What is a Hero?

So let’s begin with the question: “What is a hero?”

Is the hero that dashing guy with the square-ish jaw who dives into trouble whatever it may be, saves girls and becomes a model example for the people? Is a hero that noisy kid who’s always trying to do good deeds so that the people will warm up to him? Is a hero that guy struggling against cruelty in his society and dreams of bringing down the status quo so that his people may finally prosper? Is a hero that guy who gets beat up at every turn by his enemies but struggles to do what is right anyway so that people can at least live decent lives?

superman_philippinesIn this modern age that’s saturated by wrong messages by the media, it’s almost hard to tell. The examples given above are simply the heroes (or the people called “heroes”) as told to us to by the mass media. Indeed, while they may indeed have heroic traits of their own, each hero probably has unique abilities and motivations from one another. Also note that no hero, or even saint, is without flaws as all of them will have one kind of disadvantage or more.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

Take for instance that Oskar Schindler was a womanizer and would probably sit up there alongside Hugh Hefner when it comes to sheer promiscuity. Also note that George Washington, despite his noble acts was still a slave owner and didn’t seem to include them in his plans for the country. Then you have guys like Vlad the Impaler or Nobunaga Oda who are horrible people but somehow used their more monstrous aspects intentionally (or unintentionally) to improve the lives of their people such as by uniting them under a single banner or horrifying would-be conquerors with their frightening reputations.

So just what goes into being a hero? If you look at a lot of western media and shows from more developed countries like Japan or South Korea, you see that many film and series crews struggle to make their heroes as believable and realistic as possible. A lot of their heroes are often flawed individuals, similar to actual historical heroes which are mentioned above. They do this not only because of drama and ratings but because this is often what happens in real life. Take for instance Rick Grimes from the Walking Dead who goes from being an idealist to a man who is willing to commit reprehensible acts for the survival of his comrades or Gon from Hunter x Hunter who starts as your typical idyllic shounen hero but becomes a murderous and vengeful sociopath in the end of the Chimera Ant arc. There are many more examples but listing them here will probably make this article too long and boring.

Anyway, among readers and writers of fiction, there is a trope or cliche called Mary Sue or Marty Stu. These are characters, often protagonists, who are deemed too “perfect” to be believable. While they are very subjective tropes, Mary Sues and Marty Stus are often avoided in mainstream stories overseas because they fail to be intellectually entertaining and may even project the wrong values in the people who read or watch it. Now, ideal characters were quite popular back in the 1800’s but people gradually lost interest in them in the course of the 20th century because everyone knows that they probably don’t exist in real life. The two World Wars and the many mini-conflicts that took place during the Cold War showed proof to the world that any kind of struggle could turn ugly if one wasn’t careful and that very seldom do people escape unscathed from them.

Unfortunately, here in the Philippines, since the mid to late 2000s, I began to notice the trend of unrealistic heroes and heroines being featured, praised and worshipped throughout many shows. I mean before that, I got to see characters like Pedro Penduko (the Gano Gibbs version) and the likes of Don Robert from Ober da Bakod, who were flawed but nonetheless endearing characters. Well, of course there was the Panday which I mostly find funny when I look at some of the more glaring faults of the film series but its more recent incarnations definitely serve as one of the greater examples of Mary Sue-dom.

So okay, let’s go back to my first question: What is a hero?

With our local media grinding out cliche after cliche, I think the people’s idea of a hero have been muddled by escapist thoughts and ideals. Most Pinoys aren’t looking for a hero like George Washington, Jose Rizal, Harry Dresden or even Kamina (may the Spiral bless us all), they’re looking for a hero who will do everything for them. In Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the titular swordsmen train the villagers in defending themselves against the bandits and, in the end, imparted something greater to the community as a whole. They taught the people how to fend for themselves in a merciless world which will probably not just ensure their survival but also allow for them the opportunity to improve themselves and perhaps even others along the way. These are not the kind of heroes Pinoys look for, instead, their kind of heroes are the ones who will do all the work for them and make all the difficult decisions for them. They want someone else to do all the thinking for them instead of making choices for themselves and choosing what kind of future they want for themselves and their children.

Worse yet, in more developed cultures, the idea of a hero is a man or woman who does what is right despite the odds and the consequences that their decisions entail. Like with Oskar Schindler, he was given the choice of either helping victims of genocide or risk bankruptcy and possible arrest and execution but chose to do what was right anyway. Harry Dresden, the hero of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is often beaten within an inch of his life for meddling in other people’s business such as when protecting innocent people from vampires and demons.

I have always believed that being a hero meant making decisions that are painful but are for the good of all or many. By choosing to stand up for what is right, we will likely be hated, beaten or outright killed but go through with it anyway because that is what’s right.

Let me make this clear: Being a hero is NOT about doing what’s right only because it’s what is easy or convenient. Being a hero is NOT about who has the biggest guns or the sharpest swords. Most of all, being a hero is NOT about being related to pop culture figures.

