Like most people, I have a morning routine. As a rule, I get up, have some coffee, eat a little breakfast, watch Morning Joe and, finally, check my social media connections (I’m so freakin’ trendy). This morning, when I opened Facebook, I was invited to join a cause, which asked me to Help Shut Down “SOLDIERS ARE NOT HEROES” page. The friend who sent it to me added this little tidbit, “Please help to remove this trash from FB and send them our message we will not put up with downing our heroes”. His name is Brantley, and one thing about the boy, you always know where he stands. But, the invitation and the comment (and the fact that it’s Memorial Day) got me thinking: what is a hero?
This isn’t the first time I’ve asked this question. I encounter the “Firefighters are heroes” meme occasionally and, being a firefighter, it always makes me uncomfortable. I don’t see myself as a hero, but as an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job. Granted, after 22 years on the job, my perception of ordinary may be a little different from the average joe (or joan), so I may not be the best person to talk about this. But, I suspect that if you were to ask any random soldier if they consider themselves a hero, they’d feel the same. So, if the people society considers heroes don’t think they’re heroes, who is a hero? Guess what, gang? It’s definition time again! Dictionary.com defines hero as “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal”. Merriam-Webster says a hero is “an illustrious warrior“, “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities” or “a one who shows great courage“. According to TheFreeDictionary, a hero is “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life“. So, in other words, a hero is someone who above and beyond the stuff of normal people. In that light, you can begin to understand why soldiers, firefighters, police officers, etc don’t see themselves as heroes. What appears to the civilian as “heroic” is their “normal” stuff. Taking a hero’s word for whether they’re a hero or not doesn’t really work.
As for the utterly douchy page “SOLDIERS ARE NOT HEROES”, I would say this: every person serving in uniform is not, in all probability, a hero in the classic sense. Not everyone has the opportunity to throw themselves on a grenade to save the buddies or to single-handedly charge and knock out an enemy position, thus saving countless lives. The thing is, though, heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be men like Pat Tillman and Ted Williams who walked away from to lucrative sports careers to serve their country, combat engineers who spend their days building schools and drilling wells to better the lives of people they’ve never met or a little old lady who takes a stand and decides she’s not sitting in the back of the damn bus anymore.
When I started writing this, my intent was to show that calling everyone a hero all the time diluted what heroism actually means. As I wrote, I began to realize that wasn’t necessarily true and that, just as there are opportunities to be an ass everyday, there are opportunities to be a hero. The trick is to open your eyes and see them. Then, of course, you need to act on them…, which is a helluva of lot harder.