"Show me a hero," quipped American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, "and I will write you a tragedy." The ultimate tragedy, however, is the vast majority of modem hero-worshipers in the Western world who revere false heroes. So much so, that hero is one of the most misused words in the English language. As a matter of course hero today is mostly applied to people who do well in sports or in the financial world or in show business and have gotten a lot of publicity. Unfortunately, the modem American hero is somebody whom we adore, respect, worship, or idolize for all the wrong reasons. With this in mind, it's best to be careful with your heroes. Don't put any of them on a pedestal. After all, no one - even a true hero - deserves to be there.
Granted, there is not anything basically wrong when we admire celebrities of sports and popular culture, such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfield, David Letterman, Mick Jagger, and Celine Dion. These people have been creative and extremely successful in their own right. Nevertheless, spending too much time watching and talking about celebrities robs us of precious time and energy that could be used in attaining significant accomplishments ourselves.
The core of the matter is that there seems to be a totally unwarranted, yet broadly accepted, belief by the public that modem heroes are larger than life. Given enough time, however, most sports celebrities, movie stars, singers, and politicians end up displaying behavior that astonishes even those who have looked up to them. On the extreme are those pop idols with character flaws so serious that they would make the Devil proud.
Another dark side of modem hero-worshipers is that most live their lives vicariously through their false heroes. If you are living vicariously through a false hero such as a rock star, a baseball player, or a movie star, what does this say about your own character? Shallow, or even deficient, wouldn't you say? Undoubtedly you are telling yourself that you are not good enough yourself as a human being - not proud of your own accomplishments in life, in other words. Living vicariously through gurus, sports celebrities, and movie stars limits you from creating the life that you want.
There is one thing of which you can be certain. A true hero does not live vicariously through someone that he or she admires. So what constitutes a true hero? Hungarian revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth concluded, "It's the surmounting of difficulties that makes heroes."
Based on this measure, true heroes know how to steer past major obstacles, jump over some more, and blow up even more as they proceed toward their own definition of success. Even so, a true hero is not infallible. He makes mistakes. He sometimes falters. He may even stop accomplishing for a period of time but he never gives up in his quest to make this world a better place to live.
The true heroes are those people who have overcome hardship and made a significant contribution to this world but who are never given any publicity by the media. For example, Father Bob McCahill rides his run-down bicycle through the streets of Bangladesh helping the sick who are too poor to visit a hospital. Individuals such as Father McCahill who work with the street people of this world are doing incredible work. Unfortunately, we seldom, if ever, hear or read about them in the media. These people would make much better role models for youths and adults alike than todays spoiled sports celebrities and movie stars.
All told, even the most accomplished and well-mannered heroes shouldn't be idolized. It's inspiring and constructive and rewarding to use them as role models - but don't live vicariously through them. They have their insecurities and they have their problems.
No human being is worthy of excess esteem from others. Truly self-confident individuals can admire the accomplishments and success of another person, but they don't think anyone is superior to them. They also know that the belief in the superiority of heroes can limit their own power to attain what they want out of life.