While being interviewed on a local talk show, the moderator asked me to name my heroes. I admit my mind went blank. Many people I admire. Some of them are ordinary folk. Others have names recognized around the world. I admire Mahatma Gandhi, for example. Without firing a bullet, he secured a nation’s freedom. That’s as close to a miracle as a human can achieve. Abraham Lincoln took a more violent path. He divided the nation to make it whole again. Mother Theresa dedicated her life to relieving the suffering of others.
By definition, a hero acts with courage while staying true to his or her beliefs. Such people exist in greater numbers than we realize. Some acts are obvious. A soldier saves a comrade on the battlefield. A firefighter rescues a child from a burning building. A police officer charges toward two collapsing towers in New York City while others run away.
But heroism plays on smaller stages, too. A witness faces peril but agrees to testify in court. A Samaritan stops at a traffic accident to help someone injured. A stranger donates a kidney to a stranger. A man risks his life to rescue a crocodile.
To imagine a hero as someone larger than life is to do the concept an injustice. Most heroes aren’t supercharged. They have frailties, like the rest of us. Some writers accuse Gandhi of having an indifferent relationship with his family. Some think Lincoln weighed the politics of the 13th Amendment too slowly. Mother Theresa followed church teaching on abortion with a blindness that caused critics to doubt her motives.
If heroes have frailties, then their sacrifices honor them all the more. Ask many why they performed as they did, and they will seem surprised, unable to explain their actions.
The tipping point, between being an ordinary person and a hero, I believe, is compassion – that flash when we see another’s danger as our own and rush forward to help. Selflessness is a mystery because it defies our most basic instinct to survive. Yet each day, ordinary people show themselves capable of unexpected courage. It suggests the trait is more widespread than we realize. Given the right time and the right place, any individual is capable of becoming a hero. Therefore, instead of singling one person out, I choose to celebrate the human spirit.
(Originally published 10/2/18)