So no, just because your parents died somewhere doesn’t make you a hero. Just because you’re a church-goer doesn’t make you a saint. Just because you’re on TV all the time doesn’t make you a role model for people.

It’s not really the circumstances that one lives in that makes them a hero, it’s what they do in the face of those circumstances…

22 Replies to “What is a Hero?”

  1. What is your obsession with helping others (plural) as stated here by you: “I have always believed that being a hero meant making decisions that are painful but are for the good of all or many.”

    Why cant I just save one guy’s life who just plunged with his car in a canal (or river), then walk away and mind my own business? Does this make me a hero? No. I just wanted to save somebody’s life. Thats all.

    Jesus fucking christ, you all seem to think that doing good to others (plural), is the only thing that counts. You really have an unhealthy obsession there.

      1. Grimwald,
        for 80% of your population god is their hero. Did and does that make your country less poor?

        My point: hero(s) do not make a country better. And people do not look up to heros and change their lives. That is really a myth.

        And if you think otherwise, why dont you yourself start to become a hero. Safe some lifes, give money away to the poor and give all your time to other people (as long as you dont put yourself as No. 1). Right?

        Wake up buddy, a country doesnt need a hero at all.

        1. A country doesn’t need a hero in the same sense that a country doesn’t need people to look up to and make role models of, personifications of their noblest grandest most transcendent all-inclusive desires.

          No, I don’t buy that at all. Sometimes we do need people who would inform us of our better selves, of alternatives through their words and their deeds. The mere workaday fellows, limited as they are in the concerns and frustrations, cannot hope to deal with matters of grave and urgent import, especially with a nation as complex and as fragmented as ours is. Only those gifted with perspective, the ambivalence to know of and be acquainted with other perspectives, and the courage and chutzpah to carry through what he thinks is right for his fellow countrymen — that is your hero.

          Am I being too lofty for you?

        2. Pallacertus,
          during my entire life, I didnt have a hero; I didnt look up to certain – living and/or dead – people.
          But I am glad and grateful that a lot changed during the 1960s. Otherwise we still may have lived in the stone ages. When that happened I was born but not aware of what happened (too young).

          As long as any individual person doesnt feel the urge sometimes to look into the mirror and tell himself that he cant improve himself then he will never become his own “hero” or own “rolemodel”.

          Lets become our own role models. Lets NOT become other people’s hero’s. That is lame. I am not gonna save your daughter’s life just to get a medal and all kinds of TV and newspaper interviews.
          I am not gonna run into a house in flames to save your daughter and then get burnt to death in the process. And then get a posthumus medal.

          I will copy your life style because I think its better for me. Or I wont copy it because it doesnt suit me.

          Pls ask around and ask people who their hero is and what they changed in their lives because of that. I think they changed nothing.

          Mr. Grimwald =must do himself what he thinks is right for him and maybe he get some support and followers. So hopefully he will start big. Otherwise, he must stop writing blogs like that.

          Change the world, start with yourself.

        3. “Wake up, buddy, a country doesnt need a hero at all.”

          Does so. See, we have saints, prophets, martyrs and geniuses so why can’t there be hero for the regular ones. Why do you think Peter Parker work as a simple freelance photographer and Clark Kent as simple journalist on their daily lives? And Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are just your regular super rich. They become hero when they wear their mask, put away their fears and inhibitions and take the role that doesn’t concern them, doing far greater things than what they usually do everyday.

    1. Truth be told, I’m not really expecting that much. More likely than not, our countrymen will continue to be the stupid and dreamy sheep they have always been.

      There’s a nice place not far from where I live that’s quiet and peaceful. A forest that is rarely visited by people, once you’re there, it’s almost hard to leave. After I’ve said and done everything I need to, I plan to go there, put a gun to my head and go my merry way home.

      I’ve always felt that the Filipino people, including myself, are a lost cause. Nothing really means anything and nothing will really change. People are that blind around here.

      But I’ve always had a heart for storytelling. I don’t care if anyone reads or listens so long as I tell my stories to their end. I know that it’s probably useless in the long run.

      No one has ever really understands and no one ever really cares, but I think that telling a story is a reward in and of itself. To finish your story, to see the heroes of your tale reach their destination brings a joy I cannot even begin to describe.

      I don’t really plan on staying very long. By 2016, I hope to have gone to the Clearing Where the Path Ends. I don’t think I want to find out who’s going to take over the country by then because, more likely than not, it’s just another greedy despot whom the people will just adore.

      If you wanna stay and fight, I applaud you. You must be very brave indeed. I, for one though, am probably taking the high road and moving on.

      There’s nothing there for one such as me. The silent embrace of death is the only mercy I can expect, the only comfort I can pray for.

      I write here because maybe, just maybe, people will listen and wake up from the Lotus-Eater Machine that has trapped them. It may be a futile effort but its better than abandoning them to their fate. I don’t really think I can make a meaningful difference but, if I combine my work with the people here, we might be able to awaken more people.

