When you hear the word hero, what comes to mind? According to Webster’s Dictionary, a hero is, “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”, but this is different from how Webster’s first edition defined the word in 1828. Back in those days, a hero was, “a man of distinguished valor, intrepidity, or enterprise in danger.” A secondary definition in that edition was, “In pagan mythology, an illustrious person, mortal indeed, but supposed by the populace to partake of immortality, and after his death to be placed among the gods.” So, over some 189 years, depending on how you define it, our heroes have gone from men who enterprise in danger and pagans, to good people who do outstanding things.
This is curious to me. By definition, our ancestors’ heroes used to be people who risked their lives either in war, law enforcement, exploration, or other dangerous activities. Now, American media outlets often refer to sports figures, movie stars, or even dogs as heroes. This got me wondering whether the modern definition of the word has more to do with a lack of exposure to real heroes, or whether people are just more open minded about what defines heroic behavior? Perhaps more importantly, from an Averagist’s perspective, do people in Middle America have a different concept of what makes a hero than others?
To find out I used a complex research methodology that’s been perfected over 2000 years; we asked people what they think. Our group consisted of four people, Steve from Tennessee, JD from Georgia, Keefe who was born and raised in San Francisco but who now lives in West Virginia, and Kelly who resides just outside San Diego, California. Two of the individuals self-identified as liberal, one conservative, and one libertarian.
Just like in episode one of the American Averagist, my hope, when starting this was that, regardless of where people live and the political values they hold, when it comes to core beliefs, most Americans share the same views on fundamental issues. I discovered some interesting differences of opinion.
When I started this episode, I have to admit that I thought that there would be dramatically different views on who is a hero in different parts of the country. I also thought that the way liberals define heroes would be different from the way conservatives do. For the most part I was wrong. Heroes act selflessly. They don’t seek recognition for their actions, and many don’t consider themselves to be anything special.
Professional athletes do not, and cannot, achieve hero status playing a game. Also, simply doing something uncommon, whether it’s pressing a computer key for nine hours, or even serving honorably in the military, doesn’t qualify you for hero status. You have to really risk something to earn the title. From a personal perspective, I served in the military for eight years in the 1990s, and I never heard a shot fired in anger. I would never consider myself a hero for simply putting on the uniform.
Heroism without the risk of loss is just a word that the media to sell their stories. America needs its heroes. Luckily, I think most of us agree on who those people are.
This program is brought to you by StandWatch.org, a nonprofit dedicated to discovering problems and solutions for veterans and people Middle America. Learn more at www.standwatch.org.
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The music featured in today’s program includes songs from Charlie Parr and Valerie June. If you want to hear more, search for American Averagist Soundtrack on Spotify for these and other great artists.
In the next episode, we’ll be asking Americans what they think of when they hear the word evil. Be sure to listen.