Defining “Hero”

I’ve had a stab at defining the word hero before, but not to the extent Donald DeMarco does in his article, “Is Christ a Hero?”  It’s a really good read that talks about some of the different connotations of the word.  Can heroes be evil?  Do heroes have to be famous?  Here’s a paragraph that sums up his findings.  What do you think?

Despite its many shadings, “hero” is still a serviceable term. A hero must stand out among others. His accomplishments must be truly extraordinary. He must triumph against the odds and attain something that is, as one writer puts it, like the “mountains, the highlands of the moral world.” He must be admirable, self-forgetful and firm in the face of danger. He must be prepared to assume grave risks for the benefit of others.

9 Responses to Defining “Hero”

  1. Kit April 3, 2007 at 10:00 pm #

    Should the “grave risks” be conscious in a hero’s thought process? Or like the banality of heroes article, should it be something that in small repetition of our daily pursuits, slowly cultures your sub-conscious to allow you to perform a heroic task without even thinking about it….?

  2. Matt Langdon April 4, 2007 at 9:09 am #

    I don’t think heroes do what they do because there’s a grave risk, but I do think the risk is considered – even if only slightly.

  3. Chris April 5, 2007 at 7:56 am #

    Kit brings up a great question. The process of thinking exists to counter-balance the process of feeling or at the very least evaluate the implications of our feelings. If heroes did constantly succumb to the process of “conscious” evaluation, I doubt we would have many heroes. If Wesley Autrey took time to think about the implications of his impulse to jump on the subway tracks, he would have naturally visualized what could have went wrong. What separates a human from a primate is the ability to increase time between impulse and decision. Heroes are hardly calculated risk takers and calculation is something which is often performed consciously but can be hardwired in the subconscious areas of the brain thus causing heroic actions to appear as a result of thorough calculation. We also have to take the notion of “cultural conditioning” into consideration. Autrey’s decision received the publicity it did because it’s out of the norm. I witnessed a major car accident in front of me last night on 96, pulled to the shoulder of the road, called 911, got out of my car and almost got flattened by about ten cars who proceeded to drive at posted speeds. Being heroic is not a cultural norm thus causing our cognitive evaluations to suppress our emotions to risk our lives for another person. It’s a sad truth. Any behavior can be “constructed through small repetition of our daily pursuits” but if these small repetitions are outside of the cultural norm then we will always evaluate the implications of our heroic impulses. As Matt said, “the risk is considered”. It is within this consideration we either go against the grain of the norms and be heroic or we will drive on and assume another person will stop to help. In closing, the answer is yes; it is both conscious and often a candidate of subconscious activity. Either way, there will always be decision involved.

  4. Kit April 9, 2007 at 9:30 am #

    Do you think your decision to pull over was part of your cultural makeup i.e. the way your parents raised you or something else?

    By the way great answer above, very thought provoking.

  5. Chris April 9, 2007 at 10:13 pm #

    No, I do not think so. If anything, my obsessively compulsive mother would have demanded me to stay in the car instead of getting out in icy conditions with the high risk of another car losing control. However, I do believe I was raised with positive morals and a well developed sense of empathy which allowed me to think about the people inside of the car. At the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Again, this is a difficult discussion. I’m sure if you really wanted to, you could raise a heroic child but who has ever heard such a thing? Even Superman wasn’t raised to be heroic, right? The Kents taught him between right and wrong and Clark decided to use his powers in a constructive way. What are your thoughts, Matt?

  6. Matt Langdon April 10, 2007 at 9:46 am #

    Interestingly enough I talked to Zeno Franco at Stanford last night and he brought up a theory that children are naturally heroic and it is only as they grow older that those habits and inclinations disappear. My feeling is that parents can set the child up for success in adult life just as Chris says. Developing a conscience in a child would seem to be the most important thing to me. These are the kids who call their parents while at a party to let them know they’re okay just because they know their parents would like to know. Or the first graders who understand the concept of sharing. Or the kids who don’t ask their parents to buy the new shiny toy because they know it’s out of financial reach.

  7. Jocelyn Major April 13, 2007 at 1:29 pm #

    Personnaly I don’t think that the way parents treat their kids have anything to do with them being hero when they become adult.
    My father when he was a kid have to suffer from a brutal father who never miss a chance to tell him that he was a looser, a coward and that he will never do anything good in his life. Since my father was the oldest kid of the familly when his father come back from his night work he will ask his wife if the kids have done anything wrong and if so he will beat the crap out of my father. All those abuse didn’t restrain my father from being one of the greatest hero of the 20th century. He liberated the city of Zwolle on April 14th 1945 because he knew that if he did’nt do it the Canadian Army will have bombed that city causing the death of hundred if not thousand of civilian on the following day. So for me No the way your parents raised you have nothing to do.

  8. Matt Langdon April 16, 2007 at 10:07 am #

    Your father definitely is an exception to that rule. I wonder if the behaviour of your grandfather directly influenced your father though. I remember you saying that your father left for the war to prove he was worth something – is that right?

  9. Kit April 16, 2007 at 12:08 pm #

    Either way you look at it, the behavior of your grandfather did effect your father’s journey as a hero, just in a much more negative light. It showed your father how not live one’s life and therefore take a different path, one of heroic nature rather than that of a brutal father figure. This is quite possibly why he chose to fight for his country, as he wanted to protect others like he did protect his siblings.