AMERICANS – AND many others around the world – are suffering an extreme case of the warm fuzzies in the wake of the news that three Americans, two of them service members, had joined others in subduing a terrorist as he prepared to kill as many people as he could on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris.
A potentially deadly situation that ended up with the good guys doing the right thing at the right time to ensure that little blood would be shed is something to celebrate, and the three Americans and others greatly deserve to be seen as heroes.
The problem is that after decades of our hanging the “hero” tag on anybody and everybody we admire, that tribute seems to have lost a good deal of its value. Everybody is a hero these days.
Anyone who puts on a military uniform is a hero.
Ditto for anyone who puts on a law-enforcement or firefighter uniform.
Teachers are heroes.
Nurses are heroes. (For some reason, very few doctors are seen as heroes. Maybe it’s because we resent their high salaries?)
Mothers are heroes, unless they abandon their kids.
Some fathers are heroes, mostly those (of all races) who are heads of poor families and do not walk out on those families. Single fathers are all heroes, regardless of their economic status.
School crossing guards are heroes.
And the list goes on and on, almost to the point of including any person who does what he or she is supposed to do. In other words, any person who doesn’t screw up is seen as a hero these days.
Sometimes, however, we call people heroes because we feel more than a tinge of guilt over the fact that we don’t compensate them enough. Think teachers. Think nurses.
And then there are the other kinds of heroes, people who are good at what they do: athletes, singers, actors, dancers, Wall Street wizards, Silicon Valley geniuses.
We call them all heroes because we admire them, and respect them, as we should (most of them). Again, it is right that we recognize and honor these people.
But — as is the case with the cat in the Geico desert/quicksand commercial who ignores the guy sinking into quicksand because ignoring people is what cats do — they are simply doing what they signed up for.
And, in calling them heroes, do we not run the risk of diminishing the impact of the word when we apply it to people such as Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, three of the people who thwarted the terrorist attack?
We could, of course, call them super heroes, but that term has been corrupted by Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Ant Man and other fictional characters. It would be an insult to call them that.
WE SHOULD KEEP the word hero. It’s a beautiful word. But we should be more conservative in how we use it; we should use it sparingly so that when we apply it to men like Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler, it will be infused with real meaning.