Throughout the days of humanity, the comings and goings from epoch to epoch, heroes abound and embellish the chronicles of writing as well as memory. In literature, we have heroic archetypes in the persons of Odysseus and Hercules for their feats of wit and physical prowess in the face of gods, monsters, and great peril in general. History (in this case Philippine History) distinguishes many heroes such as Dr Jose Rizal— the intellectual that fought with pen and paper— and Andres Bonifacio— the Father of a Revolution. For the Natural Sciences, we have pioneering individuals such as Marie Curie and her inquiries in radioactivity as well as Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Even socio-economic context has its share of heroes like Efren Peñaflorida for his pushcart classroom and the general body of Filipino Overseas Workers (OWF’s) — well, you’ll find a lot to read about that justify the quality of heroism in the OFW. Heck, Manny Pacquiao is a hero to a number, perhaps even a large number, of Filipinos (no negative connotation in this statement, mind you). The point is, as in the first sentence of this paragraph, that there are quite a number of heroes, not just a few, but a lot, really.
But then isn’t it logical to ask: “What makes a hero a hero?”
In fact, that question has been the topic of discussion of the many fields of knowledge— the formal and the informal; in the social sciences or in the humanities; within the confines of the academic arena or outside: in the conversations of everyday folk. And rightly so, you’ll get as many answers, answers that might not even be consistent with one another. So while I do not intend for this composition as a loaded assertion, as in to posit and debate that an answer be the answer to the question above, allow me to present my own version of what a hero is in this day and age— a version that may, in a large part, stem from personal experience as well as, of course, sentiment. From there, I shall extend the case to people of such description.
Right off the bat, especially from the examples given in the introductory statements, can we conclude that being a hero and great deeds are one and the same, that all heroes are recognized as such due to their great deeds? The problem there is the vagueness of the term “great”, on what makes a deed warrant the attribute “great”. However, putting the issue of semantics in the concept of greatness at the periphery, I’d like to think that these so-called “great” deeds are but necessary— not sufficient— for being a hero; that is, great deeds follow from being a hero, and not the other way around. Despite being ruled out of this definition of what hero is, great deeds perhaps offer the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Intuition may be enough to rightly say that when a great deed is done, the doer, more often than not, takes a risk; the doer sticks his/her neck out and becomes vulnerable. Vulnerable to what? Well, vulnerable to a lot of things, things like failure, harsh judgement, pain, disadvantageous positions, all sorts of nasty and undesirable ends. Yet in the face of these adverse possibilities, the doer— the hero-in-the-making— proceeds with the act of greatness anyway, treading the darkness of uncertainty, the terra incognita, and back— perhaps not necessarily unscathed, but as a better individual in general.
So from the above, we get that a hero is someone who puts his/herself on the spot, exposing a chink in his/her armor. While the regular implication would be bravery (indeed to do so entails a considerable amount of such), another implication is someone with a mind, with a consciousness, beyond one’s immediate self, reaching out perhaps to other people, to the future, to a cause, to a philosophy, and/or to other things of the sort. This is someone who is made to move not by what is immediately in front of him/her so to say, but this is someone who sees a bigger picture and acts in relation to it. Yet another point that may be derived from the above, albeit perhaps corollary to the first point, is that a hero is contextual. This point is especially integral to the relation between heroes and great deeds in that heroes and their great deeds often come as shocks and anomalies to the prevailing status quo of a certain period in history. Thus, a hero is also relative; a hero, i.e. the recognition of a hero, is subject to the perceptions of each individual. After all, while Dr Jose Rizal is a hero among the Filipinos, he was a headache to the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines during the time.
Finally, let me now apply an extension in the context of what I experience and observe in the everyday and identify people that fit the picture of a hero that was formed in the above.
For the most part, I see that the world we live in is a one with many strangers. We encounter many faces as we go about our day, yet it’s as if we’ve constructed a bubble to keep them out. We go as far as ignoring each other, pushing each other aside as each of us do our own thing; more so, to look another in the face, even for a time shorter than a glance, even by chance given the vast sea of humanity ubiquitous all around, often spells out a pretty awkward air. In a statement, it’s a dog-eat-dog world; it’s every man for himself. In a word, it can be, very simply, “indifference”.
Yet, every now and then, we see a person helping out a stranger pick up a bundle of things that he/she dropped; a person who guesses that a stranger looks lost, guesses right by talking to him/her, and offers the appropriate directions if possible; a person who is, say, in the gym (or any venue where a certain activity is done) sees a stranger having trouble with his/her technique or whatnot and offers advice and/or instruction so as to improve that strangers ability to perform whatever that activity may be; or even a person so kind enough to inform a stranger that a leaf has settled in his/her hair and saves him/her the embarrassment of having something undesired beetling out of their hair without their knowledge.
In these situations, that person-in-question risks a number of things, things like the possibility of being branded a creep (or somewhere along those harsh lines), that awkwardness with having to deal with a stranger, the chance that amicability be mistaken for condescendingness and all the fuss that follows, basically all sorts of negative receptions from the stranger. Yet the person does so, in most cases, not because of selfish, ulterior motives, but the person extends a helping hand with the honest intention to, well, help— because of a number of things, among them most often is concern for another individual in-need. The context of heroism here is that, again let me reiterate, our world now is one with many strangers, and strangers are strangers, for we pay them no mind. Nonetheless, here is this person minding a stranger as he/she struggles, and this person, contrary to just looking the other way, rushes to give aid. Oh what a shock to the prevailing status quo! More so, the heroism exhibited is relative: to bystanders, the act may just as very well be something mundane or something far from outstanding; even to the person— the doer— the act may simply be just something natural or spontaneous; yet in the eyes of the stranger on the receiving end of the act, the person who went out of his/her way for someone else’s sake was a lifesaver, a godsend, a pleasant surprise.
Yes, as you can see, I’m someone who values these random acts of kindness, for they go a long way in reminding us of the fine line between the cathartic surge of living within the fold of humanity— that cacophony of melancholy and bliss that we hum as we stride along life itself— and a cold, dehumanizing dystopia— ruthless anathema that kicks us while we’re down and salts our wounds.
Thus, if a hero is to a great deed, then, in our context, a hero can be anybody, and, the great deed is that random act of kindness.
— Miguel Raymundo C. Gutierrez