My siblings and I poke fun of our eldest brother because he ends just about every idle conversation with “You’re my hero.” It’s become rather humorous because he bandies it around to all of us despite the fact that none of us have done a thing to earn such a lofty title.
The humor of it all has ebbed of late because, quite frankly, the word “hero” and its use to describe people have been extremely diluted by the media. For whatever reason, the news and society on a whole have taken a page out my brother’s book and decided to call celebrities, politicians, sports stars – just about anyone known in the news today – heroes.
A celebrity is not the first person I think of when I hear that word. I mean is it extremely courageous to be a good actor? I guess it’s brave to be a boxer or drive a stock car nearly 200 miles per hour around a track, but I wouldn’t put it in the same class as, say, a surgeon who heads to the front lines to help wounded soldiers.
Just the other day, while covering the Olympics, an NBC Today Show anchor called snowboarder Shaun White a hero. Just because this young sensation can do back flips and 360s that normal folks only dream about, he garners the same title as the passengers onboard United Airlines Flight 93?
The overuse had me so annoyed and perplexed, I went online to dictionary.com to look up the definition to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Basically, it states: “Anyone of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”
OK – so I pretty much had the definition correctly. I didn’t have a pre-disposed meaning through all those childhood comic books I read of Superman, Spiderman, and Batman rescuing people in trouble and being called “Their Hero” as they gallantly exited to save the next damsel in distress.
Of course each case and person has to be judged on their own merit or lack there of, but to make a generalization that most would agree with – we can say most armed forces, policemen, fire fighters, lifeguards, even volunteers are heroes. Anyone who basically overcomes his or her own fear to help others is heroic in one way or another in my book.
Yet, it appears most folks like my brother’s book more than mine as I can’t go a day without that label befalling someone who simply is doing his or her job well.
Maybe, on second thought, I am missing something here. Looking again at the definition, it does state someone of “distinguished courage or ability.” Ability! Maybe that one word all by itself neatly tucked into the rest of the valor terminology, validates its use by the media to describe Shaun White, Kobe Bryant, Clint Eastwood, Steve Jobs, etc. After all, they have distinguished abilities over the rest in their respective fields, right?
While most likely technically accurate, it still does not sit well with me. I can not, with a good conscience, stand by as the media applies that noble noun to a pilot who safely lands an airline on the Hudson River then uses it later in the day to describe an athlete who simply strikes out 10 batters in a game or to an actor who takes home an Oscar at the Academy Awards.
There is no higher form of flattery and accomplishment than being called a “hero.” I believe that word is the loftiest of all compliments we can bestow upon another human being in our lifetime and is one that should not be bandied around so loosely.
Either we need to amend its definition to make sure it is used correctly or we need to come up with another loftier word to describe the martyrs out there that truly have earned that rank.
Until that day happens, I guess it looks like my brother’s book will continue to be a best seller.