      People say that I am still young but I feel very, very old. I am very tired now, despite my alleged “youth”. For all we know, I might even be dying.

      So no, I don’t need help, I’ve tried that. It only worked so far. In the end, that didn’t change a whole lot.

      Before I go though, I’m giving the people who ruined my country and its people a good F*ck You. If that is the only contribution I can give, if all I can do is write online articles and stories to both entertain and enlighten my people, then so be it.

      1. Thaddeus,
        you say you will leave this planet for eternity? Why dont you write a blog about earlier times till today and how you saw/see everything changing in/about the Philippines. I am sure you are not 15 anymore, so you must have experienced and seen a lot. Going down memory lane, if you will.

      2. WOW, YOU sound suicidal, PLEASE get some help.You are someone who can have all that life has to offer and you are more important alive than dead.DUDE, seriously, if you feel the need to get revenge on those who have ruined the Filippines, then LIVE A GOOD LIFE ! That is the best revenge of all.

        1. I AM suicidal and I already looked for help. Unfortunately, I don’t see things turning out any other way.

          Sorry, but a man can only go through so much without breaking. It has to end one way or another.

          Don’t worry though, still got a few stories to tell. I’m not going anywhere until I finish telling them.

        2. So much emotional edge and emo going around here…and on a site that criticizes emo no less.

        3. Don’t know mack, didn’t want to do that. Stuff’s been happening to me that I gotta adjust to. It’s not easy.

          Thanks for knocking me back into reality. Anyways, if there’s anything that I take genuine pleasure in, it’s storytelling and, very soon, I might have something for folks her to read and laugh at.

  2. My examples of flawed heroes:

    Light Yagami from DeathNote had the good intentions of giving the people absolute justice that they deserve, but the too much powers he had made him crossed many lines and paid a heavy price.

    Lelouch from Code Geass was somewhat similar to Light Yagami. But was willing to give everything to the world for his sister to live in it. He made hard, even terrible decisions but did not let corruption stray to his original goal he had planned.

    THe Super Sentai series Pirate Sentai Gokaigers started as a group who were just bypassing locals and minding their own business. But after witnessing how helpless those people they met, they stepped up and fight for them because they didn’t want to see people suffer as they did from the same tyrants. Thus, achieving the Ultimate treasure they seek.

  3. If by chance BS Aquino would contemplate of doing something heroic, it would narrow down to two choices:

    – Do the “ultimate heroic sacrifice” of stepping down from his “job”, or

    – become AN hero.

  4. To quote David, best known as Solid Snake, “There’s not a lot of difference between heroes and madmen…”

    Who you see as a hero or as a villain really depends on your perspective. One group’s “hero” can be another’s “villain”. It really depends on whose side you want to be on and what kind of evil they entail.

    For example, Joan of Arc. To the French, she is a hero fighting for the oppressed and for freedom. To the English, she is a scourge upon the land and must be stopped. Things ended badly for Joan. She was captured, raped, humiliated until it culminated in being burned on the stake. At the end of it all, she was just a woman who did what she thought was right.

    Bottom line, Heroes and Villains are all a matter of perspective and circumstance. Unlike in fiction, there are no such things as completely righteous heroes because we are human. And like all humans, we sometimes do less than righteous things just to get by.

    If you want to read fiction that turns the ideas of heroes over its head… go read Berserk, Battle Angel Alita/GUNNM or One-punch Man.

  5. If you look deeply in yourself:you are a Hero. Surviving life itself, in this merciless world…is heroic.

    The little boy who pushes his cart, day in and day out , to find scraps to sell for food is a hero.

    The Politician who refuse to steal from the national treasury; and tell us the truth is a hero…

    Heroism is found in all situations in our lives…

  6. Here I go bursting bubbles again.

    No such thing as hero among us anymore. If you look ‘deeply in your self’ and find a wimp residing there and still think you are a hero, that’s delusion. Surviving life is not proof of genuine heroism for a lot of survivors are cowards in fact. If you pushes cart for food day in and day out you’re not a hero, you are simply dirt poor. The politician who do not steal and tells the truth is not a hero. He is a good citizen that may not win the next election.

    You do the right things for other people despite the odds, you’re a good samaritan, not hero. You make hard decisions that entails sacrifice for the good of the many, you’re a good leader not a hero.

    Genuine heroes nowadays can only be found in those Marvel Super Comics.

    Nothing in what you can do that others are capable of doing can make you a hero. To be a hero is to become an impossibility. And that is not possible.


  7. You’ll find heroes everywhere at any day in most unlikely or dire situations. What we’re lacking are visionary leaders and people who wanted self-respect.

  8. To answer the question, What is a Hero? Perhaps, they are just these regular people who would right away or have second thoughts but still act super when the situation asked for it.

  9. Damn, I wish I have a chance to talk to Rizal. I will ask him if he consider himself a hero.

    His answer might have been interesting.

  10. Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale. Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.