Heroes are created by popular demand, sometimes out of the scantiest materials, or none at all.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public-relations officers.
At the boy’s level, hero worship gravitates toward the doer of spectacular deeds; on the average adult level, toward the wielder of power; and in the eyes of a more critical judgment, toward idealism and moral qualities.
As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.
To say that there is a case for heroes is not to say that there is a case for hero worship. The surrender of decision, the unquestioning submission to leadership, the prostration of the average man before the Great Man — these are the diseases of heroism, and they are fatal to human dignity. . . . History amply shows that it is possible to have heroes without turning them into gods. And history shows, too, that when a society, in flight from hero worship, decides to do without great men at all, it gets into troubles of its own.
Most people aren’t appreciated enough, and the bravest things we do in our lives are usually known only to ourselves. No one throws ticker tape on the man who chose to be faithful to his wife, on the lawyer who didn’t take the drug money, on the daughter who held her tongue again and again. All this anonymous heroism.
We relish news of our heroes, forgetting that we are extraordinary to somebody too.
In 1941 Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber at thirteen thousand feet to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he smothered the fire and returned along the wing to the aircraft’s cabin. Winston Churchill, an admirer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Struck dumb with awe in Churchill’s presence, Ward was unable to answer the prime minister’s questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. “You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” managed Ward.
“Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours,” said Churchill.
Courage is more exhilarating than fear, and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.
When confronted by a human being who impresses us as truly great, should we not be moved rather than chilled by the knowledge that he might have attained his greatness only through his failures?
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.
We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story.
If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness and ask for truth, and he will find both.
True myths may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero — really look — and he turns into a gerbil. But you look at Apollo, and he looks back at you. The poet Rilke looked at a statue of Apollo about fifty years ago, and Apollo spoke to him. “You must change your life,” he said. When the true myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message: “You must change your life.”
I’ve often said, the only thing standing between me and greatness is me.