A Different Perspective on Heroism

A Different Perspective on Heroism

By Jeff Salter

 Over-Use and Distortion
            First of all:  I believe the words ‘hero’ and ‘heroic’ have been over-used and their meanings have been greatly distorted in recent years.  In their search for heroes, the media have tried to convince us that it’s heroic every time a kid (legitimately) calls 9-1-1 … or every time a driver pulls off the freeway to help an old lady change her tire.  Those are good citizens who did the right things … but they are not truly heroes (in my opinion).  And, despite frantic game announcers, every sports figure who makes a clinch play is NOT a ‘hero’ either.  I think it’s time to bring that label back to more reasonable perspective.

 Literary Versus Real-Life
            As everybody here already knows, when we discuss ‘heroes’ in the literary sense, we usually mean the protagonist — whether male or female.  And I much prefer that word.  Because – as my colleagues, the Four Foxes, point out this week – sometimes the protagonist is flawed, aggressive, possibly cruel … and not necessarily perceptive or empathetic for most of the story.
            Next week, I’ll discuss ‘heroines’ (AKA female protagonists) in the literary sense … so tune in again on April 7th to get the complete picture.
            But today, instead of literary protagonists, I’ll just talk about real-life heroes.

 My Boyhood Heroes
            As a young boy, my heroes were the cowboys, soldiers, adventurers, and explorers … who protected the helpless or hopeless, usually fought ‘fair’ (even against greater odds), and faced every danger with consistent courage.  I found these heroes in movies, TV shows, books, magazines, and comic books.
            I knew they’d win their fights, but I still worried as they struggled against formidable circumstances, elements, misunderstandings, and (of course) bad guys.

 A Few Real Heroes
            After 9-11, I read about someone who voluntarily stayed in a World Trade Center stairwell with a wheelchair-bound co-worker just so that trapped individual wouldn’t have to die alone.
            As the devastating Hurricane Katrina approached the greater New Orleans area, there were doctors and nurses who remained in harm’s way to care for their patients who could not be evacuated from flooded hospitals.
            Where I formerly resided, an off-duty firefighter saved a drowning kid … but the firefighter himself drowned during that rescue.
            When a guy I knew from Church (at that same city) saw a woman jump off a high bridge into the Red River, he raced to the scene and dove in to help rescue her.
            My son-in-law dove into a local lake to rescue a six-year-old girl on training skis who was being dragged underwater by the 50-foot rope … while the driver was trying to stop the boat.
            I’ve read of countless military men who sacrificed their own lives to save their buddies … not because they were ordered to, but because it was their instinct.
            I have the honor of knowing a man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and won a Silver Star for going into enemy territory – under direct fire – to rescue his badly injured lieutenant … and then went BACK to that same area to save another man.

 “No, I Was Not a Hero …”
            One of the most truly inspiring individuals I’ve ever studied was Maj. Richard Winters, of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.  [Some of you will recognize him as the prominent figure in the book and mini-series, Band of Brothers.  In an interview segment, Winters read part of a letter he’d received from Sergeant Mike Ranney:  “I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No … but I served in a company of heroes’.”  From the context (and from Winters’ emotional voice), it’s clear that Winters’ answer would have been about the same as Ranney’s — “No, I was not a hero …”
            Winters (and Ranney) add significant ingredients to the qualities of true heroism:  modesty and humility.  [Winters died a few months ago.]

 Other Kinds of Heroes
            These people (above) are among my heroes.  But there are other kinds of heroes.
            Decades ago when I commuted to college, nearly every morning I’d see, walking in the opposite direction, an old man who was obviously on his way to work.  It was several miles to town from that vicinity, and I saw him frequently.  I’m sure he walked it every day.  I never met him and don’t know his name, but that old man walked along the highway to get to a job which might have been all that supported his family.  In my mind, he was a hero.
            Long ago, I saw a quote (by a prominent writer) which said (I’m sorry I have to paraphrase):  “The true hero is the husband/father who drags himself to work for 10,000 days to a crummy job he hates … just to provide for his family.”  [Of course, the same could be said for a wife/mother.]

