How Have our Heroes Changed? By Mark Tapson (from Pop Culture matters)
The fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this past Friday was a somber reminder to Americans of the first responders and their heroic sacrifice on that terrible morning. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters perished that day, as well as sixty police officers and eight paramedics, all rushing to the aid of others with a disregard for their own safety. That selfless service, says author Tod Lindberg, that willingness to put their own lives on the line for the lives of complete strangers, is precisely the quality that defines the modern hero—and distinguishes him or her from heroes past.
In his short but deeply considered new book The Heroic Heart: Greatness Ancient and Modern, Lindberg examines greatness from its most distant origins in human prehistory to the present. Through character studies of heroes both real and literary, he explains the conception of heroism in the ancient world, how it differs in our time, and the ways in which these heroic types have shaped the political realm and vice versa.
Whether ancient or modern, the distinctive characteristic of the heroic figure, Lindberg begins, “is the willingness to risk death.” A hero overcomes what Thomas Hobbes called our “continual fear of violent death” and is willing to embrace his fate “in accordance with an inner sense of greatness or exceptional virtue.”
The model hero in ancient times was of the conquering, killing sort, a warrior earning renown by slaying piles of enemies on the battlefield. Think of Homer’s Achilles, whom Lindberg examines at length: a self-centered, petulant demigod, perhaps, but a warrior of superhuman caliber. Or Julius Caesar, a man so determined to be the greatest man in Rome that he would destroy the Republic in a civil war rather than rein in his ambition.
But over the centuries, the slaying hero gradually fell out of fashion, thanks in large measure to the horrors of World War I and Vietnam, not to mention the rise of the literary antihero such as The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield. Our ideal of the hero morphed instead into a courageous soul who is no less afraid of death but more focused on saving lives than taking them. Achilles’ modern counterpart acts not to kill and conquer, but to serve and save others. “From slaying to saving,” writes Lindberg, “from the highest, riskiest expression of self-regard to the highest, riskiest expression of generosity and the caring will.”
Lindberg uses the history of the Congressional Medal of Honor—the U.S. military’s highest decoration—to demonstrate this evolution of heroism. He reviewed the award from its creation during the Civil War to the present, and concluded that “the percentage of citations that include a saving narrative [as opposed to a killing narrative] has increased markedly” over time. The significance of this shift?
If the military itself . . . now designates its highest heroes not on the basis of their infliction of violent death on an enemy but on the saving of lives, then we have perhaps reached the point in the development of the modern world at which the modern, saving form of heroism has eclipsed the vestigial forms of classical heroism and their slaying ways for good.
The hero as slayer versus the hero as lifesaver: That is the crux of the difference between the classical and the modern form of heroism. Greatness versus equality. Ego versus generosity. “I am someone” versus “I can do something for someone.”
The modern hero sacrifices, as Lindberg puts it, “in service to a greater purpose. Their purpose has not been the classical hero’s purpose, namely, the actualization of their sense of inner greatness.” Instead, “the modern meaning of greatness is service to others.” (his emphasis)
Curiously, though, Lindberg points out that the spirit of modern heroism, the antithesis of the conquering hero, is most grandly embodied in the ancient figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the “Savior” God who died on the cross to redeem the human race. Today that spirit is personified in such heroes as the World Trade Center responders on 9/11, the medical personnel from Médecins sans Frontières, the three unarmed Americans who recently took down a heavily-armed jihadist aboard a French train. They and others like them constitute “the modern face of heroism.”
For Tod Lindberg, this evolution is a positive development—but we cannot be complacent. There is no guarantee that the more destructive form of hero—the conquering, slaying sort—won’t return, unless we prevent him. His chilling example of a modern slaying hero?
Osama bin Laden.
Who Are the Real Heroes in Today’s World? Updated on July 13, 2017 Pamela Mae Oliver
Who Are Your Heroes?
