The Wadsworth Sociology Resource Center
You Can Make a Difference
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Chapter 2 
The Nature of Heroes

Strong is the Soul, and wise, and beautiful: The seeds of godlike power are in us still: Gods are we, Bards, Saints, Heroes, if we will.

-Matthew Arnold


You and I are the heroes who will save America and the world. To prepare ourselves for that job, it is fitting that we take a moment to review, honor, and understand some of our predecessors in that job. In this chapter we are going to see what it takes to be a true hero.

There is one house keeping chore that needs to be taken care of at the start of this examination. I would consider it a contribution to the English-speaking peoples if I could destroy the word heroine as the female form, presumably, of hero. I will at least do so for the purposes of this book.

In common usage, the term heroine connotes a helpless wimp of the female persuasion with her eyes closed or rolled upward, the back of one hand pressed against her troubled brow, weathering some unjust onslaught with a simpy kind of courage. She is very much the opposite of the classic hero; indeed she is typically waiting for her (male) hero to rescue her.

In this book, we are going to look at all kinds of heroes-real heroes-and they are no more likely to be male than female. I intend to call a hero a hero, not a heroine, heroess, or heroette.

Classic Heroes

I realize that when I use the word hero it probably brings a certain image to your mind. Though I will ask you to go beyond that imagery in the book, it provides a useful jumping-off point for our examination.

The Old English epic poem Beowulfdescribes the epitome of the classical hero. According to the legend, a great monster, Grendel, nightly terrorized the great hall of the Danish king, Hrothgar, devouring as many as thirty men in a night. The kingdom was at the mercy of the monster, until the appearance of the young Beowulf. Pledging to save the castle, Beowulf entered into a mighty battle with the monster, tearing off Grendelís are and sending him packing to the moors, mortally wounded. When Grendelís mother, the water-demon, began terrorizing the castle to avenge her son, Beowulf again took up the challenge. Tracking her to the bottom of the sea, Beowulf killed Grendelís mother and returned victorious, bearing Grendelís severed head.

In recognition for his mighty contribution, Beowulf eventually succeeded to the kingship, where he reigned peacefully for fifty years. As an aging king, however, Beowulf saw his people ravage by a fire-breathing dragon. Again, disaster waited in the wings, as the old man engaged a long and painful battle. His men deserted him, but Beowulf fought on. Eventually, Beowulfís sword broke, and the dragon sunk his poison teeth into the old kingís neck, yet Beowulf fought on. In the end, the dragon was slain and the kingdom saved, but the might Beowulf had been mortally wounded and died.

Beowulf epitomizes the essential qualities of the classical hero: risking personal sacrifice on behalf of the common good. Yet Beowulf is scarcely alone in this regard. Achilles gave up his life on behalf of the Achaean attach on Troy. In the various legends of the quest for the Holy Grail, Perceval, Galahad, and Gawain provide models of sacrifice and loyalty. Robin Hood offers still another example of this classical version of heroism.

Theories of Heroism

Each of the heroes discussed above is a legendary character. While it is debatable whether they have any grounding in reality, it is generally agreed that the stories that have come down to us over time are at least partly fiction. Such heroic tales occupy an important place in the history of literature.

Prior to the appearance of legendary heroes, literature was focused on the godly domain: religious hymns and myths about the gods. Eventually, these were joined by the songs of wandering bards honoring human heroes. Finally, epic poems were written down, carrying from generation to generation the stories of mortal beings-capable of suffering and death-rising above the human condition to perform "heroic" feats. The epic heroes embodied the virtues of courage, sacrifice, altruism, and integrity. Clearly, they were intended to teach humans about their own potential and to inspire them to realize it. Thus, when Aristotle set about the task of educating Alexander the Great, he used the epic hero as his model. The young Alexander learned the he could be as heroic as Ajax or Achilles. In the process, Alexander was to become himself a model for later generations.

