Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Makes a Hero?

According to a recent study publicized last week by USA Today, 20% of Americans have acted heroically. "The study, supported by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, asked participants "Have you ever done something that other people — not necessarily you yourself — considered a heroic act or deed?" Those who answered "yes" selected from a list the actions most similar to their own: helping another person in a dangerous emergency; "blowing the whistle" on an injustice with awareness of the personal risk or threat to yourself; sacrifice on behalf of a non-relative or stranger, such as an organ donation; defying unjust authority; or other. Among the 20% who met the survey definition, 55% had helped someone during an emergency, 8% confronted an injustice, 14% had defied unjust authority and 5% had sacrificed for a stranger.

So, according to this survey, 1 out of every 5 Americans considers something they have done heroic.

That's a load of crock. To begin with, exactly what did these respondents do. For instance, 14% said they had defied unjust authority. What authority did they defy and what made that authority unjust? I've had troublesome high school students who would say I was being unjust in class and they defied me. Does that make their defiance heroic? What defines a dangerous emergency? Are you talking about burning buildings and people drowning during rough weather at sea or is it more like stopping to help a person with a flat tire on the Interstate on a cold day? What "injustices" were confronted? Did they lose their job because they told their boss the racial joke they made was offensive or did they just tell a friend they didn't like a joke they told and the friend got mad at them for a few days?

You're not a hero just because you do the right thing. The term "hero" is used too often in our society. It's commonly bantered about and has lost a lot of the chutzpah of the meaning. A hero is someone who consistently sacrifices over an extended period of time, often at great risk to themselves (meaning they could lose everything they own and their life is in danger). 20% of Americans haven't acted heroically. They've just done the right thing. I think the real percentage of people who have been heroic is closer to 2%.

No comments: