The Nature of a Hero

After reading a commentary in USA Today written by Joshua Woods on his interpretation of what makes a hero, I decided to write a Letter to the Editor with my response. As you know I have a lot of stories that profile heroes and heroines, and I am always interested and thinking about what makes one heroic. Here is my response to Mr. Woods’ commentary as it was printed in USA Today on Thursday, October 27, 2005.

Joshua Woods’ commentary on the lack of heroes in today’s society reflects a fundamental shift in our understanding of what constitutes heroism. It is especially poignant because it ws published Monday, the day that Rosa Parks passed away. Indeed, I belive many people have a skewed idea of heroes and heroines (“Where Have All the Heroes Gone?” The Forum, Monday, October 24, 2005).

They are not perfect, and they are not necessarily famous.

By definition, a hero is not someone who reaches a goal easily. Instead, a hero is someone who decides to pursue a worthwhile goal, knowing that the effort will be difficult or even dangerous. Some get only part way to the goal. Human progress is built upon a step-by-step progression, as one person builds on the work of others until that goal is reached.

Rosa Parks is such a hero. She did not change the laws in the USA, but she began the process one day on a bus ride home. Confronted by the demand to give up her seat-something she knew was wrong—she firmly said, “no.” That one syllable, spoken quietly, was more powerful than the angry shouts of today’s talk show hosts, more long-lasting than damage done by bombs and bullets, more inspiring than demagogues’ easy answers.

Rosa Parks was one of us. The great heroes often are average people confronted, as we all are, with moral dilemmas. Mrs. Parks’ crisis had great ramifications, and she changed the world by starting the ball rolling. Others kept it going.

A “flawless” hero, if such a one existed, wouldn’t help us. Only an “average” person who makes the most of his or her chance to improve the world can serve as a model. True heroes are among us, famous or obscure, if we’ll only seek them and have the sense to learn from them.

Perhaps Mr. Woods might reconsider his definition of “hero”; then he can better help his nephew to understand.

Jim Weiss
Jim Weiss
Charlottesville, VA.