Heroes served a similar function in other cultures, though their form varied. Thus, Hindu heroes were typically great religious teachers. In Buddhism, they were most often ascetic renouncers of the material world. The original Christian heroes were martyrs. Viking heroes, by contrast, were more typically great warriors. Among the Onondaga tribe of the North American Indians, the legendary chief, Hiawatha, symbolized civilization and human progress. In each case, however, the function of epic heroes was educational.

In 1920, L.R. Farnell examined the manner in which the lessons embodied in the Greek heroes were perpetuated in the form of heroic cults. He found cults arising around many different types of heroes. In addition to the epic heroes, some were more priestly in quality, some were genealogical heroes, others were demons. All together, Farnell identified seven types of Greek heroes who became immortalized through the formation of cults. In all cases, the heroes represented values that made life worth living.

In Farnellís view, the Greek heroes reflected the human aspiration to fully develop the quality of being human. The heroes showed the possibility of rising above the limitations of mortal life. In a similar analysis, Joseph Campbell has argued that the traditional heroes are a symbol of humanityís spiritual quest.

Modern Classics

Though heroes appeared thousands of years ago, they are hardly limited to the past. Heroes abound in our own time. Many are clearly fictional. As a child, I grew up with Superman, Superwoman, Superboy, the Marvels (Captain, Mary, and Captain, Jr.), the Greens (Lantern and Hornet), Wonder Woman, and others I still remember, plus great legions I have forgotten. Not inappropriately, many of these childhood idols came to me courtesy of Hero comics. Others came over the radio airwaves: Tom Mix, Sky King, the Shadow, and others.

My son, Aaron, has grown up with many of these heroes, plus many I never knew as a child. I mean, Stowe, Vermont, where I grew up, was never saved by Godzilla or any of his kin. But Aaron grew up in Honolulu, and many of his earliest heroes came by way of KIKI, the local Japanese-language television station. In Honolulu (and presumably in Japan), this was the era of the Japanese superheroes. Some, like Godzilla, might be classified as benign monsters; Kikaida and friends were gigantic super-robots.

All these superheroes, mine and Aaronís, had one thing in common: nobody over four or five years of age believed they were real, even though many were portrayed that way. Who was the Shadow but Lamont Cranston using his "power to cloud menís minds." (Back then, it apparently wasnít necessary to cloud womenís minds.) Captain Marvel was only a "Shazam!" away from little Billy Batson. Still, we were kind of sure they were just made up.

Some of my childhood heroes lived on the border between imagination and reality. Although I suspected that Gene Autry didnít really ride the range saving cowgirls and their mortgaged ranches, I nonetheless figured it couldnít be all made up.

John Wayne was surely the epitome of the modern hero while I was growing up. Especially when directed by John Ford, the Duke was unquestionably a "manís man." He was at his masculine best as a cowboy, a leatherneck on Iwo Jima, or as a fighting Seabee. 

One of the modern heroes of my youth had more substance. Audie Murphy, star of The Red Badge of Courage and other action films, was a genuine hero in real life: the most decorated American soldier of World War II. During his three years of active duty in the Army, the freckled, baby-faced boy from Farmersville, Texas, was awarded fourteen medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Murphy earned the nationís highest military award on January 26, 1946, in France. The nineteen-year-old second lieutenant was commanding Company B when it came under heavy tank and infantry attack. Ordering his men to retreat, Murphy stayed in a forward position, calling in artillery fire. When a nearby American tank destroyer was hit and began burning, Murphy leaped up on it and began firing the .50-caliber machine gum on the advancing German troops. Surrounded by the enemy on three sides, aware that the tank destroyer might explode at any time, Murphy single-handedly stopped the German advance for an hour, killing dozens of enemy soldiers in the process. Finally, wounded in the leg, his ammunition exhausted, Murphy abandoned the tank destroyer, and, refusing medical aid, led his company in a counterattack that ultimately forced the enemy to withdraw in defeat.

