A recent thread on another board about "heroes" gave me pause. The statement was made that "to be a hero, you really have to stand out and, quite frankly, most humans don't qualify."
Naturally, the definition of "hero" is as subjective as the person making the evaluation and "hero" is also a relative term, particularly in writing. But does a person really have to stand out to be a hero?
"Hero" qualities can be internal in our characters and acts of heroism may blend in with the rest of the world.
If a bunch of millionaires each give a hundred dollars to Katrina relief, few people would think them generous and even fewer would find them heroic because it took no act of courage, self sacrifice, or moral fortitude for them to give away their pocket change. However, if a woman is earning eight dollars an hour and supports three children alone, then gives away the only hundred dollars she has, her sacrifice may be very heroic. Did she stand out? Doubtful. Her contribution was minute relative to the need. Does that make her less of a hero?
Be careful that in attempting to create a hero, you don't create a monster. (unless your intent is to create a complex part hero/part monster character)
Yeah, that has you shaking your head.
I'm reminded of a form I was once asked to fill out for a volunteer position working with children. One of the questions asked if I was sexually abused as a child. I was. When I questioned the validity of such a cruelly invasive question, I was told that most child molestors were molested as children. Uh huh. So what? Most molested children certainly do not grow up to be child abusers. All poodles are dogs. Most dogs are not poodles.
This organization believed that by making victims stand out, they were somehow protecting children. But what they were really doing is victimizing adult survivors of childhood abuse. In other words, while searching for monsters, they became one.
I didn't teach that year because I wouldn't fill out the form. They said I could skip the question. That didn't change the fact that it was wrong. Fine, they said. We love you. Don't fill out the form at all. Just teach. Nope. What about all those other people you don't know and love that still have to fill it out and are unjustly looked upon as potential threats? I found an attorney.
You may not think the attorney was a hero. It was ONE question. It was a form. He didn't stand out. He didn't rescue anyone from a burning car. He didn't take a bullet. But to all those people who don't have to feel accountable for something that was out of their control, he is a hero. Well, he would be if they knew... but since the question isn't there, they probably don't know and he doesn't stand out. Does that make him less of a hero?
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. Friedrich Nietzsche
UPDATE: Found these "hero" related blogs written by people who actually know what they're talking about.
John August's Theory of Heroic Relativity
Craig Mazin's Subtle Hero
Terry Rossio's Impressive Failure