Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"From zero to hero..."

No matter which civilization, time period, or class of people you look to, you will find in existence a legend or story of a hero. Human beings have always been fascinated by the extraordinary, exceptional human being. The Greek poet Pindar, defined a hero as the offspring of a mortal and a god, or those who had done a great service to mankind. So in general every culture celebrates those who achieve or overcome the extraordinary.

A hero is not a hero without overcoming some major conflict or enemy. Conflict is a necessary element of fictional literature, but is also a part of everyday life. No human life exists without conflict, in whatever form it might take, either through a flat tire on the way to work, or a homeless man lacking food to eat, the struggle to overcome these obstacles results in what we call conflict. Those heroes we celebrate, challenge some form of nature (a beast, monster, wild animals, weather), another human being (in war or villain in everyday life), or they overcome or conquer something within themselves.

I was thinking about what kind of qualities make up a hero?

Bravery is one. Heroes are known to go where normal men are afraid to, and they seem to, at least in the stories, challenge death often.

Strength is another. One stereotypical image that comes to mind when thinking of a hero, is the monster slayer, with unhuman like strength such as Beowulf or Hercules. Strength however, does not always come in physical form, but very often through inner strength, or a strong belief that what they are fighting for is for a good or better cause.

Self-Discipline. There are those heroes that exemplify the search or journey to find something; the quest which usually allows them to find or defeat something in themselves first before they can battle outside forces. Gilgamesh, would fit into this category along with Buddha who conquered his innermost desires and urges that led him away from the path of enlightenment.

These heroes, although facing different external forces, all share one more internal characteristic as well. Besides strength and courage, another major qualification in heroes seems to be the principle of self-sacrifice. Many heroes seem to go beyond the call of duty to do things for others; saving villages, saving strangers, dying for the sake of humanity or for their people, putting themselves in situations that average men would avoid at all costs.

Heroes represent and give hope.

However, no matter how grand heroes may be, I think people don’t solely look to heroes for their perfection, but also for their weaknesses. Perhaps this may be why people are obsessed with celebrity gossip or just gossip in general, we want to know about the flaws of the people that are portrayed as perfect. We want to be reminded of the "human" qualities within. For superman, it was kryptonite and for Achilles, it was his heel. Even Jesus, who some believe is God, was tempted by the devil, according to the Bible. In very god-like characters, like the ones previously mentioned, a weakness must be invented or else no drama or story can exist, and truth be told, it would be just plain boring. Heroes, even though they almost always overcome their challenges, do not necessarily overcome them easily. And we want it that way.

We hold a soft spot in our hearts for those who overcome the odds, in whatever shape and form they may come in, from legends to everyday heroes who do even a little something beyond the call of duty. Every person in every society ever lived has picked up on the fact that there is evil in this world. The hero is the person who chooses to fight against that. No matter how minutely existing it may be, people believe in the ideal of the hero. They always have and they always will. We look for an example through these heroes and we try to see some small part of ourselves through them.

No matter if your hero is alive or dead, famous or not, man or woman, real or made up—we want to be like Superman, Batman, Hercules, Achilles, Jason, Gilgamesh, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, the saints, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. because we are all looking for something better to become. Even if you don't always believe that good always wins; heroes embody hope, and that is something everyone wants to believe in.

And as long as we want hope in our lives, we will always want heroes.

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