This was the stuff of which the traditional heroes were made. No wonder the U.S. Army chose to hold Murphy out to the nation as an example of all that was most worthy of our collective admiration and respect. It seemed perfectly natural that Murphy would go to Hollywood to become an actor. That was World War II, the last "good" war. Korea was to prove a national frustration, Vietnam a national crisis. Few Americans would recognize the name of Joe Hooper, our most decorated soldier in Vietnam. War heroes arenít what they used to be.

The Qualities of Heroism

What distinguishes heroes? In some eras, heroism has hinged on the ability and willingness to do great violence to others. This characterizes great warriors, juvenile gang leaders, and others. Great hunters do violence to animals: St. George and Beowulf, for example.

Even leaving aside those cultural traditions that revere religious leaders or great scholars, doing violence is not an essential quality in heroes in societies like own, with its John Waynes and Audi Murphys. I suggest that Audie Murphy was not revered so much for the number of Germans he killed as for the courage it took for him to stand his ground in the face of almost certain death. It is clearly the quality of courage that lets us award the same Congressional Medal of Honor to Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector raised in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Refusing to kill, Doss served as a corpsman in the South Pacific. This excerpt from his Medal of Honor citation explains how a pacifist could be awarded the nationís highest military honor:

As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately seventy-five casualties and riving others back. Private Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.

On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces in a caveís mouth, where he dressed his comradesí wounds before making four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.

On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover.

The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Private Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearerís return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

Even though Doss refused to kill anyone, it would be difficult to deny his heroism, and his nation did not. President Truman presented Doss with the Congressional Medal of Honor on October 12, 1945.

Hereís a more recent example of nonviolent heroism. The time is about four in the afternoon of January 13, 1982. The place: Washingtonís National Airport, blanketed in snow and ice. After several delays, Air Floridaís Flight 90 had finally received clearance to take off and was roaring down the runway. Like his fellow passengers, Arland Williams, a forty-six-year-old senior examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, was just getting settled in for the flight when something went wrong. After a dramatic shudder, the Boeing 737 smashed into the Fourteenth Street Bridge and fell into the icy Potomac.

Once the initial shock passed, onlookers could see a piece of the planeís broken-off tail section afloat in the river, with four people clinging to it. Then a fifth person bobbed up to waterís surface and was pulled to the tail section. Given the freezing conditions and their distance from shore, survival was uncertain at best.

At 4:20, a U.S. Park Police helicopter arrived on the scene. Hovering over the floating debris, they lowered a line to Bert Hamilton, one of the five. Hamilton grabbed the line with all his strength and was soon being lifted out of the water and whisked through the wintry air to safety on shore.

The helicopter returned and dropped its line to Arland Williams, who quickly passed it to Kelly Duncan, a flight attendant. Duncan was carried safely ashore. The helicopter returned and dropped the line once more to Williams. This time he passed it to Joe Stiley, a severely injured passenger. By no, all the victims were suffering badly from the icy exposure, and it was vital to get them ashore as soon as possible. Stiley grabbed another passenger, Priscilla Tirado. A second line was dropped this time, and it was passed to Patricia Felch.

As the helicopter again lifted higher in the air, it became evident that too much had been attempted in one trip. Both Tirado and Felch fell back into the water during transport. When the helicopter rushed back to rescue Tirado, she was too weak to take the line. At this point, an onlooker standing on the shore, Lenny Skutnik, leaped into the icy water and swam out to get her. The helicopter then proceeded to where Felch had fallen, and Rescue Officer Gene Windsor dropped into the water to attach a line to her.

Four lives had been saved. Now, thirty minutes after the crash, the helicopter returned to the floating tail section for Arland Williams, who had repeatedly passed the life-saving line to others. Williams was gone. His heroism had cost him his life. Gene Windsor wept as he described what Williams had done that day in the middle of a freezing river: "He could have gone on the first trip, but he put everyone else ahead of himself. Everyone."

