Seven Principal Qualities of a Hero

Universitas Kristen Indonesia

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Why do movies like Superman, Iron Man, Robin Hood, Rambo and Spiderman always become box-office hits? Why do biographies of famous figures like Churchill, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sukarno, and Mother Teresa, often become bestsellers? Why do many people revere sports stars like Lionel Messi and Michael Jordan? Simply because people always need and love heroes! All societies in all eras always look for somebody who inspires them by his/her example; someone who is ethically and emotionally worth of their admiration, or somebody to idolize. That’s why histories, myths, and literature from the ancient time up to the present day reveal a lot of heroes, like Hercules, Achilles, Gatot Kaca, Julius Caesar, Alfred the great, Gadjah Mada, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and so on. But what makes them heroes or heroines while millions of other people are not? Based on some literature review and academic discussions, seven variables make some people heroes. Of course, there are some other variables of heroic character, but these seven qualities seem to be the vital foundational qualities found in countless heroes from all over the world.

The first ultimate foundational quality of a hero is honesty. In a general sense, honesty refers to one’s resolution not to lie, steal, cheat, or deceive in any way. It is closely intertwined with integrity (i.e. the disposition for thinking and doing what is right at all times even when no one is watching and no matter what the consequences are). Honesty earns a hero other people’s respect and admiration. Honesty even encourages them to emulate him. These help him to lead the people to reach the desired goal. A survey involving 950 American adults and teenagers, as reported by Pamplin and Eisler in American Heroes: Their Lives, Their Values, Their Beliefs (1995), revealed that the most important quality in a hero according to a majority of the respondents, is honesty, followed by compassion and high moral standards.

The next key variable contributing to heroic behavior is compassion for other people. All heroes have deep empathy and sorrow for other people facing adversity or being stricken by misfortune. Having genuine care about the security and well-being of such people, heroes will rush in to help them. Their compassion drives them to sacrifice their personal comforts and even puts their life at great risk for the greater good of others. It was compassion that motivated Mother Teresa to give herself to feed, wash, and care for many poor people in India. It also enabled Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela to personally suffer while struggling for the greater good of others. In this sense, parents who work so hard and ignore their own comforts so their kids can go to college are heroes, aren’t they?

The third m quality of a hero is courage, which is defined as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Compassion is the main contributor of heroic behavior, but without courage, compassion will fade. Eric Greitens, an American author, politician, and former Navy SEAL who served as the 56th governor of Missouri accentuated, “Without courage, compassion falters. Without compassion, courage has no direction.” Courage has been a cornerstone of heroism from the ancient era up to now. It enabled the ancient age heroes like Achilles and Hercules, the medieval heroes like Lancelot and King Arthur, and the modern fighters for human rights such as Viktor Frankl and Malala Yousafzai to overcome their fears and keep on meeting any head-on challenge. Being courageous does not mean having no fear. But heroes can always conquest their fear. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

The fourth ultimate foundational quality of a hero is empathy, which enables him to see and share someone else’s feelings and experiences and even put himself in that person’s situation. Being emphatic, a hero can immediately encounter a situation where an individual is in need for he can instantaneously put himself in someone else’s shoes. The capacity to empathize is a very fundamental quality of a hero because it is an effective tool for actualizing compassion. Empathy allows a hero to sincerely listen to others and see things from their perspective which provides him an appropriate understanding of the adversity faced by others. With such a proper understanding, a hero can handle the situation better.

The fifth quality of a hero is perseverance. Briefly defined as a persistent determination, perseverance is a final need of heroism because being a hero can be occasionally a thankless fight and often involves failure after failure. With perseverance, however, a hero can get over any failure encountering his way and keep on fighting, despite difficulties, failure, and opposition, till he achieves the desired goal. It encourages him to never even think to give up. He might not attain his goal on the first, second, or even tenth time round as he believes he never truly loses until he stops trying. A popular example of perseverance is shown by Edison. It was reported that he and his team should execute around 1,200 experiments and tested hundreds of materials before finally invented the light bulb. Edison’s perseverance is shown through what he said anytime he failed, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The next quality of a hero is confidence. A hero can immediately jump into the stormy sea to save someone drowning only if he has confidence. The hero realizes an action entailing extreme physical demands like what he does may put him in the same danger as the potential victim. However, confronted by the need to help others in an extreme, life-threatening emergency, his confidence enables him to balance his ability to help and control his emotions to conquer fear. However, confidence must be differentiated from cockiness. Confidence is a belief based on one’s recognition of his strengths, assets, intelligence, and resources that he can use in any situation. It assures others around him that things will be okay. Contrarily, cockiness is showing off or bragging without actually having the capabilities or expertise to support it.

The seventh quality is humility, which means “the quality of being humble; putting the needs of another person before your own; thinking of others before yourself;  not drawing attention to yourself; acknowledging that you are not always right” (, is the feature that differentiates ancient time heroes and modern era heroes. Different from heroes in classic mythology, such as Achilles and Theseus, who often accomplished their heroic feats for personal glory or riches, modern heroes like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela are tied to humility. A true hero does not conduct heroic acts to be worshiped. A true hero keeps on being humble and always makes it clear that his actions are to help others. He also realizes that he has some weaknesses and thus, he needs the help of others to achieve the desired goal.

The above seven qualities are some of the most fundamental variables that heroes always possess. Honesty, compassion, courage, empathy, perseverance, confidence, and humility enable heroes to inspire others, to be revered, and to lead their people to make changes that even may extend and stretch the boundaries of their society. Your familiarity with these quality can help you determine whether a person is truly a hero or not. The same familiarity can also enable you to be a hero, if you follow it up by increasing these qualities in yourself.

What do you think? Is there any other quality that surpasses the seven items discussed in this essay? feel free to share it in the reply section below.

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