On Hero Worship

‘Hero’ is not a vocation.  It is not a job.  It is not a title that you can use on your resume.  As a matter of fact, if I may paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, being a hero is like being a lady–if you have to say your are, you aren’t.

Yet, I seem to be alone in this sentiment. All around me I hear firefighters, law enforcement officers and military types being categorically referred to as a ‘hero’.  Case and point, take a look at this conversation I happened to stumble upon:


In the mind of the individual creating the post, his friend was a de facto hero simply because he died while serving in the military.  Maybe he was a hero, maybe he wasn’t–but that is besides the point.  What is important, for our purpose, is that the readers were to assume that he was a hero simply because he was in the military.

There are other examples, like this website dedicated to assisting ‘heroes’ with getting discounts when purchasing a home.


For an occupation that started by wrangling up ‘fugitive’ slaves, they sure have come a long way.  Now, simply wearing the badge qualifies ones as a hero.  As does teaching and driving an ambulance.  The picture is getting more and more clear.

I have first hand experience in dealing with this.  Being in digital advertising I often do some consulting work.  On one particular occasion I had the chore of assisting an LA County Sheriff that doubled as a mortgage originator.  During my interview with him, I asked what differentiated him among the countless loan originators around the country.  He didn’t even skip a beat, “Don’t you see?  I am a go##amn hero!”  Oh, ok.  Got it.

But not really.

...if you have to say you are, you aren't.
…if you have to say you are, you aren’t.

Again, being a hero is not a vocation.  Nassim Taleb, in his book on aphorism writes, “Avoid calling heroes those who had no other choice”.  Which is to say that if saving people or houses or protecting the public is your duty, then you are not qualified to be labeled a hero.  Not unless–watch how I do this–not unless you actually do something heroic.

I found this dandy on Twitter, as if further proof was needed:


If you want to know what a real hero looks like, check out this post.

3 thoughts on “On Hero Worship

  1. Wouldn’t you say that “hero” is more of a subjective term? When I read your post it seems like you are wanting to objectify the term by setting qualifications on what one must do to receive the “hero” status. If you think about it that is the same thing that your Sheriff client was doing. I am a Sheriff therefore I am a hero.

    On a side note, I know several people that I personally would call “heros” but they wouldn’t refer to themselves as “heros” nor do they care to have that designator. It’s all subjective.

  2. I agree that “hero” is subjective and that there really is no official definition as to what qualifies one to be a hero. I am, however, asking that hero not be synonymous with a vocation. Hero should be something reserved for those that have been active in something, not passive in position. Your side note, isn’t even a side note–it is a great note. My guess is that every single person you call “hero” did something to deserve that distinction.

    I guess what I am trying to do is offer up a definition of what it takes to be a hero, and in doing so I am also rejecting that any vocation is de facto, heroic.

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