As powerfully moving as raw courage is, heroism involves something else, something common to the stories of Beowulf, Audi Murphy, Desmond Doss, Arland Williams, and Lenny Skutnik alike. Each acted out of a sense of responsibility for something bigger than himself. Each acted, in the words of the Congressional Medal of Honor citation, "above and beyond the call of duty."

Doss could have waited for the wounded. Murphy could have retreated with his troops, just as Beowulf could have passed by the court of Hrothgar as a bad place to be. Williams could have taken the rope for himself, and Skutnik certainly could have stayed safely on shore. Each could have gotten by with much less and not been criticized. Yet each took on a bigger measure of responsibility than absolutely necessary for their own survival.

This, I suggest, is the essential core of heroism. At the very least, it is the quality most needed in the heroes of the present and the future. What sets heroes aside from the rest of humanity is the willingness to assume a personal responsibility for public problems.

Defining Responsibility

I use the word responsibility with caution, because of all the extraneous meanings weíve come to associate with it. Still, it is the appropriate word for my purpose, so let me define what I mean by responsibility in this book. Mostly Iíll talk about what I donít mean. This will be a bit like the advice psychologist Jim Fadiman offers to those who might want to sculpt an elephant: "Get a piece of granite and chip away everything that doesnít look like an elephant."

H.L.A. Hart dramatizes the many meanings of the word responsibility in this marvelous paragraph:

As captain of the ship, X was responsible for the safety of his passengers and crew. But on this last voyage he got drunk every night and was responsible for the loss of the ship with all aboard. It was rumored that he was insane, but the doctors considered that he was responsible for his actions. Throughout the voyage he behaved quite irresponsibly, and various incidents in his career showed that he was not a responsible person. He always maintained that the exceptional winter storms were responsible for the loss of the ship, but in the legal proceeding brought against him he was found criminally responsible for the loss of life and property. He is still alive and he is morally responsible for the deaths of many women and children. When I use the term responsibility in this book, I mean specifically to omit any sense of blame, burden, or guilt. This specification, youíll note, rules out most of the meanings conveyed in Hartís paragraph.

As I will use the word, responsibility is assumed, not assigned, undertaken rather than imposed. I am interested in responsibility as a function of declaration rather than duty. This book is about people who take on responsibility where no one else would regard them as responsible.

By responsibility, I almost mean "ability to respond." We will be looking at people who come to lifeís circumstances as something they can respond to with impact rather than being the helpless victims of conditions beyond their control.

Letís shift to some mundane examples of living with responsibility. Imagine that you live alone in an apartment. You do not have a maid or a weekly cleaning person. Imagine further that you have invited some friends over for the evening, you serve them some beer and snacks, and the next morning you discover your living room has a number of empty beer cans and snack plates scattered around. Who would you hold "responsible" for picking up the beer cans and plates?

Before you too quickly dismiss this question as ridiculous, look at some of the possibilities available:

  • You, of course, come to mind and weíll get back to you in a moment.
  • You shouldnít dismiss your friends too hastily. After all, they probably created more of the mess than you did.
  • If youíre renting the apartment, you might want consider the possibility that your landlord is responsible for picking up the beer cans and plates.
  • Hey, donít forget the government. God knows, the mass of national, state, and local laws might contain something that says some government agency is supposed to clean your apartment.
The point of this hypothetical situation is that when you get up the next morning and survey the condition of your apartment, you are going to feel responsible for cleaning the place up. That is not to say that you will necessarily do anything about it, but you wonít be holding out for someone else to do anything. Three weeks later, if the beer cans and plates are still there, you probably wonít be blaming anyone else for the mess.

Now letís look at another hypothetical situation. Suppose youíve invited the same friends over, but his is more of a class act. Instead of beer, youíre preparing a special champagne punch youíve copied out of Cosmopolitan magazine. Now, just as your first guests arrive, you realize that you donít have any glasses. You had planned to use those clear plastic lowball glasses you could buy at any liquor store or supermarket-but you didnít get any.

