Don’t cheapen heroism

I’m getting tired of people misusing the word “hero”. One has to do more than merely exist and be generally admirable to be a hero, and to call people heroic who have done nothing particular but die prematurely diminishes the word for people who have actually earned it. Heroism implies having gone above and beyond what was required in one or more acts of bravery that may endanger the hero, resulting in the lives of others being saved and/or significantly changed for the better in concrete ways. Heroism is NOT simply living a good life, being a pleasant person, or living through one’s own struggles without complaining.

For whatever reason, however, some people are not satisfied to simply extol the virtues of the person they admire in a truthful manner, but they also feel the need to tack on how “heroic” such people are or were. This phenomenon seems to happen more often once the admired person is deceased, when saying anything more moderate can feel insufficient to the level of grief felt at the death – especially if the demise was untimely.

It does a disservice to the true memory of such persons, however, not to simply say something more like, “This person is/was valuable and made a contribution to society,” instead of falsely equating such a life with heroism. It does not make it less tragic that someone died just because that person wasn’t actually a hero, nor does it lessen the esteemed living to acknowledge them in more honorable ways. Additionally, for all those who have put their lives, futures, reputations, families, security, etc. on the line in TRUE acts of heroism, it devalues the word to call anyone we admire in some way a “hero”.

People who are good at sports are not heroes just because they play well. Someone whose identity makes them stand out in socially difficult ways is not a hero just by quietly living as themselves. If someone saves a grandmother from getting hit by a bus, that person is a hero, whether or not s/he is any good at sports, lives an authentic life in the face of adversity, is a generally admirable person, or is endearing to others.

Let’s not cheapen the word “hero” by using it to mean anyone we like. Words become meaningless when they are overused to mean too many different things. Let’s value our real heroes by reserving the word for them.

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