Ever wanted to save the city you love?
Or be part of a legendary group of heroes who protect (or avenge) the world?
Chances are, you’re not alone.
What Makes a Hero?
In today’s entertainment culture saturated with Marvel superheroes, teenage girls saving their worlds, and powerful characters defeating equally powerful adversaries, it’s easy to develop a skewed concept of what a hero is.
What pictures come to mind?
- Superman hovering in the air, his cape billowing behind him?
- Katniss as she refuses to admit defeat and struggles against the Capital with every ounce of strength remaining?
- Barry Allen zipping through Central City, putting the baddies away and using his spectacular speed to save people?
Heroes, yes, but they only reveal one side of the coin. What do we find when we flip the coin over?
The Ordinary Hero
This is the unassuming, not-hero-material hero. Look at Sam Gamgee. An ordinary hobbit whose claims to fame were gardening and serving Master Frodo. In fantasy, you have plenty of examples of the farmboy whose naivety and inexperience outweigh any impressive heroic qualities.
Last time I checked, I’m not an Asgardian god who wields a magical hammer. Pretty sure you’re not, either. (If you are, send me an email. I’d love to get your autograph.) We identify with the lowly characters because they remind us of ourselves.
The more we can relate to them, the more real they become and the more we care about them. Which probably explains the phenomenon of farm boys becoming heroes (but that’s a topic for another time).
Wok Dinners and Heroes
This random quote popped into my head one day and I wrote it down:
One hot summer night, I decided to be a hero. I started by cutting vegetables for a wok dinner.
That seed of a story idea hasn’t gone anywhere to this point, but it illustrates an important point easily lost amid the noise of modern entertainment.
Heroism isn’t a lofty goal attainable only by a select few—the summit of a mountain we could never hope to climb.
You don’t need a cape, a brilliant mind, or staggering powers to be a hero. Neither do you need a vicious foe, an impossible quest, or thousands of lives at stake.
What does this have to do with wok dinners? The reason I included it is that the character saw heroism in the simple task of making dinner. Nothing world-shaking or newsworthy.
That’s the point. We don’t consider ourselves heroes for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the assumption we’re not in any situations where we could be heroic. There’s no dragon threatening to burn down our town, no grand quest overthrow the evil lord.
Chances to be heroic might come, but they’re the exception, not the rule.
Unless you shift your perspective.
Think Small, Not Big
Sam didn’t do anything extraordinary—except for sticking by a friend’s side through a trial. His loyalty and love shine out through his actions. His heroism stems from the hundreds of inconsequential things he did for Frodo.
In a similar fashion, maybe we can comfort a hurting friend or support someone through a rough patch in life.
You can’t go around saving lives like Captain America? No worries. People surround us every day who could use a boost or a friendly ear to hear their troubles.
I’m not saying all this to be legalistic and point out all the ways you’re failing at life.
- “Shame on me, I didn’t take time to notice this problem.”
- “I could have been a better sibling.”
- “Why did I let my temper ruin that situation?”
Not at all. What I am saying is this: oftentimes, being a hero isn’t about the big things.
Yes You, a Hero
What makes a hero isn’t power, prestige, a worthy adversary, a world to save. It’s the willingness to sacrifice for someone else, to put the needs of others before your own. Maybe it involves a journey akin to the quest to Mount Doom.
Or maybe it’s as simple as seeing every part of life as an opportunity.
Look around. There are plenty of ways to be a hero. You never know when an act of kindness, encouraging email, or small gesture of assistance—like making dinner—will have a huge impact, a heroic impact, on those around you.