“A hero is just a man.”
– King Kashue, The Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight
Episode 8, “The Scepter of Domination… The Dream of a United Lodoss”
When King Kashue says this, he is speaking to a man whose faith in heroes has just taken a blow. He points out how men are flawed, including himself, but adds a note of hope which can be found in a young hero right in front of them.
For myself, I find that we humans have an annoyingly pervasive and stubborn habit of either deifying or demonizing everything, and everyone around us, including ourselves. There’s another quote I may share that speaks more to the perils of doing that with oneself, but for the moment I want to focus on when we do it to those around us.
I’ve commented before about how I dislike how we use the word “special,” and lately I’ve found the word “hero” is being used in a similar fashion. There’s such a thing as being a specifically appointed representative, a champion, but the idea that heroes are all special in some way is ridiculous and perhaps even destructive.
A hero is just someone who manages to step up at the right moment, trying to do the best that they can.
They are every bit as normal as the rest of us, and, the other side of that coin, we can be every bit as extraordinary as our very greatest hero. Even more, we can do it in everyday circumstances, in things as humble and mundane as being someone’s shoulder to cry on, or just speaking a kind word instead of saying something needlessly rude to a stranger, or visiting someone sick and providing them a warm meal to eat, or making a child laugh. Some men are heroes for how they fight on the battlefield alongside all of the other normal soldiers, and some are heroes for saving lives with their scalpel, and some are heroes for running into burning buildings or facing down criminals every day, and some are heroes for just helping some homeless bum on the street get a job.
Of course, when I say that heroes are ordinary people, I want to make something clear. I know very much that there is a more cynical end of the spectrum, one that tries to use the normality of heroes as an excuse for their own poor behavior. Maybe they say, “the hero does it, so it’s all right,” or maybe they go even further and say, “heroes are a sham, they don’t really exist.” So I want to say, very clearly:
Heroism is real. If it wasn’t, humanity would be dead already.
Also, the example of flawed heroes is one that should encourage us to improve ourselves, not excuse our own poor behavior. “If this normal guy did something wondrous, then I can, too. Maybe not the same thing, but something to be better than I have been, something to help others.”
“A hero is just a man,” is both a sobering reminder that we should not place our heroes on pedestals, and also the most sacred encouragement to become our best selves.