Since the advent of the dime novel and the motion picture, we have had no shortage of superhuman characters. The protagonist is always tougher than the toughest, braver than the bravest, or prettier than prettiest. None can match them in skill or in cunning. However, these have nearly all been idols- people we worship for their talent. In contrast, heroes are authentically human, and they are leaders, not entertainers.
True heroes are real people. They are not flawlessly skilled or impeccably smart. Rather, they are (mostly!) normal people who have the same weaknesses as the rest of humanity. They have blind spots and untenable prejudices, just like the rest of us. But what makes them heroes is the fact that their dedication allowed them to rise above their contemporaries. They are ordinary people who responded to extraordinary circumstances.
True heroes lead, not entertain. Idols are on a stage where they dazzle you with their prowess, and call for praise or even worship. But heroes are at the front of the army, and their deeds command respect and challenge us to copy them. They inspire us to scale higher mountains and encourage us to overcome our weaknesses.
Every hero has some flaw. Sam Houston struggled with drink. Theodore Roosevelt lacked some humility. Even Robert E. Lee, a nearly perfect gentleman, sometimes did not contradict people out of respect for their feelings when he probably should have. But when we adopt a hero, we should not adopt the flaw. We should strive to emulate the qualities that made them a hero, and not their personal failings. Instead of pretending our heroes are perfect, we should acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses, learn from them, and emulate the good.
Read the biographies of great men and women. Learn more about your heroes and find new ones. Real people who actually faced reality successfully make the best heroes. The finest biographies are the ones which study the life and times of the person, because then you learn about the person and what made them stand out in their culture. However, some novels also feature heroes, although most, because of the entertainment culture of fiction, feature idols. Good novels with fictional heroes include The Crown and Covenant Trilogy (for early teens), The Spanish Brothers, and R. M. Ballantyne’s many novels like The Pirate City, The Dog Crusoe, The Coral Island, Fighting the Flames, and the Young Fur Traders.
And heroes do not have to be in books or do something that makes the headlines. We all know firemen, paramedics, and law enforcement officers. They’re not on a stage asking for glory; rather, they deal with car accidents and confront criminals so we don’t have to. There are many other real-life heroes beside first responders. I know a timber-framer who saved a man’s life by his quick response to a jobsite accident. And I’m sure you know other people who have stepped into the gap when duty called.
When I write fiction, I try to create heroes who can challenge people to reach their God-given potential. God didn’t give us talents and opportunities so we could bury them in the sand. He expects us to use them for His glory and develop them to our utmost. To master anything, the average amount of dedicated practice and study is estimated to be about 10,000 hours or five years. Most successful people aren’t Einsteins- they just had the persistence to develop their skillset far beyond the average person.
Heroes aren’t superhuman individuals- they’re dedicated people who stepped into the gap when no one else could. Some are famous and some are not, but they should all inspire us to get up and do something!
If you know a hero, please tell me about them in the comments section!