What is a hero? Is it someone with superhero powers? Is it the celebrity, who shows us only her carefully crafted public persona but inspires envy and admiration? Are heroes even real, or are they simply fictional creations?
It's natural for us all to think of a hero as someone quite distant from our own, ordinary lives. We may imagine someone who finds herself in a do or die situation and somehow musters the courage and strength to come to the rescue, white steed and all. Alternatively, we might consider a hero the individual who quietly and selflessly lives a lifetime in service to others. To be heroic is such a big ideaÉthe sheer scale of it doesn't seem to fit within our daily experiences. But how big does the act or the person have to be? Can there not be smaller, less dramatic acts of heroism?
It's true that a hero acts without expecting to get something out of it. It's also true that there is typically some courage required, as there is risk in being heroic. The hero who runs into a burning building risks life and limb, while the altruistic servant-leader may risk a compromised income or standard of living. Typically, our students are not faced with these threats to their physical safety or quality of life; for an adolescent, however, one of the greatest risks can be loss of peer approval or social relationships: If I stand up for this other girl, will I lose my friends? If I speak in favor of something not considered cool, will I be laughed at? If I take a stand that's different from some of my more powerful classmates, will I be talked about on Facebook?
Taking on these truly scary risks requires courage – they represent small acts of heroism, in fact. Inviting a lone girl to share your lunch table or lounge, shutting down gossip, allowing a peer to grow and change from who she was in Lower School, and standing by a friend when others are not are all heroic actions.
Ask yourself: Can I recall a time when a classmate or a colleague was a hero for me? Can I recall a time when I was the hero, making even a small difference in anothers life? These are powerful momentsÉmoments that satisfy very basic desires to be known and to contribute. I urge you to find an opportunity to ask your daughter these questions, leading her to consider those moments when she might be the hero for someone else.