RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

We Could Be Heroes…

Today, 16th March 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the day that Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates did an amazing thing. During the disaster that was the Expedition to the South Pole led by Captain Scott suffering from terrible frostbite on his feet, Oates realised that he was slowing the rest of the party down, and that his injury was putting the others in jeopardy. During a terrible storm he decided that he could not hold the rest back and made the decision to sacrifice himself so the others had a better chance to live. He made the famous quote ‘I’m just going outside. I may be sometime,’ and walked into the storm and was never seen again.

This is an amazing thing. He did an amazing thing. Sacrificed himself for others. Laid down his life for the greater good. He did a heroic thing. A true hero. From an age of heroes. Scott. Amundsen. Shackleton. Doers of great things.


We live in another heroic age. Or do we? Or do we live in a similar age, but just use the word ‘hero’ too much.

It’s an easy word. It trips of the tongue. But it is everywhere. Help for Heroes. Our Heroes. Even bloody Miniature Heroes. But does the over-use of the word devalue it? Are even the people we call heroes, actually heroes? What are heroes? What makes a hero?

I have often listed my heroes on this blog. Sqn Ldr Brian ‘Sandy’ Lane, Flt Sgt George ‘Grumpy’ Unwin, Grp Capt Willie ‘Tirpitz’ Tait, Ernest Shackleton. But why are they my heroes? What did they do that made them heroes to me?

Well they all were men of ‘distinguished courage or ability; admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.’ And they were all people who ‘in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal’. (Sorry I HAD to look on Dictionary.com.) They were a ‘standard or example for imitation or comparison’, and had ‘an exalted moral or mental character or excellence’.

And it came to me that suddenly the appending of the title hero to someone isn’t just about what they do. It’s not just about what they are. It’s all about a matter of perception. If you value a person, what they do, how they do it and more, what they stand for – than that person is a hero.

Maybe not a hero to everyone. What makes Shackleton a hero to me; you might think is a weakness. I don’t think that Scott is a hero – he was arrogant and didn’t listen to others, but Shackleton (who at times similarly didn’t listen to others) is a hero because he thought of others and worked so hard to make sure that all his crew survived a calamity.

A hero is someone who inspires you, makes you want to be better than you are. It’s subjective, not empirical. You can’t count or catalogue heroism. You just think something is heroic. You think he, or she is heroic. You think what they do is.

Clearly not everyone can do heroic things. And anyway, heroes are traditionally flawed. The ancient Greeks had a thing for heroes…Paris was vain. Achilles was brave and fierce but ultimately vulnerable. Hercules was noble and strong but murdered his own children! Modern heroes are similarly flawed. Scott was an egotist, Bader was arrogant. Mandela was a killer. Beckham is seen as an idiot.

But here’s the thing. Maybe everyone I listed there were just normal people. Maybe like everyone, a hero is just a normal person with problems, issues, weaknesses, faults.

I spent yesterday asking people over on Twitter what they considered made a hero. Who their heroes were. What made them heroes. And I got nearly a hundred responses. And it was interesting how different each one was. There were lots along similar line – that heroes put other people first; that heroes are brave. That heroes sacrifice themselves for others. Some people were adamant that heroes could only wear a uniform. That they had to work for the greater good. That they are parents, they are soldiers, sailors, airmen. That they are NOT footballers. I ended up asking myself lots of questions. Can anyone be a hero? Is it what you do or what you are that makes someone a hero? Is heroism about service or about inspiration?

Doing great things for others, putting yourself in harms way for others IS heroic, but are you a hero just for achieving great things. For instance David Beckham scored amazing goals and inspires people to play football and is a shining example of personal fitness – and yet because of what he IS some people don’t consider him or Terry, or Lampard, or Ferdinand to be a hero.

And this is where it is back to values. A hero is someone who does stuff or is something or has an outlook that you admire. That inspires you. That makes you want to be better than you are. That makes you want to be a better human being and, that you accept despite the fact that he or she is flawed. They are just human. Like you, but they offer you a view that you could be a better you. A you that you want to be.

Sometimes that view is one that is shared by pretty much everyone. Oates, 100 years ago gave his life for others. What he did entered the national psyche as being heroic. Oates was, and is a hero.

Today soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are doing the same. Is everyone of them – of us – a hero? Some are braver than the rest, and it’s not up to me to decide that they are or not. It’s up to you. If you value what anyone does, despite what it is that they actually do – play football, fight in a war, bring up a child, be a parent, visit dying strangers, whatever, then they are a hero.

Is the word hero over-used? No. There are hundreds and thousands of heroes. Heroes are just what we all think they are. No one is right. No one is wrong. We make other people heroes because we think they are. And if you think someone or a group of people are heroes then, do you know what? 

You are right.

They are heroes.



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4 thoughts on “We Could Be Heroes…

  1. Simon Martindale on said:

    Lost for words mate.

  2. JulesO on said:

    I was certainly of the opinion that “Hero” is a phrase that is often used too much these days – but you are right, heroes can be personal, and they can be universal!

    To mis-quote Andy Warhol, everyone will probably be a hero for at least 15 minutes in their lifetime, and they will all deserve it, in the eyes of someone.

  3. dudropt on said:

    Altruism is a form of Heroism…

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