Essays on the Theme of Heroism

Heroic Virtues: Self-Sacrifice and Perseverance

by Abigail Lim from San Diego, California in United States

Everyday Deserving Heroes

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a hero as “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.” However, no single statement encompasses ideal heroes, as archetypal understanding limits them to a one-dimensional interpretation of the diverse spectrum. Rather, the term abstractly conveys the resilience and strength we observe in one another and reflect back into society. By recognizing these role models, we feel emboldened to offer our effort, possessions, and support to causes we believe in. Witnessing heroic actions pushes us through trying times and allows us to discover a purpose to affect change in others. Our views of heroes may differ, but as a civilization, we depend upon them to understand our own lives and to idealize our principles in figures we strive to become. Unlike quintessential role models, we feel guided by those who have endured unimaginable challenges to protect a higher purpose than themselves. The everyday heroes Nujood Ali, Desmond Doss, Valery Legasov, and Benjamin Clark displayed courageous acts despite facing their own adversities. Each of them embodies the perseverance and self-sacrifice that inspires us to become heroes ourselves.

The defining traits of everyday heroes do not just surface in dire situations. Heroes must advance past lesser hardships to prevail from their most demanding trial. Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-day Adventist Christian and former World War II soldier, repeatedly exhibited his perseverance through the determination to protect his comrades in battle. Doss’ battalion initially shunned him for refusing to carry a weapon as a result of the biblical commandment “thou shalt not kill.” At the most dangerous point in his military career, Doss saved approximately 75 men at the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge, Okinawa, after American forces retreated from a Japanese counter-attack. As attested to by his peers, Doss was seen praying at the cliff’s edge to save “just one more” person each time he lowered a man down the escarpment despite being severely injured himself (Lange). When Doss faced the seemingly insurmountable challenge of going back into enemy territory unarmed, he enticed himself to continue with the thought of saving others. He refused to submit to the pain of his wounds, and instead pushed beyond physical and mental agony to rescue his fellow soldiers. People compare their trials to Doss’ suffering and view his survival as a sign of encouragement to face any formidable circumstance.

Children often struggle more with perseverance than adults, as they may not yet have the understanding or the resources to endure arduous situations. Yemeni native Nujood Ali conquered her adversities despite her lack of life experience as an adolescent. Nujood’s father forced her to marry a man three times her age of 10, supposedly to protect her against sexual predators. Her former husband, who Nujood refers to in her autobiography as “him,” agreed not to have sexual intercourse with her until a year after she began menstruating as part of a contract. However, on the night they wed and for the remainder of their marriage, the man sexually, physically, and emotionally abused her. After months of mistreatment and realizing her family did not support her desire to leave, Nujood made a resolution; “My mind was made up: I’d do whatever I had to. I was ready to climb mountains to keep from finding myself lying on that mat again, night after night, all alone against that monster” (Ali and Minoui 103). Nujood did not understand rape at the time, but she had the wisdom to know her husband’s actions were treacherous. She went through shame and misery only to escape her abuser and have to mentally relive the violation she suffered during her divorce case. Eventually, Nujood’s campaign to liberate herself pushed her to search for courage, even though she feared doing so. When Nujood became the youngest divorcée in history, she inspired child brides to advocate for their rights. Perseverance is a challenging heroic quality, but unwavering persistence is the only way to surmount obstacles. Nujood Ali and Desmond Doss exemplify how the odds can be beaten as long as people continue fighting against them.

The willingness to sacrifice not only time and energy but life itself to maintain the welfare of humanity is what separates regular people from heroes. Valery Legasov, a Russian inorganic chemist, put global safety before his own health, security, and life. During the containment attempt of the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl Power Plant, Ukraine, the Soviet Government selected Legasov to investigate the cause of the disaster. His daughter Inga recalled his heroic initiative, stating, “He was the only scientist working at the site. He understood quite well ... how much radiation he was being exposed to” (Zubacheva). Being a specialized chemist, Legasov knew the effects of long-term exposure to radioactive material, yet he chose to remain at the site while advising others not to. Legasov believed his contributions to the clean-up effort were crucial, which forced him to decide between risking a nuclear holocaust to maintain his health or relinquishing his life to prevent Armageddon; he ultimately concluded the well-being of mankind was more important than preserving himself. Legasov’s death as a result of Chernobyl caused people to honor his sacrifice by taking the time to help others before themselves.