The point of all this is: How do you feel when you discover you donít have any glasses? Again, itís worth checking off the alternatives. You could inform you first guest, "No glassee, no drinkee," and help yourself to the punch. More esoterically, you could turn to your first guest and snap, "Well, are you going to stand there, or are you going to go out and get some glasses?" Or you could call a government agency. . . .

Unquestionably, you would feel responsible for getting glasses for your guests. You probably wouldnít even think about it. It would be that obvious. Even if you asked your first guest to run out and get some glasses for you, there would be no question about who was responsible for have glasses at the party.

Now letís consider another hypothetical situation. You are attending a community meeting at city hall. Someone has prepared a huge pot of coffee, but there are no cups. People are gathering around the coffee pot, making fun comments about the lack of cups. "Itís a new program for people who are cutting down of coffee." "A cup! A cup! My kingdom for a cup!" "I knew I shouldnít have come here without my coffee cup.

Probably you stand there with the others, thinking up clever one-liners and waiting for something to happen. Itís unlikely that you have the sinking feeling that arrived with the discovery that youíd forgotten the plastic glasses for your party. Clearly this isnít your responsibility; itís not your problem. Someone else is responsible for this one. Youíre in the clear.

There are people-you may be one-who would feel responsible for this situation. Not responsible in the sense of being to blame or guilty, but responsible in the sense of doing something about the situation. Such a person would probably start searching around City Hall for a kitchen and some styrofoam cups. As mundane as such behavior may seem, such people are the heroes of the modern world. They are the ones, incidentally, who organize the neighborhood to get a stop sign, who organize a protest against the threat of thermonuclear war. They donít necessarily look like the old heroes. They come in all sizes, colors, and shapes.

The New Heroes

Hereís an example of the new form of hero who will determine the fate of our nation and of the world. Shannon Gordon was a patient at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital in California, being treated for aplastic anemia. This disease, which primarily attacks teenagers and young adults, centers on the failure of bone marrow to produce sufficient blood cells. That dysfunction, in turn, lowers the victimís resistance to infection and is often fatal.

Aplastic anemia doesnít offer the most enjoyable lifestyle for anyone, and Shannon had every reason to feel sorry for herself and curry other peopleís pity. Shannon Gordon wasnít that type of person, however, as reporter Bonnie Ambler discovered when her own daughter check into Long Beach Memorial with a blood disorder. Ambler and her daughter found Shannon functioning as "the self-appointed goodwill ambassador of the hospitalís childrenís unit." Dragging along her own intravenous unit, Shannon wandered through the ward bringing encouragement and her own philosophy to the other patients.

"Gee, Iím just a kid, too, and I get needles all the time," she reassured Amblerís daughter, Heather. Shannon was a source of comfort and courage for both mother and daughter. Ambler reports, "When I was wondering if my daughter would respond to therapy, or even if she would live, it was Shannon who fed me the strength to face whatever happened. She was quiet and gentle with me in those dark hours, but when Heather did respond it was Shannon who led the celebration." 

In addition to her regular rounds through the ward, Shannon wrote articles for the hospital newsletter aimed at helping children and their parents to cope with serious illnesses. But that was not permanent enough, so Shannon persuaded the hospitalís social worker to assist her in preparing a videotape, called "Shannonís View." The purpose of the videotape was to help health workers and parents to understand the feelings of children stricken with catastrophic illnesses.

What drove Shannon Gordon? Clearly no one expected her to take on a personal responsibility for the well-being of other children and their parents. And yet she was determined to do it.

As Ambler got to know Shannon, she found the young girl quite willing to discuss her own disease, as well as her fears of dying. As the reporter eventually discovered, "Shannonís greatest fear about the prospect of death was that it would come before she had lived long enough ëto make a differenceí in her would." A greater concern than death itself was the possibility that her short life would make no contribution to others.

