Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

Do You Have a Hero?

Do you have heroes you look up to? What about now that you’re a little older, a little more jaded and cynical too, than when you were a child so easily impressed? Are there people past or present who you look to for motivation, instruction and encouragement?

Heroes provide us with embodied examples of the virtues we care about. They play a powerful role in our lives to inspire us to climb higher, reach further and live better lives as we see them face extreme circumstances with dignity, courage and decency.

Childhood Heroes

Throughout my life, I’ve had heroes I looked to and emulated, copying what they did to become more like they were.

My heroes have closely reflected the things I valued over time.

When I was young, my heroes were mostly athletes – baseball Hall of Famers like Willy Maze, Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax. I copied their swings, pitching style, the bucket catch, the way they spat on the ground or tapped their cleats with the bat. I watched what they did and tried to mimic the way they did it.

As I entered my teens and my life aspirations changed, my heroes reflected those changes as well. Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn and other guitar legends became my idols.  I tried to play the guitar like they did, learning licks they played. Did you have childhood heroes?

Swapping Heroes

But by my late teens, I noticed the nature of my heroes started to change substantially. Less and less were they people I admired for what they could DO and more and more they were people I admired for who they WERE. My heroes changed from people who displayed certain skills and abilities to those who displayed certain virtues.

They exemplified character traits I honored and admired and wanted to develop in myself. So Mahatma Gandhi replaced Sandy Koufax. Nelson Mandela replaced Stevie Ray Vaughn.

My heroes became moral heroes. What motivated me was their courage and compassion. I began to be inspired by their goodness. Today, my heroes make me want to be a better man. They inspire me to reach higher, work harder and live better.

They are people like Jesus, Buddha, George Washington, John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Oskar Schindler. Instead of an impressive strike-out record or batting average and instead of wild licks on the guitar at rock concerts, I am most impressed with goodness, with courage and kindness, love and compassion and honesty in the face of difficult challenges to remain good, compassionate and honest.

Who are you heroes today? Have they changed since childhood?

But thinking about my list of heroes recently, I realized all such people are now but names nestled in the dust of history.

Where have all the heroes gone?

It’s difficult to recognize the Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln in politics today. And the news has been filled with story after story of leaders of causes caught padding their bank accounts with our donations.

Are there any heroes left? Surely those who strap explosives to their bodies or hijack planes to blow up women and children are no self-sacrificing heroes. Even if their cause had been just, their method would forever ban them from the ranks of the heroic. So where are they?

I think the answer is that there is a new breed of hero amongst us today. They’re hiding in plain view, hidden by their familiarity.

Where are they hiding, then? Where can we find them? I think I have the answer. It is up to us to summon them from their hiding places. The world is in need of them. All of them.

Where are they hiding? They are hiding in you and me. Today’s heroes are revealed by circumstance and happenstance, by being in the place and time that calls for heroic displays of courage, honor, decency, kindness, compassion and persistence.

9/11 and the Resurrection of the Hero

This 10th Anniversary of 9-11 reminds me of this fact. It also encourages me to know that heroism hasn’t died. It beats in the hearts of decent people around the world. The horrific circumstances that called on regular men and women to rise to the occasion, to step up and live heroic lives of courage and compassion, galvanized a people, focused our attention on a cause and made heroes of many people who never saw themselves as hero material before.

Firefighters who sacrificed their lives to rescue others. Passengers on a passenger jet unwilling to allow their plane to be used as a missile. Civilians running into buildings, pulling people they never met from the jaws of death at great peril to themselves. And family members of loved ones who perished in that tragic moment who have valiantly picked up the pieces of their lives and moved forward. A nation that stood up. A world that said no. Donations that mounted. Dedicated service of volunteers from everywhere that poured in just to lend a hand.

There are the heroes.

We’ve seen the images and know some of the names. Most of them are unknown. Most of them are like you and me.

One Example Among Many

William Rodriguez was a maintenance worker for the World Trade Center and had been for 19 years until that dreadful day 10 years ago. When the towers were hit, people started to make their way out. William Rodriguez helped 15 people to safety.

Then he returned. He had the only known key to rooms the rescue workers would need access to. So he led the firefighters back up the stairwell of the burning, convulsing tower. In all, he reentered the North Tower 4 times, saving untold hundreds as he unlocked door after door. It’s believed that he was the last person to exit the North Tower before its collapse.

After being treated for his injuries, Mr. Rodriguez continued his heroic service, alongside countless other heroes that day, helping in the rescue efforts. He was back again at Ground Zero the next morning, his heart in his hands as he used them to serve those who suffered a worse fate than he did. A regular guy doing extraordinary things. He is you and me at our finest moments.

The Hero in the Mirror

On this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, may we not only look to our old heroes (Mohandas Gandhi) and not only to our new heroes born that day (William Rodriguez) for some sense of how we can successfully navigate the waters of life and rise to the occasions life demands of us.

But may we also rise to the heroic ourselves and be to others what so many of them have been to us, even if in less dramatic ways. The world is in dire need of heroes. So rise and be one.

Let’s Interact!

  • Do you have heroes today?
  • Who are they?
  • How have they been a source of inspiration to you?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. It would mean a lot to me.

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Thank you for reading.

Now go and become a hero to your family, to your neighbors, neighborhood and community. In living a life of kindness and courage, you are a hero to me. And I thank you for that on this anniversary of a horrific event when the worst in some drove them to a horrible deed that ignited the best in countless other hearts and souls of heroic proportion.

God bless.