Who’s a Hero?

What makes a hero? Different people will point to different characteristics- courage, vision, influence over important world events. In fact, we all have different ideas of what makes a hero and, consequently, make different choices about who our personal heroes are.

Yet there seem to be certain types of people who we are all likely to regard as heroic. One way of identifying these types of people is to consider the names that occur on “greatest heroes” lists and to try to figure out the characteristics or experiences that link these people together. H. Paul Jeffers provides one such list in his book The 100 Greatest Heroes: Inspiring Profiles of One Hundred Men and Women Who Changed the World. He ranks the people he considers the 100  greatest heroes of all time. So who does Jeffers consider great heroes, and what makes them so great?

One category of Jeffers’s heroes might be called “nation builders.” This includes the early American founders George Washington, Samuel Adams, and Thomas  Jefferson. In Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, Simon Bolivar is a national hero for leading Latin America’s revolt for independence from Spain, and, in fact, Bolivia is named after him. On the Asian subcontinent, the peaceful leadership of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi was influential in India achieving self-rule. More recently in Eastern Europe, the reformation of governments from communist to democratic was guided by exceptional personalities, such as Vaclav Havel, who led the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. In the same way, Lech Was an accelerated Poland’s move  toward democratic government through his influence as leader of the trade  union “Solidarity.”

The category of “war heroes” is also evident in Jeffers’s list. This is not surprising as war is often terrifying and requires extreme courage in the face of horrendous dangers. Such heroism is illustrated by Audie Murphy, a soldier who received many decorations for battlefield courage, including several single-handed attacks on enemy positions. One of these was the highest U.S. military award, the Medal of Honor. However, interestingly, nearly all of the other military heroes on the list are not battlefield soldiers, but rather the soldiers’ political leaders and generals. For example, Winston Churchill showed superb leadership in Great Britain during its darkest days of World War IL Likewise, Franklin Delano Roosevelt led America through the same war. Out of the 100 heroes in Jeffers’s book, about one-quarter are high-ranking military officers. Historically, Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte are considered two of the greatest generals ever, and Horatio Nelson is justifiably admired for his strategies in several sea battles. However, most of the military leaders in Jeffers’s book come from the World War II era, including Generals Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower.

Explorers and adventurers are also well represented on Jeffers’s list. Christopher Columbus is popularly credited with discovering the “New World,” although of course it was already discovered by the Native Americans living there. Richard E. Byrd gained fame for exploring both the Arctic and Antarctic. Perhaps one of the most splendid achievements of the twentieth century was the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, realized by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 and repeated by Amelia Earhart in 1932. Later in the century, space was the new frontier, and the Russian Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit Earth, while Neil Armstrong had the privilege of being the first person to walk on the moon.

However, any list of heroes must go far beyond the people named by Jeffers. Consider Nobel Peace Prize winners Wangari Maathai, whose Greenbelt  Movement has planted millions of trees in Africa, and Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered village banks for women in Bangladesh. Both have restored hope in these parts of the world.

In the end, perhaps the best definition of hero is “someone with the ability to inspire,” who exhibits qualities that we ourselves would like to possess.

a person who is admired for having done something very brave or having achieved something great:
a war hero

great bravery:
an act of heroism

very brave or great:
a heroic act/deed

the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation:
They showed great courage when they found out about their baby's disability.

a short description of someone's life, work, character, etc.

to have a position higher or lower than others, or to be considered to have such a position:
A captain ranks (= has a position) above a lieutenant.

If a large number of people revolt, they refuse to be controlled or ruled, and take often violent action against authority:
The people revolted against foreign rule and established their own government.

one of the seven large land masses on the Earth's surface, surrounded, or mainly surrounded, by sea and usually consisting of various countries:
the North American continent

the Indian Subconntinent

when a country, a part of a country or a nation chooses its own government and controls its own activities

the control of a country or an area by the people living there, or the control of an organization by a group of people independent of central or local government:
The poll showed that 80% of the population supported regional self-government.

the belief in a society without different classes in which the methods of production are owned and controlled by all its members and everyone works as much as they can and receives what they need

to happen or make something happen sooner or faster:
Inflation is likely to accelerate this year, adding further upward pressure on interest rates.

the pedal (= part that you push with your foot) in a vehicle that makes it go faster
agreement between and support for the members of a group, especially a political group:
The lecturers joined the protest march to show solidarity with their students.

easily seen or understood; obvious:
Her love for him was evident in all that she did.

to frighten someone very much:
The idea of parachuting out of a plane terrifies me.

extremely unpleasant or bad:
Conditions in the refugee camps were horrendous.

a violent wind which has a circular movement, especially found in the West Atlantic Ocean:
The state of Florida was hit by a hurricane that did serious damage.

a strong dangerous wind which forms itself into an upside-down spinning cone and is able to destroy buildings as it moves across the ground

a person who is in an army and wears its uniform, especially someone who fights when there is a war:
Soldiers were patrolling the streets.

of excellent quality; very great:
He is a superb dancer.

to respect and approve of someone or their behaviour, or to find someone or something attractive and pleasant to look at:
We stood for a few moments, admiring the view.

a period of time that is marked by particular events or stages of development:
the Clinton era

New World
the American Continent

relating to the first people to live in an area:
the native population

The Aborigines are the native inhabitants of Australia.

when you are known or recognized by many people because of your achievements, skills, etc:
She first rose to fame as a singer at the age of 16.

excellent, or beautiful and impressive:
You look splendid in that suite.

an opportunity to do something special or enjoyable:
I had the privilege of interviewing Picasso in the 1960s.

a person who is one of the first people to do something:
a pioneer heart surgeon

to bring back into use something that has been absent for a period of time:
Some people are in favour of restoring capital punishment for murderers.

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Reference: Focus on Vocabulary - 100 Greatest Heroes, H Paul Jeffers
FoV 01 - C06U21

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