While a boy of five years might say Batman is a hero, ask him again when he is twenty, and, though he might still say Batman, the answer could also changed to a professional athlete or politician.
What does our society think a hero is? It is surely not a handsome prince who always shows up at the last second, or a crime fighting rich guy in a decked out suit. We moved far past the days where you could identify a hero by their ability to slay dragons and woo princesses. So what identifies heroes then?
Judging by CNN’s popular award show titled, “CNN Heroes,” it appears that a hero is not only someone who is a leader, but someone who also strives to help those who cannot help themselves.
CNN finds everyday people in communities all over the world who are reaching out to increase the quality of life for those around them. These people devote their lives to others and for many excellent reasons. The 2013 top CNN hero of the year, Chad Pregracke, dedicated his life to cleaning up the Mississippi River when he realized no one else was bothering to do it.
He first started pulling up tires, washing machines and other discarded items out of the river fifteen years ago and has since then gained about 70,000 volunteers. Is this really Heroism though? Cleaning up a mess no one should have made in the first place? Sure it is a great thing for us and for the environment, but should it be considered heroic?
Another CNN Hero, Kakenya Ntaiya, is from Kenya. In her village girls are expected to marry young, and to whomever they are told to be married to by their fathers. According to CNN most girls do not even finish primary school before they must quit to prepare for marriage. It is mandated in Ntaiya’s village that girls at the age of fourteen go through a genital mutilation ceremony. When growing up Ntaiya knew that soon she would have to drop out of school, go through the ceremony and marry. Initially she rebelled and refused to go through the ceremony, but Ntaiya loved school and wanted to stay. She convinced her father to let her continue with her education if she continued with the ceremony. He agreed.
She graduated high school and even got a scholarship to go to college in the United States. After graduating in 2009 she set up a school for girls back in her village, hoping to assist them in excelling in their education.
Since then, her success has only grown. She is making a difference in her community and gave these young girls the opportunity to have some direction over their own lives.
How could CNN even compare Pregracke’s story to that? Both Pregracke and Ntaiya made important contributions to society but I would not say they were both heroic. If Ntaiya had failed at her goal, not only would she have lost what was important to her, but the girls she is now helping would never have had the opportunity to continue their education and be something more than somebody’s wife.
If Pregracke had never started cleaning up the river, then the people living near it would have eventually been affected by the pollution, but any of them could have done what he did. He has 70,000 volunteers; he is not standing alone like Ntaiya did. Pregracke did not go against his family, or tradition to accomplish his goals; no one stood in his way.
One would say a hero is someone who overcomes obstacles, sometimes dangerous ones. What obstacles were in his way that could not be easily solved? What dangers did he face?
While we could all help the environment more, not many of us could have crossed the boundaries that Ntaiya did to gain what she wanted out of life, and even more of us would not have gone back to help others do the same.
That is what I call a hero.