The Most Important Heroic Trait

I’ve talked a lot about the attributes of a hero and have compiled a list of eleven of which I think a hero must possess at least a few. I just found a quote that confirms for me which of the eleven I think is most important.

“By hero, we tend to mean a heightened man who, more than other men, possesses qualities of courage, loyalty, resourcefulness, charisma, above all, selflessness. He is an example of right behavior; the sort of man who risks his life to protect his society’s values, sacrificing his personal needs for those of the community. Virgil’s Aeneas is a hero in this sense of the word. He devotes his warrior skills, his pleasures, and finally his life to the historical destiny of founding Rome. Dante climbing to heaven in the Divine Comedy is a hero. Sergeant York risking his life to “end all wars” is a hero…. There is, of course, another sort of heightened man who bulks large in the popular imagination…. He is not “loyal,” not a model of right behavior. Quite the contrary, he fascinates because he undermines the expected order. He possesses the qualities of the “hero”: skill, resourcefulness, courage, intelligence. But he is the opposite of selfless. He is hungry; “heightened,” not as an example, but as a presence, a phenomenon of sheer energy. One thinks of certain sports heroes, who boast and indulge their whims; who cannot be relied on, not because they are treacherous, but because the order of their needs is purely idiosyncratic.” – Paul Zweig

Selflessness is what differentiates a hero. There may be heroes who don’t possess courage or wisdom, but how many are selfish?

2 Responses to The Most Important Heroic Trait

  1. Cassandra May 14, 2009 at 7:39 am #

    Most heroes have at least a modicum of selfishness. One must gain skills and attend school and that puts their family and friends on hold a lot of the time. Also, one has a degree of narcissism to think he can be a hero. And why is this all about man and not woman?

    • Matt Langdon May 14, 2009 at 10:35 am #

      I have to disagree with the idea that a hero requires selfishness. A hero does not need to sacrifice their family or friends to gain skills or attend school. They don’t need to go to school. I’m not sure what kind of heroes you’re talking about.

      The same goes for narcissism. Heroes don’t think of themselves as heroes. It’s as simple as that.

      As for the male slant in this article – it’s a quote.