Anglo Saxon and Modern heroes

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Anglo Saxon and Modern HEROES

No matter how much the world has changed, heroes have remained an important and, some argue, necessary part of culture.  Whether a super-human warrior like Beowulf or an influential leader armed with words against racism like Martin Luther King, Jr., it is clear that heroes are, indeed, an integral part of society.  What is your personal view on heroes?  

In a well-developed written response (4-5 paragraphs) that synthesizes information from "Our Heroes, Ourselves" OR "Why We Need Heroes", Beowulf and/ OR “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” explain your view on the importance of heroes and whether or not they are a necessary part of culture.  You do not necessarily need to include direct quotations from the sources.
You have read BOTH informational articles (see below):
Choose ONE from which to draw information to incorporate into your response (make sure you CITE the article information that you use).
Think back to our studies of Beowulf and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”- You may draw examples from BOTH OR ONE of the pieces of literature.
Create a well-developed, cohesive written response explaining your view on the importance of heroes AND whether or not they are a necessary part of culture.

Heroism: Why Heroes are Important

by Scott LaBarge

When I was 16 years old, I read Henry David Thoreau's book Walden for the first time, and it changed my life. I read about living deliberately, about sucking the marrow out of life, about not, when I had come to die, discovering that I had not lived, and I was electrified. Somehow he convinced me that living deliberately meant becoming a philosopher, and I have not looked back since. And I try as often as I can to remind myself of Thoreau's warning to all philosophy professors: "There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically." If - horrible thought - I should fail to earn tenure here, I would largely blame that damned quotation. But even if that disaster should strike, I know I would find solace by asking how Henry would respond to such a setback, and I know I would be a better man by following his example. Thoreau is one of my dearest heroes, and I do not know who I would be without him. 

The term "hero" comes from the ancient Greeks. For them, a hero was a mortal who had done something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that he left an immortal memory behind him when he died, and thus received worship like that due the gods. Many of these first heroes were great benefactors of humankind: Hercules, the monster killer; Asclepius, the first doctor; Dionysus, the creator of Greek fraternities. But people who had committed unthinkable crimes were also called heroes; Oedipus and Medea, for example, received divine worship after their deaths as well. Originally, heroes were not necessarily good, but they were always extraordinary; to be a hero was to expand people's sense of what was possible for a human being.
Today, it is much harder to detach the concept of heroism from morality; we only call heroes those whom we admire and wish to emulate. But still the concept retains that original link to possibility. We need heroes first and foremost because our heroes help define the limits of our aspirations. We largely define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals -- things like courage, honor, and justice -- largely define us. Our heroes are symbols for us of all the qualities we would like to possess and all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. A person who chooses Martin Luther King or Susan B. Anthony as a hero is going to have a very different sense of what human excellence involves than someone who chooses, say, Paris Hilton, or the rapper 50 Cent. And because the ideals to which we aspire do so much to determine the ways in which we behave, we all have a vested interest in each person having heroes, and in the choice of heroes each of us makes. 

That is why it is so important for us as a society, globally and locally, to try to shape these choices. Of course, this is a perennial moral issue, but there are warning signs that we need to refocus our attention on the issue now. Consider just a few of these signs:

