Sunday, 20 July 2014

What is a "hero"?: Lot's of questions, no actual answers

So, I walked the 10k Race For Life today for (if you don't know) Cancer Research UK.

My participation in the event evidently shows I am pro-fundraising events of this nature; mass participation makes sense if you want large numbers of people giving a relatively small (or not so small in some cases) amount of money adding up to one large sum. In an ideal world we'd all give as much as we could afford without prompt but as this doesn't work, fundraising events are the way to go.
I am aware of  how cancer (and other serious illnesses) affect both the patient and those who love them; obviously I don't want people suffering, but is everyone who raises money for research into cancer cures really a "hero"?

Dicitionary.Com defines "hero" as: "1.a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child."

Firstly, I'm not sure I really have my own definition for what a "hero" (or "heroine" if you want to go down that path) is (in a non-lead character sense). Whilst I don't disagree with the dictionary definition I'd certainly find it hard to apply to real life situations (as you will see) and I wouldn't use the word as freely as I have seen it used today. Is someone walking 10k and getting sponsored £30 comparable to the acts of other people defined as "heroes"? Is it comparable to someone fighting for their country or rescuing people from dangerous situations or a parent going hungry so their child/ren can eat? Most people would say no. These are extreme examples, yes, but my point is should the word "hero" be solely reserved for things of an extreme nature?

Does the frequent use of the word in a situation such as this diminish its value in the same way I feel the overuse of the words "tragic"/"tragedy" and "disaster" (amongst others) by the media diminish their value when genuinely horrible news is covered (war, mass loss of life, etc.)?

Is it just that I feel the word is overused because I would feel it misplaced if directed towards me? Sure, I feel pretty good knowing I'm helping a good cause and I hope the money I raised will be put to good use (I'm sure it will be) but on the scale of noble things achieved and achievable by human beings it hardly ranks highly. I am all for small and everyday acts of kindness and generosity (I wish I was better at it) but I feel the people that do these things aren't (primarily) doing them for the recognition, they're doing it for the cause - they don't necessarily want to be constantly called "heroes". Is there a better word or phrase we can use to show our gratitude to them without using the word "hero"?

Or is being a "hero" something totally relative to the situation? If, as in the dictionary definition, it is based on the opinion of others, does that mean that the participants in fundraising events are "heroes" to those working and hoping for cures and treatments? Thus, others naming myself and the rest of the participants in the race today "heroes" is completely justified if it comes from those benefiting from it.

If we run with this, then maybe it is always necessary to preface or qualify the "hero" to show an acknowledgment that it's all relative: "You're a hero to the people you are helping" "You've done something heroic" "You're a hero today" perhaps?

Then there's all the grey area, the huge spectrum of people between walking a few miles for sponsorship and the extreme examples I mentioned previously. When and where is it appropriate to name any of these people "heroes"? Do these people who arguably deserve the title more but are forgotten about because their efforts are less public?

What about celebrities who do (usually) sporting events for charities? Clearly these people feel strongly about the charity in question and if they inspire others to get involved that's commendable but should they be called an "inspiration" rather than a "hero"? Do they only get given the latter title because of their public profile?

Do you qualify for the title of "hero" only if you actively raise money for many causes? Or make an extra effort to spread the word about the importance of what you're raising money for? Or, more broadly, if you make a repeated effort to do more than the majority, for something which primarily benefits others? Basically: can heroism be defined persistent/widespread small and medium actions? Or is that something else?

Is it just silly to think that the word "hero" is overused or to try and define it too generally?
At the end of the day people make their own judgement as to whom they would view as a "hero" and whether or not they feel comfortable with the title for themselves.

The important thing is that people are helped by the actions of others, not what they are called for doing so.

So let's just let them get on with it.

Well done to everyone raising/donating money for/to any charitable cause, including all my fellow participants in Race For Life today.

To those working on a cure and  people who have fought/are fighting/will fight cancer and their friends & families, I truly hope the money raised will help.

No comments:

Post a Comment