What Makes a Hero?


What Makes a Hero?

I've been wondering lately, as I gear up to teach a course that has a unit on "American Heroes." What sort of requirements does a hero have to fulfill? A hero is usually most simply defined as someone who saves other people's lives -- a fireman who pulls someone from a burning building, say. We also reserve this important title for people who die in the attempt. But the definition of "hero" has gotten pretty blurry lately. Sometimes we say someone who has survived extraordinary conditions is a hero. A person who survives being lost in the wilderness, for example. Is a person a hero if he only manages to save himself? And more and more, ordinary non-saving folks are getting called heroes. You've probably heard politicians calling normal middle-class people who go to their jobs and work hard "the real heroes." So what really makes a hero?

When you're writing your next story, it might be interesting to explore this question a little, and figure out what "hero" means to you. After all, another way that we use the word is when we are talking about the "hero" of a story. Often that character doesn't do anything remotely heroic, but still she is the hero of her own story, the one who makes it happen, keeps it alive, and brings it safely to a conclusion. Or maybe your character is an anti-hero, a truly despicable character who nevertheless has an important story to tell.

Are you going to make your character a hero or an anti-hero? And do you think of yourself as the "hero" of your own life? Thinking about this question can reveal a lot about how you view yourself. Many people have an outsized view of their importance; they might consider themselves the hero of their entire family or social circle. Others have little sense of self at all and just see the story as as series of events happening to them. Where do you think you fit in?

It's important to remember that you are the hero of your own story, and no matter what's happening to you at any moment, you always have choices to make and actions to take that are important and meaningful. How will you remind yourself that you're one kind of a hero?