            So, that gives you an idea of how I view heroes.  Who stands out as a hero in YOUR experiences?

             Next Thursday:  The Hound reveals what makes his female protagonists ‘tick’ (or … ‘How the Hound Views His Own Fictional Heroines’).

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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42 Responses to A Different Perspective on Heroism

  1. tonya kappes says:

    I think hero can be the good citizen. If I was stuck on the side of the road with a couple of my boys in the car and Jeff drove up behind me to help. YES~I definitely would call you my hero. A hero is someone who will self sacrifce for the need of someone else. Yes, Jeff had to put his self aside to help someone he didn’t know~I could’ve been a serial killer and robbed you blind:) Just my 2 cents.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yes, Tonya, all good points.
      And — in real life — I have done my share of helping people with flat tires, dead batteries, rides to the gas station, etc. Most of these were greatly appreciated by the people otherwise stranded or (at least temporarily) helpless.
      However, I never viewed them as anything other than doing ‘a good deed’. I was a Boy Scout for only a couple of years, but I learned enough to remember some primary tenents: ‘be prepared’ and ‘do a good deed daily.’
      All that said, I have also been in circumstances where I did NOT stop and help — usually because I was in a hurry or it was part of the road that I’d have to double-back to reach … or some other rationalization. And I have nearly always felt crummy about not helping out.
      And, of course, I have been IN circumstances where *I* was the one who needed the assistance. And I have felt grateful and blessed that someone bothered to lend their aid.
      Thanks for stopping by today, Tonya.

      Like

  2. danicaavet says:

    Jeff, you almost made me cry *sniff* I agree that the word hero has become overused over the last few years, but I also have to add that a hero is someone who somehow makes a difference in one person’s life. It can be a lifesaving situation, or just giving something (time, a compassionate hug, sympathetic ear) to another person who’s in dire need of it. That person who gives a little of themselves for no other reason than because it’s needed is a hero, especially to the one they give to.

    Great, great post, Jeff!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Danica, for your kind words.
      I certainly agree that people who provide time, compassion, or sympathy can be ‘life-savers’ to those in need of same. Giving “a little of themselves for no other reason than because it’s needed” is a creedo which all of us should strive for. I’ve always been grateful to encounter people with that special quality … even when it’s simply a matter of witnessing their kindness to someone else.

      Like

  3. One of my first heroes was Alvin Dark, the baseball player. He came to a church in Central Louisiana and spoke on stewardship. It was exciting to see a major league player in person.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for visiting, Andrew.
      Yeah, it’s always been inspiring to me to have notable athletes speak in the church. I guess he was one of the forerunners of the FCA.

      Like

  4. Laurie Ryan says:

    I was all set to argue with you about how ordinary acts can be heroic, but you really set the bar high with your examples, Jeff. Still, I’ve been that lady on the side of the road with a broken down car and two small children in the back (before the age of cell phones). As I remember all those cars flying by me on the highway, I have to say that the one who finally stopped, a very nice older gentleman, and gave my girls and I a ride, was my hero that day. And still is. Each time I think of that incident, I send mental thanks out to that man.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Laurie, I can certainly understand how you would view him that way … and I would not try to argue you from that view. Acts of selfLESS assistance — whether large or small — should never be diminished. Plus, in a situation like you described, your lives may have indeed been in potential danger (not merely inconveniences) had you remained stranged there much longer.
      I may have to revise my own view of this entire matter!
      On a side note: I’m certain that ‘nice older gentleman’ had a wonderful warm feeling about helping y’all that day.

