The Wayfarer's Creed

Heroism

Posted on: 17 January 2007

For my Periodical Writing class, Prof. Leax had us write an article and then a related personal essay on the topic of heroism. I thought I’d post them here. Here is the article.

Heroism is something that most of us, if not all, view as an admirable condition. And because of this we have no problem lauding somebody with this great act. Whenever somebody does something of any good whether it is of great importance or not, they are labeled a hero in our society. But as we give more and more people the title of “Hero” are we really doing them any great service? It is more likely that we are instead diluting the meaning of the honor of being known as a hero. If everybody were a hero, would we really care to be one?


So what can be done in order to prevent this dilution of terms? We must properly realign the common view of what ought to be known by this term. With a word that has its origins in the Greek for demigod, this is clearly no ordinary designation. So what should we reserve this word for? One might say that it should be applied to one with bravery, courage, or unselfishness. And I’ll agree to that. These are definitely words that should describe a hero. But are they the only ones? I would like to add something that will focus what we mean in a much greater way. It is risk that distinguishes a hero from a do-gooder; and the greater the risk of one’s actions, the greater the heroic magnitude.

Risk makes the task of doing good a difficult thing. Let’s say that someone’s family dog has wandered away from home. A young boy finds said dog in the field that he has been playing in all day. He reads the dog’s tags and returns him to the family. While, this act is commendable, very few would label this boy as a hero. The missing element in this tale is that element of risk.

Perhaps, this boy has heard that his friend’s dog has gone missing. There is a thunderstorm of the type that you might see in a horror flick. Because he knows how much his friend loves his dog, and how much he must miss him right now, the boy decides to go looking for him. After several hours searching, he hears the whining of some sort of animal. It is coming from a ravine. He looks down and sees the terrified face of the dog. He then proceeds to rescue it from the wet, slippery ravine. It is this type of action that might deserve of the label of heroism. There is risk involved in this second scenario.

So be careful when applying the label of heroic to a certain action. When the word has been destroyed how will we then commend an action of bravery? If everyone is a hero, might our aspiration to do good dwindle with our standards lower? This is certainly something I do not wish to see, and so I, at least, will always use this qualifier of risk to determine a hero.

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