As we end this roller coaster year, I’m looking for heroes to emulate. But I’m troubled by our careless, often-irresponsible use of that word, “hero.” I believe we’ve trivialized, cheapened, and overused the word “hero,” and stretched the meaning to include anyone caught in harm’s way.
Truth is — victims find themselves in harm’s way; heroes put themselves in harm’s way. Think about genuine heroes, like World War I Sgt. Alvin York, and World War II 1st Lt. Audie Murphy, and unlikely hero Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who at great risk helped save the lives of 1,100 Jews. Those heroes articulated our aspirations, exemplifying courage, selflessness, and grace.
True heroes are role models for others, committing brave deeds and selfless acts, choosing to sacrifice to benefit or save others. The small-town doctor who charges $5 a visit may be beloved, but he’s not necessarily a hero.
Of course I admire and respect people who commit courageous acts. They deserve to be called gallant, intrepid, noble and valorous. But the real heroes of 9/11 weren’t those ordinary citizens who displayed two flags on their vehicles or wore New York Fire Department hats. Patriotic, perhaps. Heroic, no. The real 9/11 heroes were those courageous first responders who knew full well the likelihood of perishing in the inferno.
I don’t know about you, but that’s what “hero” means to me.
Ocean Park, Washington