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“Hero” may just be the most over-used word in America today.

Well, maybe second to “like”, as in “I was, like, wow, that is so sick and he was, like, dude, like, you should like so get over it...”

Let’s start with who are not heroes?

Sports figures. Actors. Rappers, Financiers. Politicians. Media “personalities”.

Sure some of these folks may have admirable characteristics but when we really consider it, very few of them are even role models much less heroes.

A few days ago, a friend referred to the main character in my book West from Yesterday as the “hero” of the story. I disagree. As defined and described, Tucker Lightfoot Clairborne is not a hero and not a role model and referring to him as either one makes me a little uncomfortable.

Okay, so what is a hero and why is there so much misuse of the term?

The answer to the second part of the question is simple. Marketing. Selling. Branding. Flawed efforts to “differentiate” one name from another.

I’ve had the supreme good luck to know heroes. On more than one occasion my life was saved by a small group of men who are the very definition of the term. A hero is someone who risks or does something significant for the benefit of someone else at a demonstrable cost to themselves.

Usually that “something significant” is life itself but I don’t think it has to be for the word hero to apply.

A single parent working two jobs and still finding time to help with homework is a hero.

An elderly retired person teaching English as a second language or a citizenship class on a pro bono basis is a hero.

A child spending countless hours caring for a frail parent and doing so with a good heart is a hero.

In these examples, the “something significant” is not death or injury, it’s time; time that could be spent in pursuit of personal pleasure, acquisition of more stuff, professional advancement or, in a lot of cases, simply rest and relaxation.

I believe, very strongly, that almost every human being who has ever lived, lives today or ever will live has a hero inside them. It simply boils down to opportunity.

We tend to think of some professions as “heroic” by nature. Firefighters, law-enforcement officers, members of the military come first to mind for most of us. Firefighters, law-enforcement officers and members of the military choose professions that offer much greater opportunity for that “inner hero” to emerge. Saving a child in a burning house, dropping a bad guy holding a human hostage, rushing across a field of fire to save a brother-in-arms, each involves going into harm’s way to save another soul.

When we learn of these actions, we’re encouraged by the reinforcement of faith in our fellow human beings.

I began by suggesting that the word “hero” is so over-used today it has become almost meaningless. But the fact is there are millions and millions of people whose lives are heroic in nature beginning with all of the parents who recognize that the most important single thing they will do in their allotted time is raise good kids.

I encourage you to look around and decide for yourself who is a hero...and who is not. You don’t have to wear a cape or be profiled on ESPN or Entertainment Tonight to be worthy of admiration and emulation.

Doing for others at the expense of yourself is better than a cape any day.

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