      Like

  5. Judy Dutruch says:

    Jeff, your words are beautiful and speak exactly what I feel about who the real heros are. Let’s face it, sometimes people are called “heros” just because they are doing what they are paid to do…like athletes and movie stars. I am thinking of John Wayne who has always been called the American Hero. I can’t figure that out, as he was never a member of any military service, nor had he saved any lives or anything like that. Granted, he was symbolic of the American Man, as he played the roles in his many, many movies that enabled him to portray such a man. I have nothing against him and am sure he was a nice guy, conservative and patriotic, but what does that have to do with being a hero? I think people get confused as to what a real hero is, and it is not someone who just PORTRAYS a hero in movies. I don’t want anyone to think that I am bashing John Wayne…I like the guy…but he is NOT a hero. A true hero is the one who puts others first, one who is willing to give their life to save someone, someone who, by pure instinct, protects and fights and dies for others. Actually, I would have to say that Jesus is my hero…followed by the other heros that you mentioned in your blog.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Very good distinction, Judy, about “the Duke”. The characters played by John Wayne were guys I admired greatly and many were quite heroic in those movies. I also admired Wayne himself (as a person/actor) but — like you — I don’t consider him a ‘hero.’
      Thanks for stopping by today.

      Like

  6. Spot on post!! I love how you broke it down. AND yes, I’ve been that woman in the car- in the deluging rain, almost hit by an 18 wheeler, pre-cell phone and been rescued. But I agree about the difference in good citizens and real heroes.

    I have a great uncle that died at the Battle of the Bulge saving his men. He was awarded a posthumous (sp?) medal- my great-grandmother would have rather had her son but he was a true hero. Thanks for bringing Uncle Eugene to mind for me today.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      My wife has an uncle, still living, who was also in that horrible battle. I can well imagine your great-grandmother would rather have had a blue star in the window rather than a gold star.
      Among Americans alone, there were some 360,000 WW2 deaths, plus about double that number of injuries (some quite severe), plus illness & disease, plus the privation and abuses of un-numbered POWs. That doesn’t even count all the sacrifices and hard work on the Home Front.
      Surely a very high percentage of the individuals of that era deserve the title “Greatest Generation” for what they endured and what they provided for us. But can we call all of them heroes/heroines?
      I’ll bet 90% of the ones we might ask that question would say: “I was just doing what had to be done.”

      Like

      • And you would be right. I have a dear friend that was at D-Day and then in the Pacific and when I try to make a big deal over it, he gets pretty uptight. All he did was his job in his opinion.

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        I think it’s endearing that so many of that generation feel that way — apparently quite genuinely.
        But I’m also glad that (finally) a lot of positive attention has been focused on them — both military and home front — in the past 15 yrs or so.
        They certainly deserve it — and every day we wait to offer that praise, another 1000 of them die.

        Like

  7. Sug Grant says:

    Jeff, You do set the bar high, but I think that I have a perfect example of real heroes.
    Those fifty or so men in Japan who have stayed in that nuclear reactor trying to cool down the rods and keep water on them. The level of radiation they have been exposed to will surely either kill them in the near future or will make them sick enough to die an early death. That is such unselfish heroism that it brings me close to tears.

    The Japanese people have been said to have “group think” because they are such a small nation with so many people. You have to patient and polite to live in such a society. I personally think that they also seem to be quicker to think of the good of their fellow man and nation than a good many people in our own country.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Sug,
      I totally agree that those nuclear power plant workers are working heroically to avoid even more catastrophic developments in that terrible situation. In fact, my brother and I were talking about them just yesterday morning.
      It’s difficult for me to imagine myself being that unselfish for the benefit of millions of fellow citizens.

      Like

  8. Carol Myers says:

    Jesus is my hero and the perfect model of heroism. Then – those serving in the armed forces. . .

    Thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed the piece!

    Like

  9. Bethany says:

    Aside from religious heroes, here’s my answer:

    Maybe it’s cliche, but my Dad is one of my heroes. I have other heroes, but my Dad is one of the ones I remember the most from my childhood/growing up years. He provided, protected and guided his family. He protected our innocence, our feelings, and our hearts. He’s been a devoted and faithful husband to my Mother for almost 45 years (45 years this June, by the way). At my parents’ house there’s a plaque that reads:

    One of my adult heroes is my husband. I’ll never forget…one night (before we were engaged) I was expressing my concern about “What if the relationship doesn’t work out?” My (now) husband said: “You have to take a leap of faith.” I responded, “Will you catch me if I fall?” he said “Yes.” He’s been catching me ever since and he’s a wonderful father to our offspring.

