Do not call them heroes
We are surrounded by real heroes, so why invent fake ones?
English can be such a limited means of communication sometimes. So often we find ourselves with a lack of words to describe what we mean... so we use the next nearest thing and hope for the best.
'Love' is a classic example. I 'love' coffee. I 'love' salsa dancing... I also love my girlfriend, but that is a completely different thing. Ancient Greeks had five words for love separating erotic love from brotherly love from admiration etc. Inuit peoples had hundreds of words for 'snow', such was its importance in their lives.
And this brings me logically to the cup of coffee I had this morning. I was doing my duty as a resident of the fashionable 'latte' suburb of Fitzroy, Melbourne, and going to my favourite caffeine dealer for my morning fix, when what should I be confronted with but newspaper headlines calling the Australian cricket team 'heroes'.
It's a good thing I hadn't yet been handed my fix or I might very well have spilled something. Heroes? Really?
Now before you jump to conclusions, I like sports and I like cricket! I even like test match cricket and I love (there's that word again) the Ashes Test Series in particular... but to call cricketers 'heroes' is a bridge too far!
Yes I know that what they do can be very difficult. Cricketers can be injured during play, sometimes very badly. They have to face fear, push through fatigue, focus for hours on end and deal with the mental and physical ploys of their opponents. You would be justified to call them strong, full of stamina, confidence, skill and occasionally even to call them courageous... but none of this deserves the label 'hero'.
A bricklayer's job can be very demanding, sometimes dangerous and on any given day may require them to face fear (working at heights can be disconcerting, even on well-built scaffolding!), push through fatigue, focus for hours on end and deal with the architects delusions of grandeur... to make matters worse a bricklayer doesn't have a catered lunch or a physio on standby should he tweak a tendon. Nor is there a stadium of people idolising him and applauding every time he lays a new brick. When was the last time you called a bricklayer a 'hero'? You didn't... because they're not.
'But cricketers represent their country' I hear you protest. Rubbish. They don't represent me any more than the checkout staff at the local IGA I've never set foot in. They are complete strangers to me. Sure they may have been born or adopted into the same bit of turf that I'm on, and they may be the best at their particular game that this bit of turf can produce right now, but that doesn't magically mean they represent me or that I can take vicarious pride in their winning, or accept shame in their losing. And even if it did that wouldn't make them heroes.
To be a hero is to risk personal loss for the benefit of others. To make or risk a sacrifice on your own part for the gain of others who may never be able to repay you. Sports stars do not risk personal loss any more than a bricklayer, and are in fact working for their own glory. This is fine, I have no problem with them working for their own glory and I love to watch extraordinary things happen in a sporting match! I'll gleefully join the cheering and applause and marvel at what some people can physically do, but in the end the risks they take they take for themselves and for their team in the hope that they may share in the glory of victory. They are risking what they risk for their own glory.
Contrast this to an accountant whom you will never know the name of who swaps a high-flying corporate position for a below-median-wage position crunching numbers for a not-for-profit serving the sick and poor. Who will applaud them? Who will line up for hours for their autograph? No one, and yet this accountant is more of a hero than any sports star. They are paying a price with every paycheck for their decision to serve less fortunate people with their life.
Or contrast these cricket 'heroes' with a good police officer, one who truly cares about their community and goes about his or her business ready if called upon to risk their very lives for the sake of a stranger who may have no way to ever repay them. Whether or not the officer is ever called upon to actually partake in a heroic deed is beside the point. The fact that they spent their entire life ready and willing makes them more of a hero than a sports player will ever be, no matter what their exploits on the field.
And herein lies my point. We are surrounded by heroes, whether they be soldiers, mothers, accountants, priests... they come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ages and outfits. People who risk personal loss for the selfless benefit of others. Occasionally one such hero will make a headline with a spectacular moment of heroism. For most, their heroism is a humble daily walk of self-sacrifice which will be remembered by perhaps a few dozen people standing around a hole in the ground when their service comes to an end.
So let's keep that word aside shall we? Let's not cheapen or tarnish it with overuse, but keep it rich and clear in meaning so that when we see these true heroes we have a word which we can use to honour them and acknowledge that there are more important things in life than chasing balls.
I think I need another coffee.