Understanding What the Word “Hero” Means

Understanding What the Word "Hero" Means 10

It seems that every other day I hear some newscaster talking about a “hero”. In my mind, the meaning of the word hero has been diminished. We now have to use words such as “real” and “genuine” in front of the word “hero” in order distinguish between media hype and reality.

The result of all this is that we are now a society devoid of role models. That’s because we have lowered the bar to the extent that “hero” is now used to describe people who just don’t qualify. There needs to be an understanding what the word “hero” means.

What Makes a Hero? Committing a heroic act does not make one a hero. It makes that individual a person who took a heroic action. Being considered a “hero” should make one a member of a very exclusive club.

A case in pointpast-steve-fonyo-beach-victoria

People do heroic deeds everyday, but as I said, a hero is more than somebody who did something heroic. I spoke of Steve Fonyo in an earlier blog, referring to his heroic act of completing the “Terry Fox Run” across Canada.

In that piece, I even referred to Fonyo as a “fallen hero” because he later became involved in drugs and crime.

The reality

The reality is that Steve Fonyo completed an historic and heroic act and his accomplishment should never be forgotten. But he was not a hero. He was an individual who rose to the moment and inspired a nation. He did so with his commitment to endure pain and to raise money for a public cause.

He should always be remembered for that heroic deed. However, he should not have been saddled with the label of “hero”. Mr. Fonyo fell sort of hero status by many standards described herein.

In North America with throw the term hero around as though accomplishing anything beyond the normal qualifies one to be a hero. Whether because of political correctness or the fact that it sells newspapers and brings in TV viewers, our society, through media, society without heroesloves creating fake heroes by nothing more than assignation. The result is that our children give their adoration to certain people because the media praised them as heroes. Later, when that same media tears them down in order sell even more newspapers and attract even more viewers, it transpires that the media has only created a “fallen” hero and our children are left confused and disillusioned. This fosters an attitude of skepticism about the inherent good that I believe exists in most people.

What makes an individual a “real” hero?

Terry Fox’s life reflected his public image making him a “real” hero

Without minimizing the accomplishment of any individuals who might have inspired us through an act of bravery or unselfishness, the use the word “hero” to describe somebody should be by a standard that one receives a “lifetime achievement award”. Heroes are created by the totality of their life, not by just a single action.

  1. To be a hero one must have favorably impacted the lives of others through their action(s).
  2. To be a hero one must have responded to the needs of society and/or the needs of a person or group of people.
  3. To be a hero one have done something beyond the normal scope of their duties, not just performed their duties better than their peers.
  4. To be a hero one must have been unselfish in their actions and their actions must have been actions worthy of the admiration of the masses, not just praised by a group of a certain political or religious stripe.
  5. Most importantly though, to be a hero one must have acted throughout their life in a manner that shows them to be of the highest standard of moral values. They must live lives of honor.

By that standard, the word “hero” can rarely be applied to the young or to a person about whom we know little.

A group of people identified by their profession cannot, en masse, be called heroesfireman

Police, Firemen, Soldiers & Nurses

We speak of soldiers, firemen, nurses and police as heroes. Indeed, they have jobs that put them at risk, but their jobs are exactly what they signed on board to do. It is what they are paid to do, although many might say underpaid.

Yes, there are hazards in what they do

Some sustain severe injuries or even die in the exercise of their duties. This does not make them heroes. It makes them exceedingly brave and dedicated individuals who signed on for a very tough job. Because of that they are individuals who are worthy of our respect. And in some cases they are worthy of our admiration for a particular act or action in which they were involved, but there is a difference between being brave and being a hero.

A group of individuals cannot be heroes. Perhaps one or more individuals out of any of those groups might someday be looked back on as heroes. But we know little to nothing about the individuals who our media, in an excess of solicitous language, declare heroes. For all we know, many of this group went home and abused their spouse or their children. So the person upon whom we are conferring “hero status” might well be as odious of a character as one could imagine.


Bobby Orr shows his athletic greatness

The list of great athletes is almost endless, from Jim Thorpe, to Bobby Orr, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. These individuals accomplished remarkable athletic feats for which they will always be remembered and admired. That does not, per se, make them heroes. It makes them dedicated and gifted athletes who excelled at sports. In doing so, they inspired many to be aspire to their lofty accomplishments in their sports of choice.

While any among us would wish that our children might accomplish what those individuals accomplished in their given pursuits, I cannot, in good conscience, describe them as heroes without knowing much more about them. I cannot do so because knowing little about their morals and their dedication to those morals, I cannot hold them out to my offspring as more than individuals of exceedingly high achievement.


To call a celebrity a hero is akin to calling a cat a monkey. There is no correlation between celebrity and heroism. The world needs to stop teaching children adulation for those who achieve fame via celebrity. Admire their talents if you will, but do not mistake talent for an act of heroism accompanied by a life of honor or integrity.


Politicians are not heroes, even such great politicians as John Fitzgerald Kennedy who manned PT109 during World War 2. He was responsible for an act of heroism and his political rhetoric was inspiring to many. However,he is not somebody whom I would point out to my children as a hero because his personal life was strewn with affairs with various women during his marriage. Those moral lapses are not something I would wish my children to emulate.

Can one be a hero to many and a villain to others?

hero or villianAbsolutely, but that does not make that person a hero in the real sense of the word because that individual falls short of the standard of being worthy of the admiration of the masses, of people from all walks of life. John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, is a prime example. He was a hero for a generation or more to most in the Confederacy. This was because he gave his life to their cause. However, he was certainly not a hero to those who believed in the values of the Union, or have come to do so.

[As an aside and in the interests of full disclosure which should be inherent in any journalistic endeavor, my direct forbears were deeply involved in the formation of the Confederacy, in the Civil War and in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but please do not consider the beliefs of my forbears as necessarily reflective of mine.]

There are “public” heroes and there are “personal”/”private” heroes. That’s because more than anything else, a hero is a role model.

Who might be considered to be a hero can be a deeply personal choice? But before the media publicly labels somebody a “hero” it should be certain that the person to whom it is applying the word qualifies in every aspect. If not, it devalues those individuals who have truly earned that honorific descriptive, people such as Mother Theresa.  If you don’t yet have a hero, find one. Having a hero to look up to can change your life.

This is what you want your children to say about you. BE THERE HERO

Can you be a hero?

Everybody can be a hero. Since heroes, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder. You can be a “private” hero to a select group of people. Heroism does not require that you happen by a house fire or a car wreck, etc.

You have a family and/or perhaps some affliction or some challenge to overcome and you can be a hero to your family or to a group of people who watch you deal with that affliction and/or challenge and look to the manner in which you did/do so with admiration, as you become a hero and a role model to that group of people.

I urge the media to stop, ad nauseam, labeling people as “public” heroes. And I challenge you to become a “private” hero to your family. The greatest thing any person can do is to be a hero to his/her family.

Do you agree or disagree?  Participate in the discussion at the bottom of the page. Sshare this article on social media with one of the links below.  Make yourself heard!

About Hal 171 Articles
Ex-golf inventor, Ex-stockbroker, author, blogger, social activist, drug counselor, public speaker


  1. Well said! Another thought-provoking article, Hal. Sure enjoy reading your blog – thank you for sharing your opinions and ideas.

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