Heroes, Anyone?

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: May 26, 2009 12:00 AM

Everybody loves a hero. But pop culture spends so much time worshipping Hollywood stars and super athletes that many of our children don't know a true hero from an imposter.

Add that to fact that the news media constantly criticize our Armed Services, that our schools often teach revisionist history, and that many leaders "blame America first," and it's no wonder that our children seem more prone to want to grow up to become a pop icon than anything akin to a "superhero" of old. Nearly gone are the stories of mighty men rescuing damsels in distress or of those courageously leading brave soldiers into battle to free the oppressed.

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A fourth-grade teacher recently learned just how low the hero-bar has fallen when she assigned an exercise on heroes and role models. She asked her students to draw a picture of someone they aspired to be like and explain why. The children chose "heroes" like Madonna and 50 Cent; more than half the boys' glorified criminal characters with one stating he wanted to be a "hit man."

The majority of girls drew women who were in some way pop icons, mostly dressed in something skimpy. There were no soldiers, no rescue workers, no stories of our Founding Fathers, great explorers or "ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things." The children listed only thugs, rappers and pop stars.

We do our children a great injustice when we rob them of knowing about people who exhibit courage and self-sacrifice. The result just might be a generation with nothing truly great to aspire to.

We benefit both our children and our country when we teach that real heroes are people willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of others. A primo athlete might have our well-deserved awe and wonder, but that does not make him a hero. An actress might merit our admiration, but that doesn't make her a heroine. Only those who selflessly risk their safety, their fortunes, their own dreams or their very lives for others are worthy of being called heroes.

Why is it so important to make the distinction? For one, "to give honor to whom honor is due." And so our children will understand the importance of being willing to put everything on the line to preserve freedom or the well-being of others. America simply cannot continue to be the "land of the free and the home of the brave" without a renewed understanding and the continued practice of heroism in its truest sense.

It's easy to find real-life heroes and introduce our children to them. Why not start with our own Armed Services? Men and women in uniform don't often make the cover of magazines, but they are in every town across America and probably in your neighborhood, or even in your own family.

It's not enough to celebrate them once or twice a year from afar. Seek them out; incorporate accounts of their service into ongoing conversations with your sons and daughters. We need to pull out the old history books and classic stories as well as recent accounts by America's warriors. Two great resources are the documentary and book, Warriors...in Their Own Words which describe heroics in Iraq and feature interviews with those who are gladly sacrificing right now for our families. (You can order the DVD and book at www.WarriorstheFilm.com).

There's something very powerful and inspiring when a child meets a flesh-and-blood hero fighting on their behalf or reads personal accounts of what motivates them to serve so selflessly. It can be visionary and life-changing. If you take the time to teach your child about real heroes, you might just end up creating one.