The time has come to change our model of heroism

Heroes are not just mythical creatures

Paolo Gallo
Adjunct Professor Bocconi University, Founder Compass Consulting, Executive Coach
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Does modern society still have heroes?

While I was writing The Compass of Success, I asked around 200 people this question, and one thing surprised me about the answers.

To start with, everyone talked about famous actors or singers, athletes, or TV personalities, yet very few people brought up politicians or cultural figures such as writers or artists. But when the question changed to "Who are your heroes," all the answers changed too.

Lots of people mentioned a parent and many more said a grandparent, a teacher from the past, an old friend or a colleague. So basically the responses shifted from the spotlight of publicity to the true light of reason, the light of the heart.

It’s as if we accept a model of an empty, artificial model of heroism, but in our hearts we reserve a place for a person who’s dear to us, someone who may not ever be famous, as our personal hero.

Narcissism to courage

So I think we need to reconsider our role models to reprogram who we want to emulate: people we respect because of their ethical values and morals, not based on how many followers they have on social media, or how much they earned from the umpteenth display of narcissism on TV. So what are the criteria for choosing our heroes?

Heroes have the courage of their convictions. In other words, these people are consumed by their ideals; they’ve been imprisoned or even killed for what they believe in. Does that mean we have to follow the same path? Heroic as it may be, it certainly isn’t very appealing. But I’m convinced that we are all potentially heroes.

A hero is that middle-aged man who loses his job, and along with it his identity, yet he has the willpower to get back in the game, starting all over again from scratch, with dignity, until he makes it. A hero is that single mother, widowed or divorced, driven by a strong sense of responsibility, who manages to go on, day after day, so she can provide a brighter future for her kids. Heroes are young people fighting to get a job, or to stay in school, or to open a business or a start-up, despite an unemployment rate that strikes fear in their hearts.

Heroes are those workers who break their backs for a decent wage, working the night shift, taking the same tram for 30 years every morning at five. They are the cleaners who diligently do their job before 8 am and after 8 pm so we find our offices clean and tidy. Heroes are those immigrants who come from faraway places, and who perform menial tasks with pride, even though they’re qualified as lawyers or teachers in their home countries; they send their families everything they earn. Heroes are adopted children who were abandoned at birth, or children whose parents are divorced, yet they manage to keep their faith in adults, in their love, in life. Heroes are the social or religious workers who help the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the invisible.

Heroes are doctors, professors, judges, nurses, police officers who take responsibility for our health, our safety, the education of others, often for a modest salary. They are entrepreneurs who manage to run their companies and provide jobs for people who deserve to work, often despite endless bureaucratic headaches, or in some cases threats from organized crime rings. Heroes are survivors of terrible tragedies who strive to help others who share a similar destiny, teaching them that they too can overcome hard times. They are journalists or artists who use their art and knowledge to tell a story, to shine a light, to serve and encourage others.

Daily dignity

Heroes are people who protect our environment and our artistic treasures from unscrupulous opportunists. They are retired people who get miserly pensions after 40 years of work, but still manage to live with dignity and dedicate themselves to being grandparents. Heroes are people who walk through life on their own paths with their heads held high, without giving up their self-respect or their identity, despite the discrimination they suffer because of their sexual, religious, racial or political preferences. Heroes are the people who don’t accept exploitation, organized crime, corruption, scams, or games where the rules are rigged against those who deserve to win. They are people who volunteer their time to help neglected seniors, exploited women, forgotten children, convicts, prostitutes, and people who are all alone.

The time has come to change our model of heroism. This means that being a hero is no longer a mythical classification reserved for super heroes in comic books, or a few legendary men and women, or worse still, peacocks who spend all their time strutting in front of the mirror or under the spotlight. Instead, being a hero becomes a way of life: we don’t need heroic acts, but daily dignity. Our work becomes not just a job, but our most profound and authentic identity.

I’m convinced that you’re a hero too, or you’re about to turn into one.

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