My classroom is humid this morning. It has finally rained in Corbin and the effects permeate my room like a damp cloth. I look across my cluttered desk and my eyes fall upon several books filled with the actions of heroic protagonists. I marvel at the fact that it is the actions of the governing which affect the many, but the actions of the few that inspire the world and history. Beyond any other practice, literature brings this forth.
Currently, we are studying some heroes from Greek mythology in my English class. It is always interesting to compare the modern idea of a hero to that of Grecian times. To do so, we must begin by determining what specific traits make a hero in our modern world. As such, I posed the question to my new sophomores. I asked them what characteristics merit the mantle of a contemporary hero.
I scripted the question on my whiteboard and waited patiently in the front of the room, leaning against my old wooden podium as their heads bent to a seemingly serious task. I could literally hear their pens and pencils scratching against the paper as they transcribed their responses. One boy absent-mindedly chewed his eraser, accidentally bit off a piece, then spat it to the floor in disgust. He looked up to see me watching, and I smiled and gave him a thumbs up as if to say, "glad you didn’t swallow it pal. Carry on!"
When the appropriate time had passed, I asked them the question aloud again, “What characteristics make up a modern-day hero?” Their answers were admirable. It wasn’t the skill of a warrior as the Greek hero Achilles exhibited, nor was it great strength as portrayed by the many acts of Hercules. Neither was it the ability to tweet.
The first answer I received from the prompt came from a girl who adamantly stated, “One characteristic of a hero should be selflessness.” I was so pleased with her answer, I could have stopped right there. Undeniably, a hero needs to be selfless. Conversely, the idea of sacrifice, however small, sometimes seems to be lost in culture. Still, I stress “sometimes,” because without a doubt, I have witnessed selflessness and sacrifice in our society, and it is indeed heroic.
Other answers followed suit. The traits the students supplied were not some fantastical superpower, rather qualities that should be innate in humanity. These gentle souls stated that a modern hero must have a sense of selflessness, a strong moral standard, a sense of loyalty, and at last, bravery.
I commended them, but also wanted to shelter them. I hope these intrepid youth keep these traits in high regard and aspire to lift them up in their own character. Indeed, our heroes - our role models and their traits are reflective of what our culture values in a person. So here, at the edge of adolescence, the beginning of that youthful ascent into adulthood, the question’s answer might be purer, lacking that hardened view that is sometimes colored by life’s circumstance.
Comparatively, I think a leader, like a society’s heroes, is reflective of that society’s values. Sadly, a dear friend once explained to me that as far as a leader, sometimes we need the bad person to do what needs to be done. I don’t agree. Among other things, I would hope a leader would embody those values that should be inherent in the proverbial good guy, and with them inspire and maybe be the hero.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.firstname.lastname@example.org.