Mark Barrowcliffe has written an article for the Times Online about the disappearance of the hero in today’s world. The story is inspired by the death of Sir Edmund Hillary last week. Barrowcliffe highlights Hillary and Neil Armstrong as the kind of world-changing heroes that he remembers from his youth.
That focus is unfortunate, as the number of peaks, poles, and moons to conquer these days is close to zero. He seems to suggest that an adventurer is a hero, wondering why the pair of kayakers that just finished a trek from Australia to New Zealand are not front page news. Being adventurous is not equal to being heroic. As Barrowfield himself points out elsewhere in the article, Hillary and Armstrong were heroes not just for their achievement. They were both men of humility and caring, as well as the obvious courage.
Thankfully there are some experts quoted later in the article that bring the conversation back to real heroism. Sebag Montefiore says, “The virtues of heroism are courage, tolerance and selflessness. We need to teach our children about that.” Barrowfield references Stephanie Barczewski when she “says that in creating our modern heroes we have lost the idea of heroic sacrifice. In an age where people weep when a fellow contestant is expelled from a reality TV show, how are we to understand the stoicism and motivation behind Captain Oates crawling to his death in the Antarctic in an effort to improve his colleagues’ chance of survival?”
He finished the article on a good note saying, “For the democratic and affluent West the new heroes may not be pioneers in the jungle, the frozen wastes or space, but where true heroes have always operated, in the terrain of morality and decency.”
Courage, tolerance, selflessness, sacrifice, morality, decency. Who are your heroes that have these traits?