A recent Reddit thread discusses the lack of heroes in modern society, but the truth is we have plenty of heroes.
It’s true that in the Internet era, historic figures we once considered heroic are being reevaluated as their past misdeeds and personal peccadilloes are revealed. Celebrities we once admired suffer a fall from grace as their off-camera misbehavior is discovered and publicized. Religious institutions have devalued their moral capital and fomented heartbreak as their years of scandals and cover-ups are made public.
When I was growing up in the ‘60s, the mantra of parents to their kids was “maybe you’ll grow up to be president one day.” But that lofty aspiration began disappearing during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, as Americans became more cynical about the motives and actions of politicians.
Today, according to the Pew Resource Center, public trust in government is ridiculously low.
A 2021 Pew study finds that only “about one-quarter of Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right, ‘just about always’ (2%), or ‘most of the time’ (22%).” Compare that to 1958, when 75% of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time. Placing anyone too high up on a hero’s pedestal is a dangerous game. No human — and no institution — is without flaws.
But there are still plenty of heroes.
A hero, according to one definition of the American Heritage Dictionary, is a “person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.”
Acts of heroism are practiced daily by our men and women who serve in the military — soldiers placed by political leaders in often very difficult and dangerous situations. WeAreTheMighty.com features many stories in which our servicemen and women have been exceptionally selfless and brave, but even in my own social circles, I have seen many acts of heroism.
Two of my friends opened their homes and hearts to foster children.
One friend had hoped to adopt two or three of these kids and she and her husband were heartbroken when the children’s birth parents took them back to their dysfunctional homes. But she and her husband prevailed and for more than a decade have been raising an adopted foster son and a daughter — giving both the parental love and support they need to be productive and successful in their lives.
Another friend saves dozens of abandoned and abused dogs from being put down every year. She and her husband take the dogs into their home, restore their health and their hearts for as long as that process takes, then place them in homes that will love them. Another friend cooks several meals one night every week and distributes them to her needy and shut-in elderly neighbors.
There are lots of reasons to be cynical these days. The charlatans and politicians who have exploited COVID to inflame our fears and further their ambitions is one of the biggest. But there are many more reasons to be hopeful. Our world is overflowing with ordinary people who quietly infuse our lives with goodness, beauty and compassion every day.
They are our true heroes. We just need to get better at acknowledging them. Better yet, if we’re not already doing so, we should work at becoming everyday heroes ourselves.
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.