What Makes a Hero

Heroes are a special breed of human being who excel at what they do. They don’t have a flaw, are usually unblemished in any way, and are usually willing to lay down their life for the cause they serve. They are not unlike the superheroes we all know and love. We admire these men and women for what they do and try to emulate them as much as possible.


The word ‘hero’ has two meanings. It can mean a hero in the classical sense of the word, and it can also mean ‘a hero in the eyes of God.’ In either case, a hero is someone who practices heroic behavior. In other words, a hero acts heroically – he acts in a fashion that is out of proportion to his own risk and danger. And, for that, he deserves the praise and admiration we give him.

A hero in the classical, idealistic, and Platonic sense is someone who possesses unquestioned bravery, unrivaled moral rectitude, and unrivaled energy. That may sound like some pretty lofty claims, but such is the view of the truly great – the greatest men and women both in times past and in modern times. So when we speak of a true Greek hero, what we really mean is someone who displays classical qualities. Such qualities as the possession of unexceptional moral rectitude, and unexceptional energy are qualities shared by many heroes in both ancient and modern culture, from Hector to Alexander the Great.

But classical heroes aren’t just Greek. All over the world, in many different cultures and periods, great men are revered as heroes. Achilles, too, was a Trojan prince who fell so far from home and beyond his strength that, even after receiving an overwhelming wound that brought about his death, he rose to greatness and became the greatest hero of all time. A favorite quote of mine comes from a play by Euripides, where the youth of Paris, who had lost his right hand serving as a foot soldier, is said to have said that he owed it to his dead father to continue fighting in his name.

In other parts of the world, classical heroes are icons – people we admire, identify with and admire because of their achievements. Thus, for example, there’s Robert Johnson, America’s most popular and influential blues singer, who’s famous for his rousing rendition of songs such as “My Old School” and “Books On The Ground.” (There’s also Joe Newton, who inspired the expression, “Don’t follow your heart.”) We have Oprah Winfrey, one of the best-selling celebrities of all time, who’s known for her brash and aggressive interviews, her role in “Walk of Fame,” and numerous other bits and pieces of her personality.

For most of us, our most beloved heroes are those who surpass our own personal expectations. They’re the ones who go beyond our fears and make us look good. Who do we admire when we see something beautiful and extraordinary? For me, my heroes are those who overcome everything in their path – even pain and death. Perhaps that’s what makes them heroes.

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