It’s Important to Understand What a Hero is NOT

I’ve written about the need to expand the definition of the hero. But it’s not enough to describe what a hero is; we also need to know what a hero is not.

A hero is not meant to be a sacrifice. The sacrifice part of heroism is incidental, a by-product of taking action to aid others. Sacrificing one’s own life or well-being is not the goal of a hero; it just sometimes happens to those willing to make a stand.

When you put yourself out there in defense of others, you are at greater risk for injury, whether physical, mental, or both. 

mayan sacrifice

In contrast, someone who is a sacrifice from the beginning is actually just a victim, a passive “lamb” to be taken to the proverbial slaughter. But sometimes we confuse sacrifices for heroes.

We don’t become heroes by just suffering. We become heroes by suffering and then taking action to rise above, fight back, and make things better!

When a soldier, a firefighter, or a good Samaritan is hurt or dies while trying to protect the lives of others, it generally is not their intention to simply be a sacrifice. Because a sacrifice can’t help anyone. A hero, on the other hand, strives to survive so they can continue to help themselves and others flourish. 

There are numerous examples of heroes, of course. Just a few include:

What do all of these stories have in common? The people involved were confronted with difficult situations and chose not to be victims. They didn’t even intend to be heroes. They became heroes as a by-product of finding the resolve to take a stand against oppression in a way that was brave, humble, and persistent.

Heroism is more than just being a passive representative of some group that is “being oppressed.” Heroes by definition are those that take action to uphold an ideal consistently over time. They uplift society at large, whether on a grand scale or by helping one person at a time.

I’m planning on another post about what defines a hero, but in the meantime I’d like to hear from you (please leave a comment on this post to respond): what do you think makes someone a hero? Have you ever done anything that inspired others to call you a hero?

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

5 thoughts

  1. From one perspective, being a Hero can start with doing something to help another without thought…..a spontaneous response to help, set an example, demonstrate an act of kindness or offer an encouraging word. In many instances, if we contemplate the moment by trying to decide the right thing to do, questioning whether we should get involved, concerned about offending somebody, or fear for our own safety, we have lost in that moment the opportunity to make a difference. I believe our natural instinct of self preservation provides the knowingness to keep us safe, protected. But, more importantly, in my mind, being connected and in the Flow will also give us the Guidance on how to respond in every situation.

    Many years ago, I was in a plant nursery with my three year old daughter. As I was checking out, I sat her up on the checkout counter to reach for my wallet. In that short time, she had picked up a penny off the counter, put it in her mouth, swallowed and immediately began to gasp for air. Without thought, I grabbed her, held her upside down, reached into her mouth and down her throat with my finger and flicked off the penny that was covering her throat….. it fell to the ground. I turned her around, gave her a hug and a smile, in a state of absolute and complete calm. The checkout clerk, who was a friend, and several others who observed these events were in a panic. Yet all was well. In retrospect and to this very day, I AM humbly grateful for my actions as they flowed through me; there was not time to stop and contemplate what course of action to take. So I believe it is our connection to whatever we believe God, the Universe, our Flow or Spirit might be for each of us that gives us the instantaneous guidance to respond (or not respond) accordingly.

    We need not just consider the acts of a HERO in a life or death situation, but also in everyday living, events large and small. I do remember reading a while back that when an act of kindness (the action of a HERO) is offered, it not only lifts the energy of the ones involved, but also raises the energy of those who observed the act. This was acted out in an insurance commercial a few years ago when a child in a stroller dropped a toy which was picked up by a stranger and returned; then an observer was touched by the event and helped another person which set off a chain of events in which HEROes arose to the occasion before them and passed it (kindness, service, help) on. These are the every day HEROes, in the flow of life, coming together regardless of circumstances or conditions within which they find themselves, that are helping raise the energy and consciousness of the entire planet one event and one day at a time.


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