There was a story a few years back of a child abduction in Pennsylvania. A young girl, enticed by ice cream, had been taken by a man in a car. There was a loose description of the vehicle. A 15-year-old boy decided to help join the neighborhood search. He saw a car that looked suspicious and started following it on his bicycle.
Yes. On his bike.
The driver tried to elude him, but the young man, named Temar Boggs, persisted in a chase that lasted 15 minutes. The driver, in his attempt to lose the kid, made an ill-advised turn into a dead end. As the abductor was hastily trying to turn around, Temar rode his bike right up to the car and peered into the window. The 5-year-old girl was there in the front seat. Temar looked at the felon and said, “I see you.” The guy let the young girl go. She was returned to her distraught parents and Temar was hailed a hero.
The term “hero” is thrown around a lot these days. Police are heroes. Firefighters are heroes. Service members are heroes. Teachers are heroes. Average folks earn that title as well.
But really, what is a hero?
You aren’t a hero if you are doing a job you are trained, equipped and paid to do. In fact, if you didn’t do what was expected, you would be underperforming.
So when folks proclaim that every police officer, firefighter, teacher or military person is a hero, they show ignorance of the word.
If a police officer responds to a scene where a woman is being beaten by her husband, and that officer subdues and arrests the guy, that is not heroic action. That is a police officer doing his or her job. They have the understanding that physical encounters may occur, but they are trained and equipped for that possibility.
A police officer is a hero if he or she goes beyond the call of duty to save a citizen when no one would expect them to perform such an act. If a police officer offers himself/herself as a hostage so a crazed gunman might let a hostage go, that officer is a hero. They have put their life at risk in a manner unexpected in the job description.
If a teacher shows up to class and teaches kids, even the ones who are difficult to reach, that isn’t heroism. That is simply performing the job for which teachers are trained and paid to do. If teachers provide classroom material out of their own pocket, it is surely a noble, unselfish act.
But it doesn’t rise to heroism.
A teacher is a hero if he or she steps between the children and an active shooter, as teachers did at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Facing down a mass murderer is not in the job description. Yet that is what some of the Sandy Hook teachers did. At the cost of their lives.
If a firefighter, at risk of death, enters a building that is fully aflame, when all other firefighters have withdrawn, to find a child, well, that firefighter is a hero. That goes beyond the call of the job, and puts the firefighter’s own life in peril.
And is every service member a hero? No. Going into harm’s way is what warriors are trained to do. If you want to know what a true military hero is, go online and read the action descriptions of Medal of Honor recipients. Those people, and others like them, are heroes.
So for all of you who insist that every police officer, firefighter, teacher and soldier is a hero—they aren’t. In fact, some of them aren’t even above average, as is the case in every profession.
Here is what we should understand: Heroes are not common. True heroes are exceedingly rare. When that title is misused, we diminish the actions of the truly heroic.
So was the act of young Boggs’ heroic? You bet. Although he has struggled with the law since, on that day he was just a young, average citizen who performed an act that he was untrained, unequipped and not expected to do. The boy persisted in a chase for 15 minutes to help save a young girl he didn’t know.
And you know what that made him on that day?
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at email@example.com.