The Myth of Antithetical Altruism
A hero is a natural, unmoving, essential person, or a main protagonist who, in the faceof grave danger, performs extraordinary deeds of bravery, ingenuity, or strength in face of adversity. Just like other previously solely gender-specific words, hero is used to describe any gender, although hero only refers specifically to women.
There are many definitions of what makes a hero. Some would say that a hero is defined by virtue, while others say that a hero is defined by valor, and few would define hero further than by heroic deeds and exceptional strength or courage. Still others would argue that hero is something more than just being a hero; rather, that a hero is defined by the love of what they do, and by the devotion of those who admire them. However, most would agree that heroes have certain characteristics that set them apart from other people. These include, but are not limited to: bravery, originality, exceptional intelligence, a sense of moral responsibility and personal sacrifice, a sense of social responsibility, and above all else, a sense of honor and justice.
Being a hero comes with many responsibilities. Just as you would expect a parent to provide their children with the best education, you would expect your hero to be an intelligent student, hard worker, and above all, a moralist. While some may look at this as “social engineering”, the fact is that heroes are forced to do things beyond their normal behavior – and often have to overcome incredible obstacles. This does not mean that they are less deserving of their fate, but it does mean that being a good person is very important when you want to be a hero.
Defining a hero requires one to answer the age old question: what makes a hero? What makes one person a hero and what makes another a villain? The real answer is that there is no “hero” in and of itself. True heroes are the product of a hero imagination and are the natural outgrowth of human actions and emotions.
For example, Achilles, one of the greatest characters in Greek literature, exhibited characteristics of heroism beyond what would be considered “typical” for a normal human being. When faced with a deadly wound, which would prove fatal to a normal person, Achilles chose to fight to the death rather than yield and succumb to the Greek slave who was responsible for his injury. After sacrificing himself for his country, Achilles is honored as a hero and is featured in one of the greatest epics ever written – the Iliad.
In contrast, Xenophon, who wrote the Antique History, illustrated the perils of excessive altruism when it became too costly to maintain the self-imposed limitations of virtue. While he demonstrated that virtue could be practiced on its own without regard to personal cost, he also demonstrated that excessive virtue could lead to disastrous consequences when it became a burden to be bear. To avoid these pitfalls, he recommended that his readers “cherish” (i.e., heroically imitate) their own actions and qualities – thus, heroically acting in accord with his character, and thereby achieving a higher degree of heroism. As applied to the art of war, this strategy maximizes one’s tactical advantage, heightening his preparedness for any action, but allowing him to avoid the pitfall of excessive altruism.