Heroism is a very complex idea, shaped by the culture, religion, and the crises that society faces. In fact, heroism can be described as a way of problem solving that embodies a human quality. Valor, virtue, honor and selflessness, among many descriptors, are also used to illustrate heroism.
Perhaps an easier way to understand heroism is identifying this as the notion of saving or rescuing others from a state of conflict. The conflict resolution in the hero or heroine narrative is so prevalent in literature that we, as readers, admire heroic figures, following heroes in real life and in fiction: from Abraham Lincoln to Harry Potter.
Additionally, both heroes and heroines play an important role in delivering peace and harmony in our society at the macro and micro levels. They provide hope when hope is scarce, resolving conflicts despite the slim odds for success. Yet, it is better to describe heroism as a transient quality. Heroes and heroines, after all, are humans and cannot sustain heroism at every moment in their lifetime. This is true of former heroes who have betrayed others by abandoning their roles for selfish ambitions that might even hurt others.
Heroism, too, is a quality that highlights one’s significance in the human world and often leaves an everlasting impression on the hero or heroine. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine that people share a consensus of the people who would belong on a “greatest heroes” list. One might guess that MLK, Jesus, Mother Teresa and other famous names might appear on such lists, and be widely regarded as the “Supermans” and “Wonder Womans” of our times. It’s unfortunate that society often picks and choose great heroes and heroines, granting them unparalleled respect and admiration. Where does this leave all the other heroes and heroines who are not on any list?
When we think of heroism, we shouldn’t only think of historic legends and fictional heroes who we pay millions of dollars to see at movie theaters. Instead, we should recognize the heroes around us. Think of the custodians, the mothers, the bus drivers, the teachers, and others who truly show heroism, even when we don’t acknowledge their heroism. If heroes and heroines are defined by how well they are acknowledged and appreciated—and being on “greatest heroes” lists— then it’s time we start showering the real, everyday heroes of society with the love and appreciation they deserve.
The author would like to thank all the participants in the What is Heroism? Dialogue, which took place on February 8th, 2018 in the Campus Ministry Lounge in the Lisle campus. The author is greatly indebted to the insight of the participants, and for inspiring the author to write a reflection on the conversation.
If you would like to leave the author a comment, you may contact him at Omair_Ali@ben.edu