Friday, April 08, 2005

Heroes and Sacrifice


My wife brought to my attention a trend in American culture, to confuse "survival" with heroism. That is, if somebody survives an ordeal, they are often branded as a "hero" even if they did not perform any act which was even slightly heroic. Now, I'm fine with survival stories, and Readers Digest used to make them a staple of pretty much every edition. ("Drama in Real Life" - do they still run those stories?) And it can take a great deal of fortitude to pull yourself through a horrendous ordeal. But I guess I would like to see a more restrained use of the word "hero" by those who would bestow it without regard to whether the beneficiaries of that label demonstrated any concern for others, let alone whether they engaged in any form of noble sacrifice.

It strikes me as odd that our culture also works so hard to tear down heroes. We celebrate our heroes, real or false, but then seem to hope that they stumble or fall. Perhaps we are more comfortable with false heroes - victims of circumstance who do only what they need to do to survive - because that's the type of "hero" we can most easily imagine becoming. And perhaps we're quick to magnify any stumble, or grab on to any salacious rumor, associated with a bona fide hero because deep down we can't stand that some people truly are braver than us, and even better than us.

1 comment:

  1. But I guess I would like to see a more restrained use of the word "hero" by those who would bestow it without regard to whether the beneficiaries of that label demonstrated any concern for others, let alone whether they engaged in any form of noble sacrifice.

    Generally speaking, what I have noticed is that anyone who is able to survive any harrowing ordeal is now thrust onto the cover of "TIME" magazine and labelled a hero. Prime modern example? Jessica Lynch. She was shot, she spent some time in a POW camp, she was liberated. End of story. I mean, how many others from our multitudinous wars could be classified similarly, yet in WWII they weren't considered heroes - most of them were just doing their jobs.

    But even more so, when it comes to just ordinary survival, even in perhaps extraordinary circumstances, it is very basic human nature. There is nothing meritorious about the drive for self-preservation. Recently, I was watching a 'Discovery' program about the Donner Party, and the program concluded by saying that survival by cannibalism was not reproachable, but actually a heroic story of the triumph of the human spirit. While I tend to agree that those folks trapped within a ten-feet-deep blinding blizzard in the Sierra's back in the late 1800's were not depraved for doing what they had to in order to survive, I would hardly classify them as heroes.

    I guess a main distinguisher, if you will, between a hero and a survivor is pretty basic: a hero is one who sacrifices their needs for a greater good. It doesn't have to mean with their lives, but oftentimes, in life-or-death
    situations, it does mean lying down your life so that others may be saved. The real heroes are rarely left "surviving" to tell their heroic tales.

    -LAURA

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