Who are Our Heroes Now?

Who Are Our Heroes Now?

Recently there’s been a spate of fallen heroes. Sepp Blatter, Alberto Salazar, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods. Notice that they’re all from sport and all tainted by cheating and corruption. Yet these men have been held up as heroes, as role models for others. There are others of course but sport seems to spawn an inordinate amount of cheating fallen heroes. Other areas are as guilty, entertainment has been tainted by the abusive and predatory Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, and politics is not a place we find anyone to admire any more – Joe Hockey, anyone? David Cameron, Tony Abbott?

There are a range of issues with expecting too much from people, with expecting perfection and goodness, with not allowing for human failure, with having heroes. But those mentioned have knowingly and wantonly cheated for their own good, have abused their positions of trust and exultation and in many cases are criminals.

Something in the human psyche needs someone to look up to, to revere, admire and emulate. Apparently Alexander the Great’s hero was Achilles, assassin supreme of myth and legend.


What makes a hero – or a heroine? What traits do we look for in those we admire? Think about this collection of positive characteristics:

Tenacious – they don’t give up, despite set backs, rejections and disappointments

Self-belief – they know they have something to offer, something worthy about themselves

Gifted – heroes tend to have a gift, a natural talent of some sort – Achilles and Alexander were gifted warriors; Richard Branson is a gifted businessman; Jimmy Page is an extraordinary guitarist/writer; Cate Blanchet is a talented and mesmeric actress; Dawn Fraser was the first woman to swim 100 metres in under a minute; Angela Merckel is a fierce and powerful politician. Heroes go beyond the ordinary, in who they are and what they do.

Dedication – these people work at their gift, they develop and refine it, use it and make themselves the best they can in their field. This is why we admire sports heroes – we know how many hours go into being the best, into winning. We admire skill and talent, we know we can’t do it and how hard it is, so their talent becomes super-human, as does the effort to become that good.

Achievement – true heroes leave their mark. The world knows they have been here – they have done something, not just made money or ripped things apart. Alexander built an empire; Shakespeare left an extraordinary body of work; Columbus went where no man had gone before. Agatha Christie wrote the best collection of crime fiction there is.

Something extra, something special – there is a sort of ‘it’ quality to heroes, something that sets them apart. They aren’t necessarily nice people, driven people often aren’t. They can be selfish and narcissistic, impervious to the needs of others but this single minded determination is admirable. People admire Steve Jobs but it’s clear he wasn’t the nicest person to be around. Elizabeth I was a great queen but mercurial and dangerous to cross. Still, we admire these two for their achievements and their presence on the world stage.


Why do we need heroes/heroines?

It seems we need people to look up to, to give us a clue about how to live a better life, be a better person. There’s no harm in hero worship. How many of us had walls plastered with the heroes of our youth – rock stars, film stars, sports stars? We could look at them and dream about being like them. Their benign presence in our bedrooms made us feel less alone in the world, and knowing that many of them had come from humble backgrounds and/or fought their way to the top was useful in the moments when you felt useless and unloved. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mark Spitz helped me through many tumultuous teenage traumas.

mark spitz

Perhaps the point is that we should be more careful about who we admire, who we elevate to hero status. It is so easy in a celebrity saturated culture to be elevated beyond your talents, beyond your means. Too many such fabricated ‘heroes’ are fools with feet of clay, who should not be on any pedestal or strutting on any stage. (Enough clichés there?) Too easy for us to be duped into admiring what is not worth a second glance.

Look away from vacuous greedy celebrities and corrupt cheating sports stars. They bring nothing of worth to the greater good of mankind. Look to those who achieve, who make a difference, the ordinary heroes all around us; nurses, doctors, teachers, librarians, firemen, policemen. Don’t over-look them when searching for people who do great things every day.

By all means have a hero. But choose wisely. Look to real achievement, to characteristics that are worth admiring: look to the past, look beyond pretty faces and keep well away from sport.


Remember, too, you can be a hero too – as Mr Bowie said, we can be heroes, if just for one day. Worth a try, I’d think – look to yourself as well as to others. (Images from Google Images & Private Collection).


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