Can Heroes Be Bad?

Can Heroes Be Bad?

Lauren PesinMonday,2 March 2015

Captain America is a hero. Every thought, word, and action he takes is in protection of others, without consideration of his own safety or desires. In the real world, there is no Captain America.

It is arguably circumstance that makes heroes. The people we call heroes somehow found themselves in a situation in which they had to make a choice – to either run or stay and defend another person, animal, thing, or group while typically putting them in danger.

What defines a hero is a popular topic. For perhaps as long as we can remember and as long as humans have identified a possible candidate, we have debated what a hero is.

The most basic definition of hero, from Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.”

Another, more insightful definition was developed by The Heroic Imagination Project:

“Heroes are people who transform compassion into heroic action (a civic virtue). In doing so, they put their best selves forward in service to humanity. A hero is as an individual or a network of people that take action on behalf of others in need, or in defense of integrity or a moral cause.”

Immediately, certain historical events bring what we may consider heroes to mind. Perhaps the pilot Sully Sullenberger who saved the lives of 155 passengers by remarkably landing a disabled airplane against all odds; or the passengers of flight 13 in PA on 911 who fought and ultimately died to prevent more innocent death from happening are people that you think of when contemplating modern day heroes.

More controversial are people whose actions or intentions remain in question. For example, Edward Snowden (who leaked classified information) and Chris Kyle (American sniper). Regardless of my own strong feelings, the reality is when people say either of their names in the same sentence as the word hero, it makes me question who we, particularly Americans, consider heroes and why.

Society creates humans that are not all good or bad, but both.

If we are both, then can “bad” people be heroes?

Can bad people, who commit bad deeds, hurting people and harming society be a hero?

Can a serial killer who risks their own life to save a child be considered a hero?

Can a person (possibly a traitor) who thinks they are doing the right thing, be heroic if they put innocent lives at risk?

Is a person who kills people to save the lives of other people a hero?

Does the situation determine if they are a hero or villain?

If they are defending the weak or the innocent versus the guilty or deserving make a difference?

These examples might seem extreme, but they beg the debate over how we as a society define heroic individuals or what constitutes acts of heroism.

In spite of who we think of as heroes or if I agree, my feeling is that we throw the word hero around too much. In the end it doesn’t matter whom we call hero. What matters is how and when we act.


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Image Credit: Flickr

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