by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” Feb. 1, 2020
(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and inspirational/motivational speaker. He is available for luncheons, small group programs or conferences. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Heroism is defined as having characteristics of courage, bravery, fortitude and unselfishness. Ancient heroes like Achilles, Odysseus, Perseus and Hercules easily come to mind. They performed heroic acts. Because of them, curses were removed, and nations and lives were saved. But although their deeds were often phenomenal acts of bravery, strength and determination, they weren’t so much out to save mankind as they were on a quest for personal glory.
Whom do we see today as our heroes? Whom do we most admire for their bravery, self-sacrifice and incredible achievements? Our military? Our first responders? Our athletes? Our political leaders? What qualities do they possess that compel our admiration? Are they heroes or role models?
Are we surrounded by heroes? Or do we have to hunt for them? Author/minister Samuel Rodenhizer, writing about heroes, suggests that “these days anyone can be a hero.”
“Fathers are heroes. Mothers are heroes. Teachers are heroes. Soldiers are heroes. Police officers are heroes. Doctors are heroes. People with illnesses are heroes. Those who take care of aging parents are heroes. Is this,” he asks, “because there’s a shortage of heroes in modern times?”
He adds: “If everybody is a hero, then nobody is a hero.”
Rodenhizer believes real heroes are extraordinary people, and not everyone can be extraordinary. He describes true heroes as “selfless in their service — not self-serving, brave when others cower, strong when others are weak, determined when others quit, take risks and face potential loss not for themselves but on behalf of others. They are self-sacrificing, courageous, and humble.”
It is humility that provides us the opportunity to listen and learn. It is bravery, in facing our fears, meeting a challenge or taking risks, that allows us to grow. And it is selfless sacrifice that can teach us the power of compassion.
Ernest Hemingway’s definition of a hero is: “A man who lives correctly, following the ideals of honor, courage and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful, and always painful.”
Are heroes and role models the same? Author Alykhan Gulamali makes the distinction. “A hero is someone who inspires you. A role model is someone you want to be like.” They might be the same person, or they may not. Spider-Man, for example, is a hero. He is amazing. He does amazing things. But would you want to be like him? Many comic book and Hollywood heroes have embarrassing human flaws.
We recognize and praise as a hero the person who dashes into a burning building to save another. And indeed we should. In that moment, that person was a hero. But is that heroism enduring? Would the person do it again? Because of that single act of heroism, does that person become a role model?
Gulamali says: “For role models we look for people who are examples of how to be honest, decent, hardworking individuals who put family first.” They usually aren’t celebrities. Maybe they’re our parents. They are people we want to model ourselves after because we want to live like they did.
My role model and my hero has always been my mother. She never knew it. I never told her. But I am what I am today because of her. I will honor her on her birthday, Feb. 5. Let heroes inspire you, but let your role models guide you. And that’s how I see it.