What Does it Mean to be a Hero?

Almost everybody can name a hero, whether it is family member or friend who had a significant impact on your life, an historical figure who has made a significant impact on the world as we know it, or even a fictional character who exemplifies heroic qualities. For some, the word "hero" is overused, and extended to so many people that it has lost its specific meaning. For others, it resonates deep in their hearts, and those heroes inspire and instruct those people who look up to them. How do we identify heroes in such a way that they can guide us in our journeys to be better women and better men?

In Kill Bill, Volume 2, Bill delivers an outstanding soliloquy on the identity of heroes, one which illuminates one of the critical descriptors of heroism.

As illustrated in Kill Bill, Volume 2, heroes can be (mostly) ordinary women and men, who don heroic identities and perform selfless, individual acts in the service of others, or heroes can be those near-legendary figures who spend their entire lives in the service of others.

In the real world, you may easily identify Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mother Theresa; or Liu Xiaobo, as these near-legendary figures who committed themselves to the highest ideals through their selfless and steadfast struggles. On the other hand, there are average, ordinary, everyday heroes, such as Wesley Autrey and Dave Hartsock, who put their own lives on the line to save others' lives. Ordinary people, such as Autrey and Hartsock, became heroes through their extraordinary one-time acts.

It could be argued that the heroic spirit lived in Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker as much as in Superman, but the story of Superman is particularly instructive for each of us in our own heroic journeys. Whereas Wayne and Parker could simply remove their masks and choose not to be their heroic alter-egos, Superman always was Superman. That is, his commitment to his ideals and his heroic identity were not subject to the clothes he wore or the way people may have perceived him. His commitment and selfless service were core components of his identity, and he embraced that identity each and every day, in public and in private.

In values-driven organizations, we commit ourselves to the highest ideals. But, do we only embrace that identity when we wear our letters and logos, or when we meet with campus faculty and staff, or when we apply for awards? Or do we always have the potential within us to aspire higher, and act on our values?

The choice is yours, and you make it every single day, in public and in private. Be a hero.