Essays on the Theme of Heroism

Heroic Virtues: An Introduction

by Charles F. Harper from California


By Charles F. Harper

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

— Joseph Campbell

Reinhold Niebuhr put it best: "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. ... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness."

How do we know a hero when we see one?

On the MY HERO website you will find heroes of all ages, from all walks of life, and who have been at the forefront of heroic ventures and actions that range from saving a life from a raging fire to saving animals from extinction to just being a living expression of love.

The question that we will explore in this forum is: What qualities make someone a hero or how do we know a hero when we see one?

Joseph Campbell once described a hero as the average man or woman who gets up every morning, goes down to the subway station and heads off to work. Each day dying just a little bit to provide food and shelter for his or her loved ones. (The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell)

This description of a hero runs counter to popular images of heroes. We either tend to think of heroes as imaginary super-heroes with super powers, or the heroes we find every day in our police stations, fire stations, schools and homes, or those special people who have a vision for the way the world should be when it comes to caring for people who have been marginalized because of race, economics, social class, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity or even intellectual ability.

Yet, Campbell would have us believe that the average Joe or Josephine who goes out into the work world every day to make a living for himself or herself and his or her family is a hero. Why?

I think Campbell is saying that you can define a hero as much by the content of his or her character as by his or her particular heroic action or vision. The average person goes to work every day to a job that may or may not be too small for his or her soul. This action may not seem as glamorous or headline worthy as the hero who rushes into a burning building to save a life, but Joe and Josephine make sacrifices every day. They are just as committed to a vision of how life should be lived as any global visionary or hero.

Joseph Campbell's definition of a hero is as thought-provoking as it is inspiring. However, like any hero, Campbell's hero is only inspiring if we see in that person a spirit which exudes one or a combination of virtues, which include, but are not limited to, joy, hope, love, serenity, loyalty, humility, perseverance, faith, and honesty. When individuals manifest one or more of these virtues in their very being, they become a role model that inspires us to be better than we thought we could be.

Join me in exploring those virtues, which the "heroic" person exemplifies in his or her way of being, in their walk as well as their talk.

Page created on 8/8/2019 12:57:38 PM

Last edited 8/18/2019 10:21:47 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.