Heroes populate the highest rung of the ladder of every religion, every profession, every country, every race, every generation, and every home. A great crowd of heroes lives on in each of our minds. We look up to these people. We admire them. We want to be like them.
What is the actual measure of a hero? Here are three marks of a hero.
A hero has a purpose .
A hero has that intense look of determination. That presence of mind to hang tough when others would rather hang out. That fortitude to marshal their powers and energy on the task ahead.
Consider: General Douglas MacArthur knee-deep in tropical waters saying, “I will return.” Jonas Salk was developing the polio vaccine. Glen Cunningham was breaking the four-minute mile.
By the way, what’s your business’ purpose? What is your overarching goal? For what are you willing to give your life?
When we die, people will gather around our grave to recall our lives. They will talk about us. They will summarize our lives—that which was important to us—our purpose. What will they say?
A hero sacrifices for a goal.
It’s hard to imagine a truly greedy hero. Our heroes always put their goal ahead of their gain. The best of them put other people ahead of their interests.
William Wallace leading fellow Scots into battle. Joan of Arc standing on a burning pile of wood. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I have a dream” speech.
Often, to be a hero appears glorious. To pour oneself out for others . . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom, to go out in a blaze of glory.
We think sacrificing for a goal is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—“Here’s my life. I’m giving it all.” But the reality for most of us is that we are sent to the bank to cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to our children’s troubles instead of saying, “Get lost.” Coach our son’s soccer team. Go to a committee meeting. Give up a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.
Usually being a hero isn’t all that glorious. It is done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live as a heroic dad or mom little by little over the long haul.
But that is the kind of sacrifice that makes for real heroes.
A hero challenges others to build on their accomplishments.
The heroics of the moment always have a lasting impact. Heroes have a future focus. Whether it is a man rescuing a child from a burning building, or a mother staying up late to help her son with math, or a Dad teaching his son the game of baseball.
Bernard Malamud said, “Without heroes, we are all plain people and don’t know how far we can go.” Heroes have a way of challenging us to build on what they have started.
The movie Schindler’s List is about Oscar Schindler working endlessly, spending his fortune, to save imprisoned Jews from the death camps in World War II. The film ends with the Jews he saved and the sons and daughters of those who have died laying rocks on his grave. This simple gesture in the Jewish tradition is a way of saying, “I will build on the foundation you have laid.” Your life will not have been lived in vain.
That’s what dads ask of their sons and daughters. It’s what the rescuer says to the rescued. It’s what all heroes ask from their sacrifice and effort.
Bette Midler’s character sang to her best friend, in the 1987 hit Beaches, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero? You’re everything I would like to be.” Many of us don’t have the opportunity to do magnificent things of heroic status. But even if we can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound or single-handedly rescue a third-world nation from starvation, we can exhibit heroic character in everyday life; we can be heroes in the way we live.
Have you ever considered that you might be someone’s hero? Someone is watching you.
What characteristics would you add to the list?
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