Essays on the Theme of Heroism

Concept of a Hero

by Tim from United States Coast Guard Academy

When asked to pick a hero, I find that I have trouble with the very classification of a hero. Different societies in history have had varying definitions of what a hero is. To the ancient Greeks, a hero was epitomized by the masculine and selfish Akhilleus. To the ancient Hebrews, it was Moses, who led his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. For the modern American culture, I am afraid that we cannot clearly define what we think a hero should be. We have the example of Pat Tillman who selflessly gave up his life for his country. But on the other hand, we have those who do not support the war and consider Cindy Sheehan a hero for speaking out. Today, we see a lot of celebrity worship and young people considering their favorite stars on TV to be their heroes. I do not consider these celebrities to be heroes, rather just the embodiment the American people have for the rich and famous. In America today, our capitalist society promotes such things as greed, self-promotion, and selfishness, but my key traits of a hero are the antithesis of these traits: generosity, humility, and selflessness.

Americans want a lot of things, it is in our culture. If a person works hard enough then they can afford to have the new car and the nice house. People in general want the biggest and the best, from the biggest SUV on the lot to the nicest new house on the block. We live in a competitive world and always have to keep up with the Jones’. The desire for the best of everything evokes greed within people. In a person’s attempt to acquire all that they can, they become greedy individuals seeking their own glorification. A hero is the person who can combat this greed and display true generosity. For the most part, generosity is viewed in giving away monetary wealth, which is true. But it also is in giving up one’s time and energy for someone else’s benefit, and not their own. An example of this heroic act of generosity can be seen in everyday life when a person donates to a charitable cause, or a teacher gives up their spare time to help a child in need. If one needs to look within the media for an example, then U2’s Bono is a perfect example. He has given up vast amounts of time fighting for the impoverished people around the world.

A society that believes in hard work to get to the top can become too self-interested. This flaw is the quest for self-promotion. Because people work so hard to get to the top, they alienate themselves from others and look out for their own best interest. A hero is a person that can set aside their own wants and desires to help out their fellow man and display humility. A true hero does not need to be recognized for whatever greatness they have achieved or whatever good thing they have done. A person can do a heroic act and donate a million dollars to charity, but if they do it for their own glory then they have contradicted themselves. The person that does some good in the world but does not seek to be recognized for it displays true heroism. An example of this is when in 2003, Carlos Santana donated all of his tour earnings to charitable causes. Rather than displaying this act to the world he remained humble about it. Santana did not seek attention from the press, but just worked hard at making life better for the less fortunate.

Selfishness is the last of these three anti-heroic traits. It is easy to be selfish when a person is trying to make their way to the top. A hero is the person that acts selflessly and tries to help out others. This is very much like generosity, however, rather than giving something away, a selfless person does not seek out things for their own benefit. A selfless person is someone who can set aside their goals to help someone else in need. An extreme example would be the person that leaves behind their life to join a humanitarian mission to help the people of a third world country. A simpler example would be giving up a seat on a crowded bus. In this small act a person sets aside their own desire to be comfortable so that someone else may be. They are not looking out for themselves, but are concerned for the comfort of their fellow person.

The three anti-heroic traits find their way into American culture largely through our relationship and admiration of the rich and famous. In today’s modern world of celebrity worship and Hollywood glorification, I think that a lot of people are looking in the wrong direction for heroes. People think that when a person becomes famous they have achieved something great. In reality, no heroic act was accomplished. Some lucky person just got some good breaks. An actor acts because they like acting, a ball player plays his sport because he loves the game, and a musician plays because it’s what they want to do. Maybe these famous people did work hard and maybe they are good at what they do, but celebrities certainly have done nothing worth categorizing them as a hero. All that they have done was in self interest. None of these people set out to do anything other than what they wanted, and what they are good at doing. Yes, we can admire them for their hard work and talents, but that is merely admiration. Hero status would be way too much pin on a celebrity’s chest.

When we consider celebrities heroes for doing their jobs we degrade our real heroes. The problem with making heroes out of celebrities is that when we begin to think that they are better than other people then they begin to believe that too. Just because someone makes a million dollars to film some television series episode does not make them a better person. Maybe they are a good actor, but that’s all. In an interview with my younger sister, who is in high school, I asked who is your hero and why. She responded with our grandmother, but when asked who it would be if they were a person of celebrity status she replied with Oprah. She raised a good point, which is to why she picked Oprah as hero. It is because of what she does to help people. Through actions people can demonstrate either the three anti-heroic traits, or they can display those traits of a hero. Celebrities have the extra responsibility of millions of eyes on them, which gives them all the more reason to try and life the life of a help and stay away from the anti-heroic traits.

Another danger in calling our celebrities heroes is that we look at their lives as the correct way to run our own. For instance, the MTV show, the Newly Weds is a horrible show for children and young adults. Young kids see the show as how a marriage is in the early years. On the contrary, the show is a gross distortion on the sanctity of marriage. Just as the show ended, the couple decided to separate. This is a trend through all of Hollywood. Couples separate after just a short time together. Few stay together, and the ones that do are not admired for it. Maybe half of all marriages end in divorce, but as the video for the Blink-182 song Stay Together for the Kids points out in the end, “50 percent of all American households stay together.” Magazines like People and TV stations like E! dig into the lives of celebrities and present them to the public in a light that make people admire them and want to be them.

As a society, America may not have a clear definition of what a hero is. It therefore leaves the responsibility to the individual to identify those traits which are heroic. One person may have a completely different concept of a hero as another. There are traits which are universally anti-heroic, as greed, self-promotion, and selfishness are. In seeking a hero a person should to another that avoids these anti-heroic traits. People should also look to other sources for heroes than the media. For example, just because someone survived on an island for a month doesn’t mean they have done a heroic act.

Page created on 4/30/2006 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/20/2019 7:45:38 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Author Info

Tim Leber is a junior at the United States Coast Guard Academy. He is a Government major specializing in the International Relations track. Tim is a member of the Academy’s football team where he plays outside linebacker and serves as the team’s captain. Tim is from Lake Winola, Pennsylvania where he attended Tunkhannock Area High School. He was a member of the football and track teams, serving as captain of both. He leads a very active life and enjoys physical activity including water skiing, outdoor activities, and traveling. Tim has a great interest in art and music and plays the guitar in his spare time. Upon graduation from the Coast Guard Academy, Tim will serve as an officer in the United States Coast Guard.