I was reminded this morning of the overuse of the word hero by a report I heard on the news. They were talking about how brave a pop artist was to speak out on social issues and how she was a “hero”. In my opinion, not even close. I’m not even sure I’d put the pop star in the inspirational figure category. Who do I consider heroes and inspirational figures and what’s the difference? I’ll start with what I consider a hero. My heroes were willing to put everything on the line for a cause bigger than themselves. Some examples of my heroes are George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela.
George Washington was willing to risk everything for the belief in something bigger than himself. Even more impressive was the fact he was willing to walk away from the office in President, even after it was offered to him for life. His belief in something greater than himself never wavered. The same can be said about any of the other great men on my list.
Teddy Roosevelt was a bigger than life personality and was a big believer in service above self. He created America’s first national park and was a big advocate for preserving wildlife for future generations to enjoy. He was also tough as nails. He was shot at a campaign stop in Milwaukee in 1912 and rather than go to the hospital, he finished his speech. He even made light of the wound by showing his blood-stained shirt to the audience and saying he would try to give them a good speech in spite of the wound. He also gave one of my favorite speeches about being the man in the fight, and not the critic who stands outside the fray. Here is a short excerpt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Speech can be found here.
George Marshall served as Chief of Staff of the Army during World War 2 and made many of the behind the scenes decisions that ensured victory. He was also the architect of winning the peace while serving as Secretary of State and authoring the so-called Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. The goal of the plan was to rebuild war-devastated regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, make Europe prosperous once more, and prevent the spread of Communism. He also served as Secretary of Defense. He was known for putting his soldiers first and his compassion for the man in the field.
Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela both sought to create independent nations from former British colonies. While they took different paths, both were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed. They both made indelible impressions on their nations and still inspire people around the world for their steadfast devotion to their beliefs. I admire both men for what they achieved and how the handled adversity.
Inspirational figures are to be admired for their achievements in the face of adversity, but they really never put their life on the line. The inspirational figures that motivated me are Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ernest Hemingway. Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for their work ethic and never say die attitudes. Ernest Hemingway for how he lived and how he crafted his stories. All three never stopped pursuing their dreams and achieved greatness through grit and hard work. They inspire me to this day.
Whatever measure you use for your heroes and inspirational figures, try to make it one worth envying. Think about the millions who have given their life for their country, and who made the ultimate sacrifice, before you equate their deeds with something less noble. Remember the words from John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”