Learning to See the Value of Heroes


Learning to See the Value of Heroes

We are bombarded with messages about the hero and heroism all the time. Television and movies, for example, inundate us with images of brave men and women taking on dangerous challenges. We are made to feel that we can’t allow ourselves to be weak because a man will die for a woman, for example. These messages about what makes a hero instill self-worth and drive in us. We root for our hero.

What do we really mean when we say a hero is a person who experiences heroic acts? Is there anything more to it than that? The dictionary defines a hero as “a hero is usually represented by an exceptional man, especially by some supernormal, physical ability.” And that definition of a hero includes not just being brave, but also having a certain amount of physical prowess, great strength, or an ability to endure pain or hardship.

Defining hero as any one of those qualities certainly isn’t too far off, then. A hero isn’t just a superhuman being who experiences incredible feats of strength or stamina, then. A hero image has more to do with the value proposition. How does a hero fulfill a value proposition?

Defining the value proposition starts with understanding what heroes are, what they do, and how they go about doing it. Just as different images of different subjects have different meanings depending on who sees them, so do different images of heroes have different meanings depending on who sees them. In our culture, however, we tend to see heroes as strong and macho men. Our hero images seem to be designed to embody strength, aggression, virility, and perseverance. This is why we see so many Superman t shirts, and so few women wearing a Superman shirt.

So if strength, aggression, vigor, and perseverance are the standard by which we evaluate heroes, how do we learn to appreciate heroes other than the traditional strong and macho male? There are several ways we can look at heroes and understand their value proposition. Some value propositions are gender neutral, while others depend a little more on race (strong black man, strong Asian men). Some other propositions rely more on personal attributes than anything else. These are the type of things that complicate understanding heroes even further.

For instance, one school of thought about heroes is that there are really no real heroes; we are just pretending to be them, so that we have something to live up to. In this way, heroes can be nothing more than wish fulfillment machines. By understanding that there are different hero images, and that some heroes have different attributes, then we can gain a better appreciation for the concept of a hero. This better appreciation leads to a more fulfilled life.

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