o A couple years ago the administrators of the Barron Prize for Young Heroes polled American teenagers and found only half could name a personal hero. Superman and Spiderman were named twice as often as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Lincoln. It is clear that our media make it all too easy for us to confuse celebrity with excellence; of the students who gave an answer, more than half named an athlete, a movie star, or a musician. One in ten named winners on American Idol as heroes.
o Gangsta rap is a disaster for heroism. Just this week, director Spike Lee lamented the fact that, while his generation grew up idolizing great civil rights leaders, today young people in his community aspire to become pimps and strippers. Surely no one wants their children to get their role models from Gangsta rap and a hyper materialistic, misogynistic hiphop culture, but our communities are finding it difficult to make alternative role models take hold.
o And sometimes, the problem we face is that devotion to heroes is very strong, but directed toward the wrong heroes. In the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden and his like still have a widespread heroic appeal. We can tell how we are doing in the struggle for Muslim hearts and minds by the degree to which this continues to be true.
So what must we do? How should we address the problem? Part of the answer is personal. It never hurts us to remind ourselves who our own heroes are and what they represent for us, and to ask ourselves whether we are doing all we can to live up to these ideals. Not long ago there was a movement afoot to ask always, "What would Jesus do?" I'd like to see people asking questions like that, about Jesus or others, all the time. I confess I get a little thrill every time I see a protest poster asking, "Who would Jesus bomb?" That's heroism doing its work, right there. Moreover, those of us who are teachers - and all of us are teachers of our own children at least - have a special opportunity to introduce heroes to those we teach. And teaching about heroes really isn't hard; heroic lives have their appeal built in, all we need to do is make an effort to tell the stories. I assure you, the reason those students didn't choose Lincoln and King and Gandhi as heroes was not that they had heard their stories and dismissed them. It is our job to tell the stories. Tell your students what a difference people of courage and nobility and genius have made to the world. Just tell the stories! We should recommit to that purpose. Start by going home tonight and listing your five most important heroes.
But part of the answer to our problem is broader. It is clear that the greatest obstacle to the appreciation and adoption of heroes in our society is pervasive and corrosive cynicism and skepticism. It was widely claimed not long ago that 9/11 signalled the end of irony, but it is clear now that the reports of irony's death were greatly exaggerated. This obstacle of cynicism has been seriously increased by scandals like the steroids mess in Major League Baseball, by our leaders' opportunistic use of heroic imagery for short term political gain, and by the Pentagon's stories of glorious soldiers like Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman that - by no fault of the soldiers involved - turned out to be convenient fabrications. 
The best antidote to this cynicism is realism about the limits of human nature. We are cynical because so often our ideals have been betrayed. Washington and Jefferson held slaves, Martin Luther King is accused of philandering and plagiarizing, just about everybody had sex with someone they shouldn't, and so on. We need to separate out the things that make our heroes noteworthy, and forgive the shortcomings that blemish their heroic perfection. My own hero Thoreau had his share of blemishes. For instance, although he was supposed to be living totally independently out by Walden Pond, he went home to Mother on the weekends. But such carping and debunking misses the point. True, the false steps and frailties of heroic people make them more like us, and since most of us are not particularly heroic, that may seem to reduce the heroes' stature. But this dynamic pulls in the other direction as well: these magnificent spirits, these noble souls, amazingly, they are like us, they are human too. And perhaps, then, what was possible for them is possible for us. They stumbled, they wavered, they made fools of themselves - but nonetheless they rose and accomplished deeds of triumphant beauty. Perhaps we might do so too. Cynicism is too often merely an excuse for sparing ourselves the effort. 
Again, the critical moral contribution of heroes is the expansion of our sense of possibility. If we most of us, as Thoreau said, live lives of quiet desperation, it is because our horizons of possibility are too cramped. Heroes can help us lift our eyes a little higher. Immanuel Kant said that "from the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." That may well be true. But some have used that warped, knotted timber to build more boldly and beautifully than others, and we may all benefit by their examples. Heaven knows we need those examples now.

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Our Heroes, Ourselves

From The Hunger Games to Harry Potter, heroic fantasy is hot stuff. These modern epics tap into our frustrated impulse to be 21st-century knights, reflect changing social norms—and may even help unleash the workaday hero in each of us.

How to Be Great!

Describes a hero's character traits. Includes courage and strength; Honesty; Kindness and generosity; Risk-taking; Importance of hero image.

By PT Staff, published on November 01, 1995 - last reviewed on June 19, 2012

What does it take to be a hero? Start with six basic character traits.

John F. Kennedy had it, Bill Clinton doesn't. John Wayne personified it, but Sylvester Stallone comes up short. Martin Luther King Jr.? Certainly. But Colin Powell remains a question mark.

We're talking about heroism. Greatness. That special something that wins you admiration, adoration, and maybe even your face on a postage stamp.

Heroes may seem passe in a cynical era where we seem to relish tearing down icons more than we do creating new ones or cherishing the ones we already have. Some folks, moreover, find the very idea of heroes objectionable, arguing that there's something elitist about exalting individuals who, after all, are nothing more than flesh and blood, just like the rest of us.

But we sorely need heroes--to teach us, to captivate us through their words and deeds, to inspire us to greatness. And if late 20th-century America seems in short supply of them, the good news is that the pool of potential heroes has never been greater. That's because every one of us--ourselves, our friends, even our kids--has heroic potential. And there is plenty we can do to develop that untapped greatness, to ensure that the next generation gets the heroes it needs.

Portrait of a Hero

Though our personal heroes differ, we all share a common vision of what a hero is--and isn't. Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, Ph.D., has distilled this vision into what he calls his "5-D" model of greatness. Together the five "D's" help explain what makes a hero, where they come from, and why they're so important.

The first "D" is for determinants, six character traits Farley believes define the essence of heroism. Not every hero has them all. But the more you have, the better. So if you seek greatness, either in yourself or your children, you would do well to nurture these aspects of personality:

o Courage and strength. Whatever a hero is, he isn't a coward or quitter. Heroes maintain their composure--and even thrive--under adversity, whether it be the life-threatening sort that war heroes face or the psychological and emotional strains that politicians and business leaders must endure.

o Honesty. It's no coincidence that "Honest Abe" Lincoln and George "I cannot tell a lie" Washington are among our nation's most cherished figures. Deceit and deception violate our culture's conception of heroism. "Ronald Reagan once said thai Oliver North was an American hero," observes Farley. "But Ollie obviously founder on the honesty standard."

o Kind, loving, generous. Great people may fight fiercely for what they believe, but they are compassionate once the battle is over--toward friend and foe alike. General George S. Patton was a brilliant military man, but his hero status was impaired when he publicly slapped one of his soldiers in the face. "The American public was revolted by that," notes Farley. "He wasn't kind to his men." Though Patton is still regarded as a hero by many, his popularity never recovered.

