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Ordinary People as Heroes

Many of the heroes we read about in books or watch in the movies are legendary soldiers and liberation fighters. History is replete with heroes who belong to this category.

The Americans have Gen. Douglas MacArthur who led the 42nd Rainbow Division of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. With real feats of courage on the battlefield, MacArthur became the most decorated soldier in American history.

The Vietnamese have the Trung sisters - Trung Trac and Trung Nhi - who organized a rebellion against the occupying Chinese Han Dynasty in the year 39 AD. With the support of various tribal lords, they formed an army of about 80,000 men and women. The Trung sisters became symbols of the first Vietnamese resistance to the Chinese occupation of their land. Folk belief had it that the sisters drowned themselves rather than surrender to the Chinese.

We, Filipinos, have Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, the youngest general in the Revolutionary Army, who valiantly defended Tirad Pass against the Americans during the Philippine-American War.

But there are also heroes who are not legendary soldiers. They are ordinary people who have improved the lives of others. They are caring individuals. Their arsenals are not of weaponry but dedication, commitment and a sense of purpose.

The American Webster Dictionary defines a hero as “a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her own life.” History is also replete with these kinds of heroes.

Our very own Ana Patricia Non, community pantry organizer, is one of such heroes. Patreng to her friends, she started the first community pantry in the Philippines during the pandemic. She was red-tagged and harassed online but never gave up helping the poor. She recently received the TOWNS award for her community service. Patreng is a hero.

Kyla Mueller, the 26-year-old American relief worker who was kidnapped and died in the hands of the Islamic State militants (ISIS) in Syria in 2015, was an extraordinary individual. She spent her short life helping the people in Syria, India and Israel. She had the courage of a soldier. Kyla is a hero.

Kailash Satyvarthi gave up a promising career in India as an electrical engineer and dedicated his life to helping the millions of children in his country who were forced into slavery by powerful and corrupt business people and land owners. He literally raided factories where the children and their families were held captives as bonded workers and saved them. Kailash is a hero.

In 1990, Moses Zulu opened the Children’s town in Zambia to serve children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. At the age of 40, he decided to devote his life to helping orphans find their way in life. Moses is a hero.

The late African-American Rosa Parks was an icon in her own right. She is considered the “mother of the civil rights movement.” She was a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, when in December 1955 she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white passenger. Her action inspired the Black community to fight for racial equality. Rose is a hero.

What is common among these individuals? They are dedicated to do something good for people. They must have been inspired by poet-writer Kahlil Gibran who wrote: “You give but little when you give of your possession. It’s when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

Heroes can be ordinary people like Patreng, Kyla, Kailash, Moses, and Rosa making extraordinary efforts to improve the lives of others.

So what are the faces of heroism?

The first face of heroism is selflessness. It’s a state of being conscious about others rather than oneself. A mother who is giving birth forgets about the pain. The focus of her attention shifts from her own survival to the baby’s survival. The center of her life becomes the baby and the baby’s safe delivery. The mother becomes absolutely selfless.

The second face is the belief in the importance of a cause. Whatever it is, a hero is motivated by something greater than oneself. Cecil de Mille, the famous American movie director, put it this way: “The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly.”

The third face is commitment. Heroes are committed individuals. Because of their belief in the importance of their goal, they pledge to bind themselves to a particular course of action until their plan is achieved. Commitment is what prompts heroes to act. Says Eleanor Roosevelt: “When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”

If there is a lesson that we can learn from Patreng, Kyla, Kailash, Moses, and Rosa, it is the readiness to sacrifice ourselves for whatever cause we believe in. We have to be prepared to do something good for a human being who needs help and be prepared for the consequences.

We need to learn how to stand up and be counted.


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