    I don’t know if these follow your definition of hero, Jeff, but for me, they are some of the best men I know.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Bethany, I can’t think of a better example than what you provided.
      I feel strongly about some courageous things my Dad did (in particular during WW2).
      Thanks for stopping by today.

      Like

  10. Lisa Meredith says:

    I agree with Sug about the real heroes today. In a society where we’ve been conditioned to save ourselves at all cost, it’s humbling to hear about those amazing few who are able to see beyond the boundaries of self preservation (or their job description) to the greater good. Maybe that’s why the media has over simplified the qualifications for becoming a hero. Doing the right thing used to be the norm … now it’s extraordinary. (Isn’t it sad that Congress had to pass a law to try to protect the Good Samaritans of this day?) At least we know those precious individuals are still out there, trying to do what’s best for everyone. “Greater love hath no man, than to lay down his life for a friend.” Maybe it’s the definition of “friend” that needs commentary?

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      ‘Doing the right thing used to be the norm.’
      I think that captures perfectly what I was trying to say, Lisa.
      Thanks for coming by today.

      Like

  11. Deb Bailey says:

    Normally people think a hero is someone who acts extraordinary in an extraordinary circumstance. I believe a hero is someone who acts compassionately and instinctively to save someone from overwhelming situations. The act is so valued that it forever changes the perspective of the recipient, whom from that point on, is inspired to live life with the same alturistic spirit.
    My hero, Sandy, has MS. I can’t count the times she has taken in children, put people up in her home, assisted with projects others needed to have done and expected nothing in return. Many times Sandy was in a wheelchair as she went about accomplishing these acts. As one of the recipients of her heroic acts and later as I joined in with her I realized I wanted to be an everyday hero too.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Deb, your friend Sandy sounds like a warm, loving, wonderful individual who gives selfLESSly of her time and resources. She deserves all the praise you cite for her … and yet, I’m sure she’d be slightly embarrassed to hear such words. Most of the people I know who are like Sandy … usually deflect such praise. It’s part of their makeup to be humble.
      Thanks for commenting today.

      Like

  12. Leigh says:

    Jeff, you’ve said it all, really. You are so right about real heroes too. When sports/film/celebrities are called heroes, it’s an insult to the ordinary people who give everything, risk everything, endure everything for someone else. And so many of them will never have their names carved in stone or up in lights. Thank you for this post. It got me thinking about my dad.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      You’re certainly welcome, Leigh.
      I appreciate your kind words.
      I wish I could find that exact quote — and the author of it — about the 10,000 days … because it provides a different KIND of courage to think about.
      Thanks for coming by.

      Like

  13. jbrayweber says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with you Jeff. The word hero is often loosely used.

    Some day, I’d like to tell you about my grandfather. He may not have been a hero (though he did some heroic stuff), but he was a lucky SOB. He fought in WWII & Korea, survived 8 plane crashes, one helicopter crash, 2 air raids, and a Japanese takeover of an island air base in the Philippines. I looked up to him as if he was a larger than life hero.

    What a moving post. Thank you for sharing it.

    Jenn!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Jenn, your grandfather sounds like an American treasure. I’d love to hear more about his military service and his other stories. I’m sure he had lots of ’em.
      Thanks for visiting today.

      Like

  14. Your post gave me goose bumps. I agree that the term “hero” is over-used and has essentially been diluted. I also agree that there are many unsung heroes who never get acknowledged. The truest of those heroes, in my opinion, are those who perform their heroism with completely selfless motives. There are some narcissists out there who perform heroic acts but solely to make themselves feel good and to get the praise of others. But I digress – great post, Jeff. I look forward to next week.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Meredith.
      Yes, and so many people I know are among those ‘un-sung’ ones. They did what was needed and then went on … never expecting anything for it. In fact, that guy I mentioned who earned the Silver Star — he didn’t receive it until some 50 years LATER! And I’ll bet he never gave another thought to any recognition over those 50 yrs … until he was contacted by one of the two men he saved and told the recommendation paperwork was finally getting started.
      Glad you could visit today.

