Out of nowhere recently, the term “hero” began to strike me as being terribly dated.
Hero. Hero. Hero? Hero.
Say it enough, and it begins to feel like it hails from another tongue as much as it does from another time.
Does the current generation of children have heroes? If they do, are they heroes of the sort that we would have recognized a generation or two ago? Are there universally recognized heroes, manufactured and upheld by the mass media? Or has our attention fragmented, our willingness to believe in heroes offset (rightfully so) by wariness, our emphasis shifted to celebrity?
Is “role model” a more apt word for the figures we’d like our children to look up to and take an interest in? How about “inspiration”? Or just “interesting person”?
I’ve been asking lots of questions about this lately — not just here, but in conversations with my children and with friends and with just-met acquaintances. It’s on my mind as a parent, and as someone working on various books about people I hope my young readers will find interesting but stop short of worshiping.
I may well be asking more questions here. I’d love to know what you think of the ones I’ve posed so far, and what your own questions are — as parents, readers, writers, librarians, and citizens.
Who are children’s heroes today, if anybody? Who would you like them to be? Who are yours?
Interesting questions, Chris. I don’t know that role-models and heroes are always the same, though. I mean, I’d think most heroes could be role-models, too, but I think there’s something more involved. Just off the top of my head, Captain Sullenberger landed his plane in the Hudson, becoming a hero. We’d like our kids to emulate his calm under pressure, but that seems a small part of the bigger act. (We can also discuss accidental heroes vs. folks who, say, become a hero by setting out to do something (even if they don’t think it’ll make them heroic)).
I do think the term “hero” is tossed around a lot in a way that’s diluted its meaning. Sports stars come to mind as folks called heroes who are really more aspirational or inspirational or even role models. But heroes? Not so much.
These are interesting musings, and I agree with Greg about the nuances of role-models as opposed to heroes. When I volunteer weekly at our local Boys and Girls Club for “homework help” aka controlled chaos, sometimes there is an assignment about “heroes.” It is both surprising and affirming how many of these kids (ages 9-14) pick a family member — parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent — as their heroes, not the rappers nor the sports stars.
Greg and Margo, thanks for weighing in. I think a hero can be a role model, and vice versa, but there are distinctions.
“Hero” suggests to me someone who is elevated by awareness of their actions alone — but who can quickly be brought low by public knowledge of questionable moral choices. (For example, the last photograph in a not-all-that-old National Geographic book about American heroes is Tiger Woods.)
To me, “role model” suggests a greater attraction to and knowledge of the person’s whole self — not just their public actions but their inner lives as well.
I wonder if biographies for young readers about lesser-known figures (Bob and Joe Switzer, Effa Manley, Bill Finger, and Bill Traylor come to mind, just to name a few subjects written about by me and my friends) appeal more to readers looking for role models than for heroes, or if the appeal is simply that these people led interesting lives.
[…] I’ve touched on this subject before but didn’t really get around to providing examples of my own heroes or even a definition of […]