Skip to main content

Who Are the Real Heroes in Today's World?

The author is an online writer who covers various cultural topics.

Who are your heroes? What makes a hero?

Who are your heroes? What makes a hero?

Who Are Your Heroes?

Who do you look up to? Who do you consider a hero? It could be a sports champion that carried a team to an award-winning season, or maybe an Olympian who took home the gold.

Is your hero a celebrity who takes home awards from starring roles in movies or television, or plays music for thousands of screaming fans in sold-out stadiums?

Or maybe your hero is the CEO of a large cooperation that keeps the profit margins high for investors, a political figure who has successfully served the people for several terms, or a religious leader who has led many people on their spiritual journeys.

While all these professions certainly do include many people who inspire and lift our expectations of ourselves and others to a higher plane, giving them the title "Hero" doesn't always apply.

Who Is a Hero?

So, what is the difference between a real hero and a person who is just an icon, an idol, a mentor, or a good example? And why is it important to split hairs on this point?

Because, if we're not conscientious about who we honor with the extraordinary title of "hero," then it will come to mean very little.

For example, look at the word "awesome." The Northern Lights are awesome, inspiring jaw-dropping awe and eye-popping wonder at the beauty of the natural spectacle. But, in recent times, the word awesome has come to be used as a slang generality, as in, "Wow, your new shoes are awesome." While shoes can be pretty, nice, or even fabulous, shoes can't be considered "awesome." Society's incessant use of the word "awesome" has diminished its meaning, thereby, diminishing things that really are awesome.

The same goes for the word "hero." If we diminish the word, using it for everyday commendable behavior, we diminish the meaning of the title. We, as a society, soon lose sight of what it really means to be a hero, and real heroes lose the degree of respect they deserve.

A Suggested Definition of "Hero"

  • A Hero is someone who rises up, from whatever their circumstances are, and comes to embody a representative of the highest level that a human being can attain.
  • A Hero is someone who knowingly and voluntarily makes a conscious decision to sacrifice something of one’s self for the greater good of others.
  • A Hero doesn’t seek notoriety or praise for personal glorification, but instead, uses whatever attention he receives to perpetuate his achievements to a greater degree.
  • The actions of a Hero make a positive impact on others so as to change the outcome of a situation that would otherwise be detrimental.
  • A Hero contributes something beneficial to the world for the betterment of humanity as a whole, or for the spiritual world in creating a path that leads us all in higher directions.
  • A Hero does not expect compensation for their heroic deed.

A Uniform Does Not Make a Hero

Many people define a hero as someone who is in a traditional hero role or profession: firefighter, police officer, or soldier. But wearing the uniform of these noble professions does not automatically elevate an individual to the status of hero.

According to an article in the Times-Tribune, "firefighters who start fires, and why they do it, have long been part of an American obsession with true crime." Firefighter-arsonists are a problem that is often downplayed for department morale reasons, but it is a real problem, which many believe stems from a "hero complex." The need to be a hero becomes so overwhelming to a few disturbed firefighters that they set a fire, become the first one there, and performed heroically in order to receive accolades.

Police officers encounter extraordinary numbers of illicit circumstances, which predisposes them to corruption. According to an article in the Daily Mail, "Anti-corruption units across the country are wrestling with a workload of 245 cases every month, a rise of 62 percent from the year before. In most of the investigations, eight out of ten involve officers accused of illegally disclosing information to criminals and third parties."

Soldiers certainly aren't exempt from corruption. Just this week, a jury selection is being held for a U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians. According to an article featured in, "A U.S. service member shot dead at least 15 members of two Afghan families as well as a 16th person before turning himself in, officials said Sunday. U.S. officials said the soldier was a staff sergeant. Some witnesses said more than one soldier was involved, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a statement cited only one shooter in what he called "an assassination," adding that nine of the dead were children, and three were women. The soldier reportedly left his base in the early hours of Sunday and went to two villages just a few hundred yards away. He then opened fire on Afghan civilians sleeping in their homes."

The point here is not to discredit these noble professions, but to show that it takes more than a uniform and a title to be a real hero.

A hero: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn "Al" Cashe

A hero: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn "Al" Cashe

The Ultimate Hero

What it takes is exemplified by many every day who not only wear the uniform but also walk the walk and talk the talk. Take for instance Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe. According to an article in Stars and Stripes, Sgt. Cashe became the ultimate hero.

"When the roadside bomb detonated, it ripped through the fuel tank of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and ignited like napalm. The seven men seated inside were knocked unconscious and had no chance to escape the fire.

But the gunner, Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, managed to crawl out of the burning wreckage. Wounded and drenched in diesel fuel, he pulled the Bradley’s driver from his seat before the flames reached there, dragging him to safety.

And then he went back.

The 16-year Army veteran had seen a dozen of his men die on that tour in Iraq, and he couldn’t bear to lose another. His uniform caught fire as he desperately tried to open the Bradley’s hatch.

By the time he got in, all he had on was his body armor and helmet, the rest of his uniform in ashes or seared to his skin. With help, he carried one of his dying men out of the fire and back to horrified medics trying to triage their charred colleagues.

And then he went back.

Soldiers couldn’t tell what rounds pinging off the Bradley were from insurgents’ weapons and which ones were from their own ammunition ablaze in the vehicle. As he reached the next soldier, Cashe tried to douse the fire on his uniform, only to realize that his own skin was peeling off from the heat. As another soldier helped pat out the flames, Cashe moved the next wounded friend to safety.

And then he went back.

Cashe was the last of the injured to be evacuated from the scene. Doctors later said he suffered second and third degree burns over 90 percent of his body, but he still walked off the battlefield under his own power.

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, and five of the men he saved from the blazes, succumbed to their burns and wounds weeks later in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Cashe was able to tell his family that he was glad that at least his men had been able to say "goodbye" to their families.

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe is one of my heroes.

NYC firefighters raising the flag on 911

NYC firefighters raising the flag on 911

Never Forget

No one will ever forget the courageous acts of heroism by New York City Firefighters and Police Officers during the September 11th terrorist attacks on the Twin Trade Towers and The Pentagon. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters and 60 police officers gave up their lives for what they truly believed in.

In responding to the screams of people who were trapped inside the burning buildings, these brave heroes ran to and entered a building they knew they might not exit. Because of their brave, selfless efforts, hundreds were saved.

These courageous souls are my heroes.

Everyday Heroes, Lifetime Heroes

There are many everyday heroes whose heroic acts go undocumented, unheard of, and unappreciated.

  • Teachers who notice a student with reoccurring bruises, mismatched shoes, or no lunch money, and take the initiative to get involved.
  • Doctors who perform their services free of charge for someone who has no insurance.
  • The homeless person who struggles to feed himself, but shares what he has with a starving animal.

Some spend their lives as a hero, or as a "shero."

Mother Teresa spent her life caring for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. She devoted her life to caring for the sick, and the poor, and established a hospice center for the blind, aged, and disabled; and a leper colony. Mother Teresa exemplifies what it means to sacrifice your life, in a lifelong effort, for others.

Malala Yousafzai is a 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she "promoted Western thinking" in that she had criticized the Taliban's actions against women. Malala stated her belief that all girls should have the opportunity to go to school, and for that, she was targeted and shot. Now, after her recovery, she is bravely doing just that and returning to school. Malala is living a very dangerous life on a daily basis, standing up for girls' and women's rights everywhere.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Who Are Your Heroes or Sheroes?

Icons, idols, mentors, or heroes? Where do you see the differences?

In the Comments section below, please talk about your heroes/sheroes. Who are they? What have they done that you honor them with the title "Hero?"

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.