What makes a hero? A hero is someone or something who, in the face of adversity, performs amazing deeds of strength, courage, or ingenuity. Unlike other previously only gender-specific words, hero can be used to describe any gender, although hero usually refers to men. Heroes are usually well-intentioned and do good things for others, but sometimes their good deeds backfire and they become the target of the antagonists.
A hero may have one or more distinguishing qualities that set them apart from everyone else. One of these is the ability to be courageous in difficult circumstances. While every one of us has the potential to become a fearless leader or an excellent salesperson, not all of us have a gift of courage. For example, few of us can jump off the top of a high building or throw a ball through a hoop. Some people, perhaps those with true childhoods of being involved in dramatic play, are extremely good at acting and playing heroes, while others lack this quality. The difference between a hero and someone else who is trying to achieve the same results as a hero lies in the hero’s ability to use his or her own imagination against that of his or her adversaries.
One classic example is Odysseus. Though he is nominally a Greek hero, much of what makes him so heroic stems from his background as a prince. In the Greek myths, Odysseus was forced to leave home because of a plot by his stepmother, Pylos. There he joins the Greeks and is associated with many adventures. Some of these include having a Trojan War and an engagement with a princess. Though some of these episodes may seem outrageous today, the Greeks of ancient times found themselves drawn into warring with their neighbors, being involved in many battles, and using outlandish acts of heroism and comedy to win victories.
Homer has the Odysseus character telling how he once ran away from home and was engaged in a chariot race, yet still managed to reach the other side of the sea. This may be similar to our hero running away to reach an immortality project in which he has an epic struggle against an nemesis who seems like the only challenge in the entire story line. It takes a great deal of bravery to overcome such a formidable foe and yet Odysseus does. He willingly gives up his life so that he may achieve this goal. There are a number of themes that run throughout this classic story that illustrate the hero’s willingness to go beyond the call of duty and accept the risks inherent in any given situation.
Achilles’ willingness to sacrifice himself at the Troy landing is another example of this type of hero flaw. Although Achilles is generally presented as a strong and arrogant man, he is actually no more than a coward who cowers behind his shield. Of course, his friends help him in this matter, but he chooses to do this because he has already won a great prize for himself, yet still remains trapped. Achilles chooses this path because he is fully aware that his friends, himself included, will desert him when it is time for him to die. In the end, his greatest weakness is his fear of death, thus, allowing himself to be defeated by the very person who was supposed to protect him.
While some classical heroes were born with this sense of honor and duty, many others have to study or develop this virtue in order to be a true hero. Our modern age heroes may have learned to put their personal honor to the test, but the wise man realizes that it is never too late to learn about the importance of valor. The courage to sacrifice oneself for one’s community is the hallmark of a true hero. It should be taught to students, not just required of them. Teaching and learning to be a hero needs to start at an early age, but in the end it will always remain as one of those unfulfilled calling, as long as humanity exists.