What does it mean to be a hero? I think about this a lot because nearly every story has a hero. A hero is defined as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
The dictionary definition is problematic. Kim Jong-Un is idealized and admired for “noble qualities” by many people in North Korea. The same can be said for many murderous leaders throughout human history. Maybe we need a new definition.
I think a hero is a person that engages in selfless acts of courage for the betterment of others. Heroes risk their safety, financial security, social standing, and/or emotional well being to do what’s right. Who determines what’s right? Ethics is a massive topic, but for expediency, I personally follow the golden rule, and apply the rule equally to all people and organizations, giving some leeway to young children and the mentally challenged.
Heroes do what’s right without an expectation of reward or applause. I think a hero is not necessarily a badge you can stamp on a person indefinitely. Heroism is on a spectrum. People can act heroically or cowardly depending on the situation. Some live their lives with more consistent heroism than others. I feel very strongly that there are heroes in every walk of life doing every type of job. Rich and poor. Big and strong. Small and weak. Most of these people go about their lives giving of themselves without fanfare, fortune, or recognition.
Much is made of the heroism of law enforcement, the military, and various alphabet agents. In thriller novels, the protagonists are very often from these groups. In my stories, I much prefer to focus on the heroism of civilians doing thankless and underappreciated jobs. You might be surprised by the top ten most dangerous jobs in the United States in 2019.
Ideally, we all live and act as if we’re the heroes of our own stories.