero is the man or woman who--in a time of crisis--sets aside personal wishes, comfort, and safety for the sake of "saving the day" for others. Some of them die in obscurity.

Fictional heroes are fun to read about, but let me name a few real-life heroes who come to mind from the pages of World War II:

 * Oskar Schindler saved the lives of more than 1000 Jews in by employing them in his factories.
 * Corrie Ten Boom and family hid Jews from the Nazis and aided them in many other ways until her  family was caught and sent to prison camp.
 * In France, Audie Murphy had already been wounded and promoted multiple times. When German guns cut his unit from 128 down to 19, he ordered his men backward. Then, Murphy single-handedly battled the Germans until his carbine ran out of bullets, then jumped onto a burning tank destroyer and used its machine gun to hold back the enemy for nearly an hour. In the end, he and the 19 men saved by his actions successfully counterattacked. Murphy became the most decorated soldier of that war.

Of course, a person doesn't need a war to become a hero. Sometimes it's enough just to love your kids and spend time with them while other parents are doing something else...

How about you? When you hear the word "hero," does anyone in particular come to your mind? I'd love to hear your comments below.


  1. I've always been a DC comics fan. I enjoy The Justice League and Young Justice cartoon series currently (which are just not for kids anymore).

  2. Among fictional heroes, Superman was one of my early favorites. He was moral as well as strong.