The American Heritage Dictionary defines a hero as “a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.” We go through our lives surrounded by men and women who are really strangers to us, some we know, some we know of, and others are shadows whose names are known but to a few. We call these men and women heroes for some deed, accomplishment, or perhaps simply for the fact they have survived. Each had the courage to do what was necessary when the time came. They put their training, their skill, and oft times their life on the line to help their fellow man.
The entertainment industry, including the news outlets, throw the term hero around a lot, and in so doing dilute the nature of those who have the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the face of incredible pressures of self-preservation.
I was fortunate last evening to join a group of men and women who have displayed courage in defense of our nation. Men who’ve jumped into places with little hope of getting out, and women who’ve taken their aircraft into harm’s way to save the lives of others being attacked by numerically superior forces. They share a common trait, they move towards the sounds of conflict. They place themselves between danger and those they love.
As inspiring as the evening was, it reminded me this nation is built on the strength of our citizens and their courage to face the threats this nation must face. It isn’t just the soldier, sailor, marine, or airman that do this, it is everyone who stands up to tyranny, oppression, and intimidation. There are times the courage displayed is not understood by the masses, and the hero must remain strong despite the condemnations. I think of Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela as examples of individuals with the moral courage to fight oppression and who triumphed in the end.
Consider the courage it takes to stand against the government to stop a pipeline that threatens the rights of a people who’ve been long betrayed by the government, or for that matter, the courage to oppose the majority when you believe there is something wrong. When we fail to understand the courage inside us all, we diminish ourselves and our nation. When we condemn, without consideration, those who protest against blind obedience we reduce the strength that has made America a beacon of hope.
Last night I dined with heroes, and was reminded of the courage we each must have in these troubling times for the nation and the world.