We Need to Expand the Definition of the Hero

Our modern definition of the hero is too narrow. We’ve made heroism too rare.

We’ve lost a lot of depth when it comes to the idea of the hero. Today, If you ask people what it means to be a hero, they’ll probably use words like “brave” or “selfless.” They’ll describe someone who helps other people, even to the point of personal sacrifice. And they’ll give you examples, such as soldiers, firefighters, or police officers.

People aren’t wrong. Bravery and selflessness are part of what it means to be a hero. Soldiers, firefighters, and police officers can be heroic in their deeds.

But what about the rest of us? I argue that there is heroism that should be acknowledged more often in the daily lives of average people. Every day, each of us struggles with obstacles. Each of us has “monsters” to slay before our heads hit the pillow at night. We need to celebrate that fact.

We’re missing some vital aspects of heroism that our ancestors knew. The mythologist Joseph Campbell compared the legends of numerous cultures, and discovered that people around the world created very similar hero stories. These legends weren’t just meant to entertain. They were meant to educate as well, to give people examples to follow as they faced life’s challenges.

Across all the great legends, there are aspects of the hero that are universal. My challenge to you is this: when you go about your daily routines, try to recognize the times when you encounter these situations:

Heroes Go Where Others Won’t

I’m not just talking about running into a burning buildings or war zones. Heroes are also those people willing to explore the world, or the depths of their own lives, in order to make themselves better physically, mentally, or spiritually. In other words, they take risks in order to grow, not just for the sake of risk itself.

Example: Bilbo Baggins leaving his safe hobbit hole in order to help the dwarves recover the Lonely Mountain.

Heroes Give Us Wisdom

A true hero is not a “one-and-done” character. He doesn’t just slay the dragon and then retire. Rather, he steps out of the ordinary world and finds uncommon wisdom unknown to the rest of his society. Then, he comes back to spread the wisdom among the people.

Example: Jesus spending 40 days in the desert to show us how to resist temptation.

Heroes Provide Inspiration

When someone does something above and beyond the normal in order to help others, we remember them. We feel a tug to be like them. Heroes set a positive standard for us to follow.

Example: In the 2013 film “Man of Steel,” Superman’s father Jor-El tells his son: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards.” He reminds Superman that his deeds become inspiration to those around him.

Taken together, the three aspects above combine into one lesson that goes beyond the usual definition: heroes support the world around them, by supporting the people that make up their society. Heroes know that the world is not made of earth, air, and the other elements. The world is made of people.

Have there been moments in your life when you went where others wouldn’t go, passed wisdom on to others, or you were told you inspired someone? If so, leave a comment and share your story!

Author: Anthony Simeone

I'm a writer, speaker, and an advocate for everyday heroism. I have over two decades of experience in the practical application of literature, philosophy, psychology, and other disciplines. The culmination of my work is the Live the Hero program, a life philosophy that promotes personal development combined with service to others. Live the Hero combines the wisdom found in the arts and humanities with the latest discoveries related to research in heroism science and positive psychology. You can learn more at livethehero.com.

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