      Like

  15. What a well prepared post, Jeff. And entirely accurate. We need to ensure we recognize what a real hero is; and a multi-million dollar athletic career or the fact a person’s face is recognized world wide from their cinematic success doesn’t count.

    My biggest hero is my Dad. Probably because he accopmlished wonderful things he never talked about. Only after I was grown did I learn that while Fire Chief, he acquired Long Beach’s first much needed pumper truck. He also carries the reputation for denting Long Beach’s first pumper truck. lol He drove it back from Wisconsin in a snow storm, and hit black ice. But the community forgave him that skid, because he worked until something the Firehouse desperately needed to protect its citizens became a reality. None of the family thought to make a request, but at Dad’s funeral Long Beach’s newest truck was polished and standing with lights flashing at the entrance to the cemetery, honor guards saluting as his hearse rolled by. It was unexpected . . . and comforting. Dad would have cocked his head, puzzled over the fuss, and said “Thank you, boys. But you didn’t have to do this. I was hired to do a job, and do it to the best of my ability.”

    I’m from the ‘Nam era, and briefly met the man I included the link for. I knew he was special; I felt it about him. Didn’t know why until I recieved this on his death a few years ago:
    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2008/10/11/r-i-p-ed-freeman-an-american-hero/

    Eagerly awaiting your next post! I want your take on women heroes.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Wow, that story about Ed Freeman just gave me goosebumps. Thanks, Runere!
      And thanks for your kind words about my column.
      I would love to have met your Dad … just to shake his hand. When a firehouse crew does what those guys did at his funeral, it reminds us that the world IS still in balance … however briefly.
      Thanks for sharing that wonderful story.

      Like

  16. Great post as always, Jeff!

    My hero is my husband. Not only does he work 18-20 hour days to make ends meet for our family of eight, but he compensates for the long hours by taking the kids to work with him one or two at a time so he can get to know them individually as people, and not as “one of the kids.” (Teaches them a heck of a lot, too!) Where he finds that patience is beyond me, but he’s amazing and so is his selfless dedication to his family.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Sarah, your hubby sounds like a remarkable man. He’d be a perfect candidate for that 10,000 day award. Sure do wish I could find that quote again.
      Thanks for visiting today.

      Like

  17. I love the idea of heroes being ordinary/everyday people who do something above and beyond what is expected. If you help an old lady across the parking lot, to her you’re a hero. If you stop a bully in school, you’re a hero. It doesn’t have to be leaping tall buildings and rescuing kittens in a tree.

    As long as what you’re doing is for the other person, you’re a hero.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for your input, Joy.
      You’re right: it doesn’t have to involve “leaping tall buildings.”
      And, certainly: from the standpoint of the person being rescued (or assisted), the person seems like a knight in shining armor.
      Glad you stopped by.

      Like

  18. Louisa Bacio says:

    We had a platform full of heros in Los Angeles recently. A convicted and paroled sex offender grabbed a 14-year-old girl, and tried to abduct her. These “heros” didn’t stand by, but jumped on the guy, freed the girl and pummeled the man.

    The police arrested the offender.

    They made a difference.

    Thanks for the food for thought …

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Their actions were definitely courageous and heroic. And I would stand and applaud if I were at that ceremony.
      I can certainly imagine the perspective fo that young girl and her family … wow.
      Thanks for relating this, Louisa.

      Like

  19. Heather Thurmeier says:

    I think in some cases in real life, the term hero is over used. I’m not a sports fan *don’t throw sticks at me!* so I find it a little ridiculous that someone who catches a winning touchdown is a hero. Really? Hero? Awesome athlete who should be praised for his talent, absolutely! Hero, not so much.

    To me, a hero doesn’t have to be someone who sacrifices their life for someone else’s, although those who do are definitely heros in everyone’s eyes. I think a hero is also someone who is selfless. Someone who puts someone else’s needs before their own. Too often in todays world I find people are just out for themselves. But a real hero is the person who looks out for others and who doesn’t gain from helping them. I think we could all use a few more heros in the world.

    Like

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