Recently, a classmate brought the story of Lt. Murphy to my attention. If you’re not familiar with his tale, go read it now.
Reading about Lt. Murphy’s actions got me thinking about heroes. Every society has its heroes; great people who have accomplished incredible things, who exemplify virtues that we wish to see in ourselves, our children, our community, and our society. Some heroes are fictional (see Batman, Superman, et al.). Some are real, like Lt. Murphy. Some have their stories embellished and are held up for all the world to admire, while others fade away and are quickly forgotten, or are never widely known to begin with. Heroes are important. They give us somebody to look up to and to emulate in certain respects, and they inspire us to great deeds. For this reason, we need to teach our ourselves and our children not only of heroes of days gone by, like George Washington or any of the founding fathers who put their lives on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence, but also of the heroes of our own time; those who, like Lt. Murphy, have shared the earth with us during our time on it.
I would argue that it is especially important for us to be familiar with the latter. We need to remind ourselves and those around us that great deeds are not relics of the past; they are both possible and needed in today’s world. We also need to be familiar with the wide variety of heroic acts that have been accomplished, and be aware that there are many whose stories cannot be told, but whose impact has been just as great as that of those whose tales spread across the country or the world like wildfire. Great acts are not confined to professional warriors. People can accomplish great things wherever there is room to fight evil or overcome one of the many problems that plague mankind.
Finally, I would argue that heroism and great deeds are not things one sets out to accomplish; rather, they are the side effect of one’s character. I would be shocked if Lt. Murphy had, early one morning in middle school, decided that his goal in life was to radio for backup from the middle of a firefight in the Middle East. Rather, he decided to become one of America’s most elite, most disciplined warriors, and when his team needed backup in the middle of a firefight, he was willing and able to dash out from cover and make the call. Similarly, John Hancock probably didn’t spend his boyhood dreaming of working to found a country based on some very important ideas; but when the time came, he was willing and able to do just that because of his training, education, and moral fibre. Had he become a town drunk, we likely never would have heard of him, let alone seen his signature grace one of the most important documents of our time.
Thus, while heroes teach us that great deeds are necessary and possible in every era, perhaps their most important lesson is that one does not set out to be a great person or do heroic deeds; rather, one should train and hone both his physical and mental abilities and his moral fortitude to the best of his ability, and if he does, he should be willing and able to do what the situation demands, regardless of the magnitude of the deed or the personal risk. That, I believe, is the primary lesson (or at least, one of the primary lessons) of heroes and heroism.