The definition of a hero is pretty simple and straightforward. It involves a few necessary components: 1. Service 2. Sacrifice 3. Others
Now, there are all types of heroes out there. They come in every shape and size.
Here is something that can be hard for some to swallow: You, the reader, do not have to agree with the motivations of the hero. You do not have to agree with their political ambitions, intentions, etc. Heroes are immune to judgment and no wrapping of political belief or otherwise can negate the hero’s act of heroism.
We love heroes. Why? Because they sacrifice for us. Our political enemies…they do the same…for their own people.
Here is the basic idea: A hero (typically) SACRIFICES their own personal interests, in the SERVICE of anOTHER.
There are those types of heroes who set out on adventure, purposefully and intentionally, to engage in an act of heroism. Think about firefighters.
There are heroes who suddenly find themselves in the act of heroism, without having first thought about it—like the stranger who pushes the child out-of-the-way of the moving car, only to subject their own body to a speedy blow.
Sometimes, heroes do not even know that they are playing such a role, wearing such a hat… and they may never stop to even think about it.
Heroes are all around us and we, as people, just can’t get enough of their stories. We are so attracted to heroism, that we read about them in almost all of our novels and it is what we watch in pretty much all of our films. More, there is a structure to that hero adventure and as familiar as we are with it (consciously or otherwise), we never, ever grow tired of watching heroes. Hero’s, and their stories, have existed (in every country of the world) for as long as man has communicated stories…and likely before that.
But heroes are not just people “out there”. They do not have to only be “others”. They are potentially wearing your clothes, right now, sitting in your chair. Do you commit yourself to an act of sacrifice for others? Do you do it often? Have kids? Are you married and have you served your spouses’ needs over your own?
If you are like me, when you think about the idea of having to “sacrifice” something, you get a little tense. To sacrifice something, I am going to have to get rid of or surrender something I like and want. When I want something, I want it and that pull, that emotional string of want, it can really tug and guide.
Desire. The Buddhists say that our root of unhappiness exists in our perpetual feeling of longing—of desire, of “I want”. Get rid of “I want”, and there is freedom to be found. That is the idea. Sometimes I find that hard to conceptualize. Aren’t we hardwired to want? Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of need (in my blog archive section). Perhaps this incessant pull of “I want” is why our nation is so depressed, why so many are medicated and why doctors are calling depression a modern epidemic? Does our nations’ depression have its roots in our structure of capitalism, in our consumer culture, in our constant drive to buy more? I want. I want. I want. (Food for another post).
Heroism can also be described as an act of giving. It can be described as an act of loving. I like to use the word love as a verb—that it is something we do, not have. Serving others, transcending your wants, your desires, your needs and serving another’s …is beautiful.
Imagine if your work, your career, your passion, your dreams, your artistry…imagine if they were all in the service of others. Sit with this thought for a second and really imagine it. How might that feel—to serve others, often? If you know you are doing a good, that others are benefiting, that you are aiding in some way to the human cause and overcoming your own ego drive in the process, might that help you get out of bed in the morning and think “I get to go to work”? Might that fill your work life with a sense of Meaning? Might that make your contributions to your community necessary?
When you are serving others, you are engaging in an act of good. That feeling of being in the good side of the yin-yang (our dualistic natures), feels good. Good feelings can help us weather the storms of our own lacking and our own sacrifices, our own desires.
I invoke JFK:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
When you are on your death bed, meditating on the life you have lived, what story line do you want to have in place? What adventures do you want to remember having committed to? What life did you live and, consequently, what sort of person were and are you?
Jim Hart is the Director of Arts Entrepreneurship Program at Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts. Hart is the founder of The Hart Technique and The International Theatre Academy Norway.