Dictionary.com defines a hero as a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. Yep, sure sounds like someone I’d like to be. Sadly, although I may possess a modest amount of ability and, perhaps, even a modicum of noble qualities, I’m not ashamed to say that I may lack the necessary amount of courage required to be branded a hero.
When I say the word hero, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? The answer to this question is relative depending on the age of the person being asked, but I’d wager most people ultimately think of a comic superhero of some sort –- Superman, perhaps. But is this type of hero really what attracts or inspires others? One might say that Superman is the embodiment of the quintessential hero: strength, undeniable character, unwavering courage and heart, incorruptibility.
But he also casts the shadow of being the goody-two-shoes of all the heroes. He never lies, he never cheats –- Mr. Perfect. I don’t know if people really care for this kind of a hero, frankly. He’s so… up there -– untouchable. I believe, more often than not, people would rather follow a flawed hero over a Mr. Pristine type.
In keeping with the comic book analogy, I think that’s what makes Batman so appealing. Yes, he stands up for the weak and for what is right, but, man, does he have his demons. These are the guys we really root for –- the guys who, at the end of the day, have to go home to all their psychological anguish and tempered pasts that were ultimately responsible for turning them into heroes in the first place. Yet even in the face of all their torment and mental maladies, the courage and fortitude to push on and never quit, by default, makes them true heroes.
The same might also be said about the Harry Potter character, too. I think a lot of his popularity, aside from the incredibly amazing story and living, breathing world that Rowling created, had to do with the tragic past and "fish out of water" scenario that we found Harry thrust into at such a young age. We can't help but root for the underdog in those situations -- we're suckers for it, especially a hero that is humble and self-deprecating.
The word flaw naturally gives out a negative connotation, sometimes even an undertone of weakness. “Sure, he’s great, but what about [insert flaw here]!” But flawed heroes aren’t solely relegated to comic strips and movie screens. Some of the most heroic of heroes are and were living, breathing people like you and me. And of course when I say like you and me, I’m merely citing that they are of the same species as the rest of us. In no way am I trying to lump these fine, irreproachable humans in with the rest of us on a behavioral level. It would be an insult to them.
It’s very easy for me to draw inspiration from one of my all-time favorite heroes whenever I’m writing, or developing a hero for one of my stories. The name of Terry Fox may carry some notoriety around the world, but here in Canada Terry Fox has been immortalized alongside some of the all-time greatest heroes to ever walk this green earth.
Talk about being "flawed": how about suffering from cancer and having your leg amputated at the hip, all before your 20th birthday. Trust me when I say that that was the only flaw the guy ever had. Two years after the loss of his leg, Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope, where he essentially ran a marathon (26 miles) every day to raise money for cancer research. But he eventually had to stop –- succumbing to the cancer –- after 143 days of running and having covered 3,339 miles… ON ONE LEG!
The more I see the stats, the more I simply marvel at the guy. I’m able-bodied and perfectly healthy (ahem), yet you’ll never see me even contemplate entering a marathon out of sheer fear, or, dare I say, laziness. I don’t think Terry even knew what the word lazy meant. I’m almost certain that if I cut out my heart and set it down beside his, it would look like a marble beside a medicine-ball.
I’d like to amend my earlier example of the embodiment of a hero, if I may. Strength; undeniable character; unwavering courage and heart; incorruptibility –- sounds like Terry Fox to me. And the last time I checked, he never wore a red cape. Just like with everyday life, and most certainly when comparing comic book heroes to living, breathing heroes, it's always a delight to see that truth is quite often so much more remarkable than fiction.