The Definition of a Hero

Last week I talked about Caitlyn Jenner and her transformation.  What I want to talk about this week is somewhat related to that, in the sense that it emerged as a response to the story.  When Bruce became Caitlyn, large groups of people, men and women alike, came out in support of her choice.  They said she was brave.  They said she was an inspiration.

They said she was a hero.  And some people didn’t like that.

Some people started saying that Caitlyn Jenner wasn’t a hero and pointed to the people who served in the military.  I’ve seen several pictures floating around on Facebook that use this rhetoric.  They’re usually accompanied with a caption that says something like “They call Caitlyn Jenner a hero.  These are the real heroes.”

First off, let’s check the definition of a hero.  According to the Merriam-Webster website, a hero can be defined as the following:

  • A person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
  • A person who is greatly admired
  • The chief male character in a story, play, movie, etc.

Notice that in those three descriptions, none of them list the criteria that said person must be serving in the military.  The definition of hero does include that bit about the chief male character in a story, but that is mostly an archaic version of the definition, harking back to a time when gender stereotypes were rigidly enforced.

Is Caitlyn Jenner a hero?  I cannot say for sure.  But the issue I have here is not with people calling Jenner a hero.  People are free to do that as they wish.  I may or may not disagree with their assertion, but that is beside the point.  The people sharing these posts on Facebook, the ones insinuating that true heroes are only in the armed forces, are trying to co-opt the word “hero” and shape it to their own designs.  They are trying to take a word that has existed for centuries upon centuries, far longer than the United States military, and drastically reduce its meaning.  It is true that the word hero does often bring to mind the image of a noble warrior who fights for good, but not all heroes are warriors.

What about the person who pulls someone from the burning wreck of a car?  What about the person who jumps into a river to save a drowning man?  What about the person who, seeing injustice, decides to take a stand against it?  What about them?  Are they not considered heroes?  Or are we going to pretend that because they never served in the military they can’t be seen as noble human beings?

The idea that military personnel are above criticism is just flat-out stupid.  You are not a hero just because you join the military.  You are a hero because of the actions you take while in that role.  It’s just like with the American Sniper movie, how conservatives viciously attacked anyone who critiqued the movie, insinuating that they were unpatriotic scum who weren’t fit to shine Chris Kyle’s boots (Sarah Palin actually said something like that by the way…on Facebook no less).  Never mind the fact that Chris Kyle comes off as somewhat of a sociopath in his book.  Never mind the fact that he admitted he enjoyed killing.  Never mind the fact that he blatantly made stuff up and lied about certain events.

Never mind any of that because Man + Military = Hero.  And if you disagree, you’re just a scumbag who doesn’t deserve freedom.

How absolutely narcissistic must someone be to think they can single-handedly define a word that has existed for centuries before they were even born.  It seems to me like these people are trying to cover up their own prejudices about the whole Caitlyn Jenner situation by trying to make it about something completely different.  It’s the same rhetoric people employ when it comes to gay marriage.  No, they don’t hate gay people.  They just don’t want them to get married because it threatens their religious freedom.  They turn prejudice into something that seems noble.  A lot of the time, they get away with it, because if you question them you become the bad guy.  And that’s hard to get away from, because you find yourself defending a position that has absolutely nothing to do with the original problem.

You don’t get to claim someone isn’t a hero just because you don’t like them.  Someone being declared a hero is something that happens on a larger scale than just one individual.  People are deemed heroes by an entire society, an entire civilization.  One man doesn’t just call another a hero and expect the label to stick.  No, they have to earn it.  They have to prove their virtue to the people, and only then will they be considered a hero.


Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.




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