What Makes Us Human?
What makes a hero? Is it something that a person goes through, or does it rather come from the outside? I believe the definition should be more along the lines of a virtue than a person goes through. A hero is always an individual – often a unique individual with great strength of character – who, against insurmountable odds, consistently rises above personal setbacks and personal doubt to do what must be done, regardless of personal cost. Like many previously only gender-specific words, a hero can be used to describe any gender, although hero only refers to females.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a hero is “a hero is a famous or outstanding person, normally of noble birth, who surrenders or suffers injury or loss in behalf of others”. Sounds like pretty good advice, doesn’t it? But is this the only definition? Perhaps, but let’s look at other definitions.
According to the Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary: “A hero, or heroine, usually male, is a hero in love with good or noble action.” Clearly, there is a definite gender bias in this definition. Additionally, we might want to add that we also want to redefine a hero as anyone who acts with heroic intent – which clearly goes against the definition in the Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary. Still, even if we assume that all definitions are biased, we still find that a great number of definitions to support the idea that heroes are individuals who display a certain level of bravery or a certain degree of competence or prowess.
Some philosophers, most notably Seneca, defined a hero as someone who is at war with himself, an individual who projects himself into the role of an unbeatable and immortal hero, even if he is no more than a glorified civilian. For example, one may define a hero as a character in a story who experiences a series of conflicts and triumphs over insurmountable odds, viewing themselves as a superior individual whose deeds are immanent to those of others. This is similar to the way that many modern people view World War II as the single greatest event in the human history of the species. In addition, a hero such as this would likely be highly motivated by a desire for fame and glory; thus, viewing his or her immortality project as nothing less than a calling.
Then, as opposed to the definitions found above, one would likely read something like this: a hero is a hero because he or she acts heroically in order to achieve a higher or multifaceted set of objectives. This suggests that there is much more to a hero’s behavior than just being a hero, as the sort of hero who acts only to protect his fellow humans. Heroes are not, in essence, selfish. They have goals beyond their own lives; indeed, they often seek to use their powers for the good of humanity as a whole. A hero can be altruistic, but they are also usually deeply concerned about humanity and deeply concerned about how his or her actions help the greater good.
Altruism is important in that it makes us humans inherently caring, compassionate beings, but it is not without its drawbacks. It is interesting to note how many people who would call themselves “altruists” actually care nothing for the poor, needy, and helpless. This makes us feel good, but it leads us to believe that we should be doing everything possible to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The problem with this view is that altruism, while it certainly makes us better people, also makes us shallow and self-centered. Selfish selfishness robs us of our empathy, which makes us weak and detached from those who are in need.