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At o’clock on a Sunday morning, I found myself torn from my bed and scrambling to slip into a flimsy pair of slippers and a night robe. Apart from the usual fire drills, a sweltering heat accompanied the incessant ringing of alarms. Sirens were wailing just beyond my apartment window, and the agonizing screams of my neighbors could be heard audibly through the thick, concrete walls. Disturbed and fearful, I grabbed my wallet and made a mad dash for the emergency stairway and jolted down three flights. As I became part of the crowd gathered outside, I looked up just in time to witness the upper left section of my apartment building explode into an orangey inferno against the darkened sky. A rescue squad immediately leaped into action, herding crowds of bystanders away from the disaster; however, only one bold fireman dared to enter the flaming torture chamber I once called home. Hours later, the nightmare was over, and ten out of fifteen people who were trapped inside survived. The media crawled all over the story, with special emphasis on the lone individual who was exalted as more than a hero. After several weeks, people continued to talk about the incident and hearing the same monotonous anecdote day after day made me sick to my stomach. I wished everyone could just get over it; besides, heroes don’t last forever. The moment I analyzed that particular thought, I realized it had a serious flaw. If heroes don’t last forever, why do people look up to them? What exactly is a hero and is it even possible to be one?
Generally, our society tags the name hero onto a person who accomplishes something extraordinary, while also exhibiting courage and modesty. Having or being a role model can come in conflict with this idea. For the most part, a role model is picked because the chooser feels that the chosen has accomplished numerous heroic feats during the course of his life. Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance, is a role model to many because he risked his life repeatedly in order to improve the quality of others. What admirers fail to consider is that he was not always acting in the interests of everyone else, but perhaps initially for himself. Additionally, it is not fair, nor is it our place, to determine whether or not a person is a hero based on the sum of events that he performed during his lifetime. Let us refer back to the lone fireman; imagine, after months of praise, the man learns that the oldest of the five people he failed to rescue was barely four years old. He feels tremendously guilty about the whole ordeal and decides to take his own life. Would this fireman still be a hero? The answer to this question is yes and no. A hero should be determined based on a single incident rather than the total number of heroic incidents he satisfied. For example, the fireman was a true hero when he saved ten lives; he was certainly not being heroic when he killed himself. His suicide was a separate event altogether and cannot affect his heroism from months before. Therefore, it is an undeniable fact that this man was a hero at a specific moment in time, since his suicide cannot suddenly change events that occurred in the past.
Another common misconception is that all good people are heroes. A good person can be easily confused with a hero because both unselfishly sacrifice their time and abilities in order to improve lives out of their own free will. The difference between the two lies in the amount of sacrifice each person is willing to make. A good person will not necessarily put his own life on the line, as opposed to a hero. Pretend that a young woman needs a kidney donor in order to stay alive, however, she does not have enough money to pay for the procedure. A random, wealthy man decides to pay for her operation in full out of the goodness of his heart. Although he saved her life, he was not a hero because he did not put his own life in danger when he did it. If the same man found out that he was a perfect candidate to donate his kidney and followed through with the procedure, he is putting his life at risk and could thus be regarded as a hero.
An additional factor to consider is the effect the media can have on society’s conception of a hero. The media stresses the importance and value of heroes in our society but can often wrongly accredit people with this title. Actors, athletes, and singers are characteristically the type of people who are given hero status when they do not deserve it. The confusion rests in the belief that a hero is equivalent to an idol. An idol is a person who possesses admirable traits or talents and is usually adored by the masses. This person can improve lives, yet this is not his intention. He uses his special traits or talents for his own selfish purposes, be it wealth, fame, or a variety of other reasons. Idols generally do not put their own lives in jeopardy in an attempt to save or enhance the lives of others. Take the case of the idolized athlete although tons of people may look up to the fastest runner in the world for his amazing ability, it does not mean that he made sacrifices to improve their lives by becoming a role model, or that he intended to do so, either.
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Heroes are not heroes their entire lives; role models should not be considered heroes for this reason. They can be heroes at one point or another, but to believe that role models do not make mistakes is simply unfeasible. To top it all off, idols are often chosen to be role models and considered to be heroes because of it. When it all boils down, a hero exists in the eye of the beholder; people can read about our heroic fireman in the newspaper all year. Even though they cannot deny the fact that he was a hero, he was not their hero, and they do not have to admire him. Anyone can become a hero, but to remain a hero is impossible.
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