A hero is not necessarily someone who survives being in a war, or who happens to pull someone out of a car wreck. We call the former a survivor and the latter a brave person.
There's a difference between signing up in the military and really earning a reputation for bravery. Courage is good. Bravery is better, eminence for bravery is better, heroic is even better. Just as in schools, the feel-good error of easy grading has led to graduating of illiterates, the mislabeling of heroism has affected our language so now, we truly face a dearth of real heroes.
Now don 't get me wrong, a hero can become a hero without fighting a single weapons fight, without killing or wounding anyone. Heroism can be and often is about fighting inner demons. But I get tired of hearing about John McCain being a hero because he survived all those years as a prisoner. I get annoyed when any GI who comes back from Iraq is called a hero. Maybe brave, maybe well intentioned. But I don 't think you should call anyone who volunteers to enter the military in the time of war a hero. That 's because there are real heroes who do go through the whole hero process. And they deserve to be called a name -- hero -- that is reserved for those who really do pursue the heroic journey. It is not enough to just enlist, follow orders and get through a stint in a hostile territory. It is not enough to survive capture, or live through a fire fight.
The true heroes and heroines among the GIs who have gone to Iraq have spoken out against the war. They have gone in as innocent brave souls, have seen wonders and horrors, made allies, fought and killed enemies, learned the arts of war and perhaps, arts of being a whole person, and they have come through the fire of war with new eyes, new heart and a different kind of courage. Not the courage to heft a powerful weapon. Rather, the courage to face truths that are different than they started with, truths that challenge the ideas about themselves and their world that they first travelled to their destination with.
I 'm sorry for the families that have lost loved ones to death or injuries that will forever affect their lives. But being wounded does not a hero make.
I routinely ask people who are the living heroes they value and respect. Many people refer to parents, siblings or other family members. Sometimes they seem justified, describing people who have been on real heroic journeys. There are very few famous people mentioned though. Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama ....
In these times, we need real heroes, not brave people who get mislabeled as heroes. We need exemplars who set inspiring examples we can look up to. While it is a kindness to call brave soldiers heroes, it is a disservice to our value system, a disservice to our children, who need to learn what it really takes to become a real hero. They see real heroes in some movies. Even Harry Potter, fails the test in his latest movie.
The thing about becoming a hero is that the journey is the reward. When the hero returns to the ordinary world he departed from, with the "holy grail " he successfully acquired to save his world, he has already saved himself and has grown beyond that old world. In movies, the hero often gets a huge reward --a kingdom, the girl, a lot of money, power --but these are not the real coin of the realm for heroes. The true success for the hero or heroineis raised consciousness --knowing who he or she really is, deep inside, and being true to that person.