“This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people: they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance” (Philip K. Dick).
HEROES, IN THE WORDS OF A POPULAR SONG, COME IN EVERY SHAPE AND SIZE. There are the larger-than-life heroes, those of storybook stature who’ve done deeds of great renown, and there are many others whose deeds have not been recorded in the history books but who nevertheless have acted heroically in their private circumstances. Heroism is not limited to any age, gender, or ethnic heritage. It is sometimes recognized and rewarded, and sometimes not. But one thing all heroes have in common is that they have acted with both courage and justice. They’ve stood up for something that was honorable — despite the possibility of dire consequences.
Although we normally think of heroes as those who have accomplished great exploits, it’s not really the size of the accomplishment that makes the hero. It’s the price that was paid and the strength that had to be mustered, even though the end result might not have been anything that made the front page of the newspaper. As Romain Rolland said, “A hero is a man who does what he can.”
People, both men and women, do heroic things when they’re willing to sacrifice personal benefit to some larger cause. A parent who gets up at three in the morning to tend to a sick child is a hero. A citizen who loses pay at work in order to serve jury duty is a hero. A teacher who pays special attention to a struggling student is a hero. The common denominator is that these people have a vision that extends beyond their own desires. They know that they live within the larger context of humanity, and they’re eager to give something back to the world in return for the privilege of living in it for a while.
True heroes don’t brag about their heroism, nor do they congratulate themselves in their own minds for being stronger and braver than other folks. Heroes of the highest caliber are the exact opposite: they’re humble. They understand the big picture in life and have been willing to subordinate their wants to the needs of the greater good.
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself” (Joseph Campbell).