Many people are familiar with heroes and how they change our view of the world. While traditionally we see heroes as brave, powerful men, in modern society, many heroic acts are performed by women. Superheroes are depicted as strong, determined, and independent characters who overcome great odds. Most heroes are shown overcoming great danger and/or hardship in some way. Usually, this involves some type of epic quest, which usually takes place in the modern world, but is not exclusive to the modern era.
While most of us have an image of a typical superhero from our youth, there are many other heroes throughout the ages. A hero is usually a human being or a major fictional character who, against insurmountable odds, continually combats adversity through deeds of courage, ingenuity, or strength. In many ways, heroes have been stripped of their ability to control fantasy and instead have to make the difficult decision to put aside their fantasies, inclinations, and emotions in order to fulfill their duty to the human race, whatever that duty may be. Heroes are typically human beings with various strengths, gifts, and qualities. The traits associated with heroes are what make them memorable–they allow us to vicariously experience their experiences and thereby learn from their mistakes and triumphs.
Many psychologists, however, claim that although we have a fundamental need to identify with certain idealized heroes, this need makes us more dependent on others than on our own abilities. Thus, instead of helping others through heroic acts and experiences, we rely on others to help us overcome personal risk and to help us overcome the many obstacles in our lives. Psychologists argue that the constant companionship we experience with such companions–helpers, lovers, and friends–shifts our expectations of personal risk and leads us to take heroic action for someone else’s benefit rather than for ourselves. In addition, because heroes are great people, they usually do great things for us.
After Alexander the Great came Hercules, a Greek hero and prince. While not as legendary as those who came before him, like Achilles, he did rise to greatness. According to tradition, after becoming king, Hercules returned to Paris and asked for a halt in his campaign so that he could tend to his sick wife. The Goddess Aphrodite obliged, and Hercules left to join his son in the war against Troy. In later years, when he returned as a conqueror, he not only restored peace to the region, but he also reclaimed the glory that his ancestors had lost. Some scholars, however, claim that because Hercules fell so far from grace, he failed to live up to the standards of classical heroes–he didn’t fight in a battle to save the Persian bride, for instance, or to free Sicily from the grip of the pirates, and he certainly did not conquer Mycenae and Taurus from the Lapdacus.
Still another example of unheralded heroes is the one who climbed Wall Street with two assistants, Spenser and Ascanius. Though their act of heroic civil disobedience was one which resulted in their deaths, it also elevated them into the realm of heroes. The assistants were sentenced to be burned alive, but rather than suffer and die in that horrible condition, they decided to climb Wall Street themselves. This story highlights the idea of personal risk, and why heroes undertake extraordinary risks in the name of a higher cause. While the execution of the plan was not without disaster, it was an act of courage, which elevated the two men into pantheons of heroism.
All of these heroes’ traits are important, though none of them is more important than bravery itself. When you are in the service of a cause that you believe in deeply, and you are risking your life every day, you are taking a certain amount of risk. There is an art to warfare, a certain rhythm to fighting, and a certain kind of grace and beauty to battle. All of these things require courage to execute. If you are willing to give your all, even when it requires bravery beyond your normal capabilities, you can be a true hero.