o Skill, expertise, intelligence. So far, our archetypical hero is courageous, kind, honest--in other words, a lot like Forrest Gump. But Forrest falls short on one measure: A hero's success should stem from his talents and smarts, rather than from mere chance--although, for the sake of modesty, a hero might well attribute his hard-earned achievements to luck.

o Risk-taking. "Even though many people won't take risks in their own life, they admire risk-taking in someone else," notes Farley, much of whose research has focused on Type-T personalities--perpetual thrill-seekers. No matter what their calling, heroes are willing to place themselves in some sort of peril. FDR, for example, took enormous political risks by defying the rank and file of his own party; Martin Luther King Jr. laid his life on the line for his ideals.

o Objects of Affection. We might be impressed on an intellectual level by somebody's deeds. But admiration is not enough--heroes must win our hearts as well as our minds.

In addition to these six determinants, heroes also exhibit depth, the second "D" in Farley's model. Depth is that timeless, mythical, almost otherworldly quality that marks a hero. It's hard to articulate exactly what this is, admits Farley, but we all know it when we see it--it's what makes even physically diminutive heroes seem larger than life.

"I think of depth as sorting out true heroes from celebrities, or the passing hero from the timeless one," Farley says. Clint Eastwood for example, often shows up on lists of today's heroes because of his rugged individualism. But studies show that he lacks that mythical depth factor that ensures long-standing heroic status.

Great Expectations

Heroes don't exist in a vacuum. They make specific contributions to the culture. So the third "D" is domain, the field in which a hero makes his mark. Although elected officials are currently held in roughly the same regard as, say, carjackets, politics remains the number one source of heroes. It may help, though, to be a dead politician, or at least a former one: Sitting presidents don't do very well when people are surveyed about their heroes. One reason, Farley thinks, is the intense media scrutiny to which we subject national figures.

Neck and neck for second place among the most common domains of heroes: entertainers (Barbara Streisand is big among women, Clint Eastwood among men) and family members (morn and dad, Uncle Bill who lost an arm in the war, your big sister). Religious figures rank fourth, with most of the rest coming from the military, science, sports, and the arts.

Why the low standing of athletes? The sheer number of them, for one; it was much easier for Joe DiMaggio to become a national icon when baseball and football were the only sports of any popularity. Moreover, sports have become big business, with athletes seemingly motivated as much by lucre as by love of the game. Some charge young fans to autograph a baseball. "Would Martin Luther King sell his autograph?" asks Farley, who wonders if public disillusionment with pro athletes means that most of tomorrow's sport heroes will be fictional characters like Rocky.

The fourth "D" is database, Farley's term for where we get information about heroes. The main sources are television, radio, magazines. Conspicuous by its absence is the one place where tales of heroism ought to dwell: history class.

"Schools are not dealing enough with studying the lives people who changed the world and did great things," Farley warns. "Nowadays schools deal more with abstractions, with isms--communism, feminism, racism. But if you really want to instruct young people in these ideas, embody them in the life and times of an individual."

The idea of nonviolent protest, for example, must seem quaint --if not downright irrelevant--to today's kids, who turn on the TV and see the world being changed through violence. "If you talk about nonviolent protest being a viable alternative, they're not going to understand it," Farley explains. "But if you embed it in the life of Gandhi, all of a sudden you see the lights coming on: This little man brought the British empire to its knees."

Why We Need Heroes

Heroes are more than a convenient way to get kids hooked on history. Above all, they spur us to raise our sights beyond the horizon of the mundane, to attempt the improbable or impossible. "Being inspired by people who do great things is one of the oldest, most reliable forms of motivation," notes Farley. In fact, many heroes themselves, including Winston Churchill and Patton, have cited biography as their favorite form of reading, as a source of both information and inspiration.

In this context, a recent survey reporting that nearly half of kids have no heroes at all has ominous implications. How can our children hope to transcend adversity -- such as poverty or racism -- without the example of the great men and women who came before them? "The great American story is the person starting from nothing and becoming something," Farley says. "We need more depictions of that."

Heroes are also a window into the soul of a culture. Look at a nation's top heroes, and you'll get a pretty good idea what values its citizens ascribe to, what ideals they cherish. American heroes tend to be individualists and risk-takers. But in China, heroes might be more likely to conserve tradition. That has important implications for everything from international business dealings to political and military negotiations.

Heroes at Home

The last "D" is distance, how close we are to our heroes. If the mythical quality of many great people makes them seem somewhat distant and inaccessible, that's not true of the answer people most often give when Farley asks them to name their heroes: "Morn" and "Dad."

Parents may not be heroes to the masses. But if their kingdom is small, their influence within that kingdom runs deep indeed. So it's no exaggeration to say that each of us has the potential to be a hero in our way. There are few more effective ways to make a difference than to be a hero.


Illustrated by Timothy Cook

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