Anyone who displays certain qualities which set him apart from the run of the mill may be broadly described as a hero. For example, a man who has the courage or compassion to jump into a dangerous river in order to save a drowning person is a hero. A person with certain talents may be considered as a hero by some. Thus an actor or a sportsperson or a writer may be a hero for some. Nowadays heroism has become so prosaic, thanks to the likes of Forbes magazine, that wealth can create heroes. Maybe, the heroism of the wealthiest people lies in their ability to create wealth rather than in being wealthy per se.
Philosophically, can we define certain essential qualities of a hero? I think there’s no harm in making such a list. So here it goes.
Heroes are usually on a quest. The target of the quest may be anything ranging from conservation of the environment to fighting for human rights. Aruna Roy who quit her prestigious job in the civil services in order to work for the poor and marginalised people in Rajasthan is a hero. There are many such heroes who are on unique quests.
Risk or sacrifice seems to be an integral aspect of heroism. Greatness seldom comes without demanding certain sacrifice. A heroic quest actually sets a person apart from the mediocre. Anyone who is above the mediocre runs the risk of being belittled, questioned, alienated or even done away with. Most heretics of the medieval Europe paid with their lives for their pursuit of truth. For me, they were heroes. Today also we have writers and artists who run great risks and some are murdered brutally by the purveyors of absolute truths.
Painting by Nikolai Burdykin
Courage obviously follows next in the list. But I think the courage of a hero is a natural concomitant of his quest. Every heroic quest is a passion which overrides challenges. Sisyphus who rolled the stone uphill if only to spite the gods was driven more by his blasphemous quest than mere courage. His quest listed in the necessary courage. Salman Rushdie who wrote Satanic Verses is a hero for me and possibly many others. He must have known the hazards he was embracing while writing such a novel. He must also have been scared stiff by the fatwa issued by a purveyor of absolute truths, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. [I love the very pompousness of that name.] Yet he could not have but written the novel simply because it was the natural outcome of his quest. When a hero is on a pursuit he is not deterred by potential threats. If he is, he is not a hero. However, once the goal is achieved the threats can shake his nerves. A hero is also a normal person.
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 140: What makes a person a hero? Can anyone become a hero? If yes, how? #BeAHero