Along with their lives, heroes often risk losing family, careers, and friends to defend their fundamentals. One such hero, Benjamin Clark, surrendered what he cherished most, his family life, to save others. A former Marine turned corporate chef, Clark had the experience to handle stressful situations like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America. He worked for the Fiduciary Trust Company on the 96th floor of the South Twin Tower when the hijacked flight United 175 crashed into it. According to V.P. of Fiduciary Bibi Conrad, instead of escaping the building, Benjamin Clark evacuated hundreds of other workers and helped an immobilized elderly woman before the South Tower collapsed on him (“Remembering Benjamin Clark, Executive Chef: National September 11 Memorial and Museum”). Clark knew his life was in immediate danger because he chose to rescue others before himself. Arguably, he had the opportunity to try to leave the building, but his innate heroism left him no choice but to rescue others instead of possibly leaving them in the tower. Clark not only sacrificed his life, but relinquished the opportunity to watch his five children grow up. Many assume that when heroes die, their loved ones grieve for them, but heroes must also come to terms with never seeing those closest to them again. While he saved others on 9/11, Benjamin Clark also lost his family in his own death. In the aftermath of the attacks, Clark and other 9/11 heroes reignited the spark of American patriotism, inspiring citizens to appreciate their freedoms as well as those who died fighting for those rights. Benjamin Clark and Valery Legasov shared the intuition to preserve the liberties of others, ultimately forgoing life itself to ensure their objective. Clark’s sacrifice of never being able to see his family again and Legasov’s sacrifice of health made them heroes; they gave up what they most valued in life to fight for other people.

Heroes put our struggles into perspective and exemplify how we can find the strength to succeed despite adversity. We often convince ourselves that we are incapable of or too weak to overcome onerous tasks. By witnessing heroes such as Nujood Ali and Desmond Doss survive more challenging hardships than their own, we see how no feat is insurmountable. Heroes like Benjamin Clark and Valery Legasov who die for their beliefs encourage others to be selfless; we realize putting others before ourselves is more important than self-preservation. Perseverance motivates us to charge past our immense fears, and once we overcome our insecurities we prove to ourselves that we can achieve more than we think. Self-sacrifice tests our dedication to our beliefs, as a cause worth advocating for is also worth dying for. Giving up our cherished possessions to serve a greater cause affirms our selflessness. The structure of society requires heroes because they inspire us to take action instead of expecting the world to change. We all epitomize heroes in our own ways, but we only realize what we can accomplish by witnessing the heroic deeds of others.

Nujood Ali, Desmond Doss, Valery Legasov, and Benjamin Clark represent the persevering and self-sacrificing criterion that compose heroes. Heroism is a battle between desire and principles; we make mistakes and we do not always do what is right, but at the most imperative moment we put our beliefs first and abstain from selfishness. We must choose whether to let fear tether us to an unjust life or whether to use it as motivation to improve our civilization. We can spark change by becoming the people we idolize; instead of wanting others to act, we ourselves must take the initiative to alter the wrong we experience. More of us will then continue to encourage virtuous actions, which will create more heroes. Strong-minded people produce a better society, continuing the cycle of heroes who improve our world.

Works Cited

Ali, Nujood, and Delphine Minoui. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Broadway Books New York, 2009.

“Hero.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Lange, Katie. “Pfc. Desmond Doss: The Unlikely Hero behind 'Hacksaw Ridge'.”, 28 Feb. 2017, 

“Remembering Benjamin Clark, Executive Chef: National September 11 Memorial & Museum.” 

Remembering Benjamin Clark, Executive Chef | National September 11 Memorial & Museum, 2020, 

Zubacheva, Ksenia. “Who Was Valery Legasov, the Soviet Scientist That Saved the World from Chernobyl?” Russia Beyond, 4 June 2019,

Page created on 5/16/2020 3:33:31 AM

Last edited 4/27/2021 9:56:11 PM

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