Are they sports champions that may have carried a team to an award winning season, or maybe they’re an Olympian who took home the gold?
Is your hero a celebrity who takes home the awards from starring roles in movies or television, or plays music for thousands of screaming fans in sold out stadiums?
Or maybe your hero is the CEO of a large cooperation who keeps the profit margins high for investors, a political figure who has successfully served the people for several terms, or a religious leader who has led many people on their spiritual journeys.
While all these professions certainly do include many people who inspire and lift our expectations of ourselves and others to a higher plane, giving them the title « Hero » doesn’t always apply.
Pick a Hero
Who would you bestow the title « Hero » on?
- A Teacher; who gives personal time to help a struggling student.
- Oprah Winfrey; a television icon, and philanthropist.
- A Firefighter; who risks his/her life to save someone.
- Jon Bon Jovi; a rock star, and actor.
- A Soldier; who risks his/her life keeping others safe.
- Steve Jobs; an innovator in technology, and CEO of a high profile company.
- A Police Officer: who risks his/her life to protect others.
- Emit Smith; a professional football player, and award winning dancer.
Defining a « Hero »
So, what is the difference between a person who is a « Real Hero, » and a person who is an icon, an idol, a mentor, or is setting a good example? And, why is it important to split hairs on this point?
Because, if we’re not conscientious about who we honor with the extraordinary title of « Hero, » then it will come to mean very little.
For example, the word « Awesome. » The Northern Lights are awesome; inspiring jaw dropping ‘awe’ and eye popping ‘wonder’ at the beauty of the natural spectacle. But, in recent times, the word awesome has come to be used as slang; as in, « Wow, your new shoes are awesome. » While shoes can be pretty, nice, or even fabulous, shoes can’t be considered awesome. Societies’ incessant use of the word ‘awesome’ has diminished its meaning; thereby, diminishing what really is awesome.
The same goes for word hero. With diminished use of the word, comes diminished meaning of the title. We, as a society, soon lose sight of what it really means to be a hero, and real heroes lose the degree of respect they deserve.
Definition of « Hero. »
- A Hero is someone who rises up, from whatever their station in life is, or whatever their circumstances are, and comes to embody a representative of the highest level that a human being can attain.
- A Hero is someone who knowingly and voluntarily makes a conscious decision to sacrifice something of one’s self for the greater good of others.
- A Hero doesn’t seek notoriety or praise for personal glorification, but instead, uses whatever attention he receives to perpetuate his achievements to a greater degree.
- The actions of a hero make a positive impact on another, or many, so as to change or alter the outcome of a situation that would otherwise be detrimental.
- A Hero contributes something beneficial to the world for the betterment of humanity as a whole, or for the spiritual world in creating a path that leads us all in higher directions.
- A Hero does not expect compensation for their heroic deed.
Not a Daisy
Many people define a hero as someone who is in a traditional hero role or profession; such as, a firefighter, a police officer, or a soldier. But, wearing the uniform of these noble professions does not automatically elevate an individual to the status of hero.
According to an article in thetimes-tribune.com, « Firefighters who start fires, and why they do it, have long been part of an American obsession with true crime. » Firefighter-arsonists are a problem that is often downplayed for department morale reasons, but it is a real problem, which many believe stem from a « hero complex. » The need to be a hero becomes so overwhelming to the disturbed firefighter, that they set a fire, become the first one there, and perform heroically in order to receive the accolades.
Police Officers encounter extraordinary amounts of illicit circumstances, which predisposes them to corruption. According to an article in the dailymail.com, « Anti-corruption units across the country are wrestling with a workload of 245 cases every month, a rise of 62 per cent from the year before. In most of the investigations, eight out of ten involve officers accused of illegally disclosing information to criminals and third parties. »
Soldiers certainly aren’t exempt from corruption. Just this week, a jury selection is being held for a U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians. According to an article featured in worldnews.nbcnews.com, « A U.S. service member shot dead at least 15 members of two Afghan families as well as a 16th person before turning himself in, officials said Sunday. U.S. officials said the soldier was a staff sergeant. Some witnesses said more than one soldier was involved, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a statement cited only one shooter in what he called « an assassination, » adding that nine of the dead were children, and three were women. The soldier reportedly left his base in the early hours Sunday and went to two villages just a few hundred yards away. He then opened fire on Afghan civilians sleeping in their homes. »
The point here is not to discredit these noble professions, but to show that it takes more than a uniform and a title to be a real hero.
