"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." Gen. George S Patton
Somewhere along the line it seems as if it requires less to this business of being a "hero" than it once did.
A popular comedian loses a son to a random act of violence. The son is lamented as "my hero." By all accounts the boy was a good, talented young man; but, a hero?
Some 2,000 people sit at their desks one sunny Tuesday morning. They die in seconds when an airplane controlled by very bad people flies into their building. Someone calls these murdered office workers "heroes." Victims certainly, but heroes?
A pilot doing what his life prepared him to do, doing what the job pays him to do, lands in the Hudson River. Is he a hero because everyone lived? He stood at his post, is he not a hero if all aboard perish? Do results dictate such determinations?
It is doubtful whether as a society we will come to any consensus as to who is, or what constitutes a "hero." The subject is too subjective. Certain things, however, stand out.
Actually being fearless does not seem to be the criteria. As General Patton is also quoted as saying, "If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened."
Certainly knowing what to do might help. One unidentified passenger on that Hudson River landing was interviewed immediately afterward. He obviously had some military background (his speech betrayed him). He talked about making sure everyone he saw was off the plane before debarking himself, "good to go." He knew what to do and did it.
Having the physical ability might be important criteria. For me to dive into a stream to save you would not be particularly heroic. My ability to swim would leave you floundering, and leave me someone who would have been heroic had I thrown a rope.
It'd be a bonus if our hero candidate had true humility. If I think myself a hero, am I one?
Most of all a hero must be defined as someone who rides toward the sound of danger when ability, instinct and training tell them to do so; and there is no obvious compulsion so to do beyond duty to God and man.
Rare and far between are opportunities to stand and fight on a burning tank as Congressional Medal of Honor awardee Audie Murphy once did. On the other hand, opportunities to rush toward the sound of danger, to do or die as duty demands, come often enough these days to generate more than enough home town heroes in the fashion of Cpl. Gregory Scott Stultz.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.