The other day I heard Pop talkin’ about heroes – what they are and, just as importantly, what they ain’t. He was reading a story in the local paper (which I retrieve, by the way) about a Marine that had lost a leg to an IED in Afghanistan. This young fella was being hailed as a hero because of his misfortune. Pop was sorta thinkin’ out loud and was very decisive regardin’ how he feels about the use of the “hero” label.
In the foreword of Pop’s book Mighty Hands, his pastor refers to him as a hero and Pop made it real clear that it’s a term he’s uncomfortable with. He said it’s understandable that folks confer that title on individuals they want to hold up in high esteem and that, itself, is both noble and well intentioned. The problem (as Pop sees it) is that the label is used far too liberally which dilutes the meaning for those who truly deserve it.
Take, for example, that young Marine who lost his leg. He certainly deserves praise and accolade for his sacrifice. He didn’t lose that leg doing something heroic, though. He, like many others, just suffered the misfortune of being in the right place at the wrong time.
And how about the hero label being used universally for “first responders” – cops, firefighters, etc.? No doubt that occasionally one does something heroic and is justifiably entitled to be referred to as a hero. But to label someone as a hero because of their occupation is just flat wrong and a grave disservice to those who have truly displayed courage or valor in an extraordinary way. To say that someone is a hero because “they put their life on the line every day” is, as Pop puts it, a crock of hooey.
Pop was readin’ out loud from his book the story of Lance Corporal Grabel who was killed in Viet Nam trying to save the lives of his buddies. Pop choked up (and said he does every time he reads it) as he described General Krulak’s story about Grabel. That young Marine, he said, was a hero.
To be fair to those who toss the label around liberally, in addition to references to courage, the dictionary does define a hero as “one admired for achievements (such as an athlete) or fine qualities”. But just because the dictionary defines it that way doesn’t make it right. The dictionary continues to grow with words and definitions contributed and modified by culture changes. Those changes are all too often the result of compromise or an inability or unwillingness to follow the previously accepted definition.
It’s important, too, to consider the definition of a hero outside the framework of war. Pop was pretty clear that anyone, anywhere can be a hero.
The Olympians in London were some downright noble folks who worked a whole lot harder than most are willing to in order to achieve their goals of athletic glory. But, they ain’t heroes. Timmy Tebow is a fine Christian young man who is a superb role model but he ain’t a hero either.
Point is, we usually know ’em when we see ’em and there’s never a doubt by anyone when you see the real deal. Pop says we ought to think twice before we pull that rare title out to convey on somebody. Thinkin’ twice is usually great advice.