Not A Daisy, but a Rose
What it takes is exemplified by many every day who not only wear the uniform, but also walk the walk and talk the talk. Take for instance Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe. According to an article in Stars and Stripes (www.stripes.com) Sgt. Cashe became the ultimate hero.
« When the roadside bomb detonated, it ripped through the fuel tank of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and ignited like napalm. The seven men seated inside were knocked unconscious and had no chance to escape the fire.
But the gunner, Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, managed to crawl out of the burning wreckage. Wounded and drenched in diesel fuel, he pulled the Bradley’s driver from his seat before the flames reached there, dragging him to safety.
And then he went back.
The 16-year Army veteran had seen a dozen of his men die on that tour in Iraq, and he couldn’t bear to lose another. His uniform caught fire as he desperately tried to open the Bradley’s hatch.
By the time he got in, all he had on was his body armor and helmet, the rest of his uniform in ashes or seared to his skin. With help, he carried one of his dying men out of the fire and back to horrified medics trying to triage their charred colleagues.
And then he went back.
Soldiers couldn’t tell what rounds pinging off the Bradley were from insurgents’ weapons and which ones were from their own ammunition ablaze in the vehicle. As he reached the next soldier, Cashe tried to douse the fire on his uniform, only to realize that his own skin was peeling off from the heat. As another soldier helped pat out the flames, Cashe moved the next wounded friend to safety.
And then he went back.
Cashe was the last of the injured to be evacuated from the scene. Doctors later said he suffered second and third degree burns over 90 percent of his body, but he still walked off the battlefield under his own power. »
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, and five of the men he saved from the blazes, succumbed to their burns and wounds weeks later in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Cashe was able to tell his family that he was glad that at least his men had been able to say « goodbye » to their families.
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe is one of my heroes.
NYC Firefighters Raising the Flag 911
No one will ever forget the courageous acts of heroism by New York City Firefighters and Police Officers during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Trade Towers and The Pentagon. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters and 60 police officers gave up their lives for what they truly believed in.
In responding to the screams of people who were trapped inside the burning buildings,these brave heroes ran to, and entered a building they knew they may not exit. Because of their brave, selfless efforts, hundreds were saved.
These courageous souls are my heroes.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
There are many everyday heroes, whose heroic acts go undocumented, unheard of, and unappreciated.
Teachers who notice a student with reoccurring bruises, or mismatched shoes, or no lunch money, and take the initiative to get involved.
Doctors who perform their services free of charge for someone who has no insurance.
The homeless person who struggles to feed himself, but shares what he has with a starving animal.
Some spend their lives as a hero, or as a « Shero. »
Mother Teresa spent her life caring for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. She devoted her life to caring for the sick, the poor, and established a hospice center for the blind, aged, and disabled; and a leper colony. Mother Teresa exemplifies what it means to sacrifice your life, in a lifelong effort, for others.
Malala Yousafzai is a 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, because she « promoted Western thinking » in that she had criticized the Taliban’s actions against women. Malala stated her belief that all girls should have the opportunity to go to school, and for that, she was targeted and shot. Now, after her recovery, she is bravely doing just that and returning to school. Malala is living a very dangerous life on a daily basis, standing up for girls and women’s rights everywhere.
Who Are Your Heroes/Sheroes?
Icons, idols, mentors, or heroes? Where do you see the differences?
Who are they? What have they done that you honor them with the title « Hero? »