With Shannonís condition much worsened, Ambler spent one last night at her bedside. Despite her own pain, Shannon sensed the reporterís anxiety and insisted they talk. Shannon shared with her what she called "the bottom line": "Are you happy? Is your world OK?" Ambler concludes, "Shannon died the next morning in her motherís arms. Her life had lasted thirteen years-long enough to make a difference."

Heroism has no age limit. I stress that because we have constructed a formidable barrier to young people being responsible for the world around them. When they find discrepancies between our stated ideals and the way things are, they often speak out. And often they are put down for their concerns. "You are too young." "Things are more complicated than that. " "You donít understand." "Youíre still young. Wait till you grow up." Such advice often initiates a lifetime of powerlessness and apathy. Fortunately, young people often ignore that advise.

It was largely Americaís youth who drew attention to the persistence of racial segregation at mid-century. Young people such as Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and others gave their lives in turning national attention to the outrage. It was largely Americaís youth who brought a halt to our national misadventure in Vietnam. And their contribution has not been limited to what some would regard as "trouble-making." The residents of Fort Wayne, Indiana can attest.

Early in 1982, the Midwestern town of Fort Wayne was devastated by heavy rains and flooding. With the townís rivers threatening to overflow and destroy the community, it was Fort Wayneís teenagers who came to the rescue. Day and night they filled sandbags and built levees. As the waters rose, they built the banks higher. As the waters rose further, more teenagers arrived, and they raised the levees higher still. They refused to quite until the danger had been averted and the town saved.

Jim Hickey, covering the story for ABC News, told of their heroism and dedication. "Those kids ware already there working when we arrived with the cameras, and they were still working when we left. They werenít doing it for television. They were doing it for their town."

A similar quality was is evidence during the early hours of February 9, 1984, in Hayward, California. Shaw Ryan and his mother were asleep in their apartment. Shawnís father a night watchman, was away at work.

At around four A.M., Shawn was awakened by the smell of smoke. He leaped out of bed and made his way to his parentís bedroom, where he awoke his mother and instructed her to call 911 for assistance. While she called, Shawn soaked a towel in water and put it over his mouth as he led his mother outside to safety.

While the urge to save his mother might be attributed to some form of animal instinct, a broader sense of responsibility sent Shawn back into the burning apartment building and took him from apartment to apartment, banging on doors, and waking the other seventeen residents. Shawn Ryan was clearly operating above and beyond what we normally demand of seven-year-olds, and in doings so, he demonstrated what very young people are capable of.

Often, opportunities for heroism arrive in the form of tragedy. At such moments we are offered the choice of retreating into personal sorrow or stepping forward to take responsibility for sparing others the same tragedy. Such was the choice facing Candy Lightner on May 3, 1980. Hereís how she describes it:

On a beautiful spring afternoon in 1980, I drove home after a shopping trip and found my father and ex-husband waiting for me, their faces ashen and tears in their eyes.

Steve, my ex-husband, said, "Weíve lost Cari."

I patted him on the back and replied, "Itís okay, weíll find her."

"You donít understand, " he said. "A man came along with a car, and killed her-and left her to die!"

As Lightner was to learn, her thirteen-year-old daughter had been walking to a church carnival with a friend "when a drunk swerved off the road and hit her with such a sickening force that she was hurled a hundred and twenty feet through the air." She was dead within an hour.

As if the pain of her loss were not enough, Lightner was horrified as learned more about her daughterís killer. In the four years prior to killing Cari, he had earned three drunk driving convictions-and spent a total of forty-eight hours in jail! Moreover, at the time he killed Cari, he was out on bail from a hit-and-run drunk driving arrest two days earlier. Despite this unenviable record, Cariís killer was able to plea bargain "no contest" to a single charge of vehicular manslaughter and all other charges pending against him were dropped.

No one would have blamed Candy Lightner for retiring from life with her tragedy. Her friends surely would have whispered about how she should get out more, how she couldnít mourn forever. But they would have "understood."

Candy Lightner chose a different course of action: "I promised myself on the day of Cariís death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead." Forming Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), Lightner set out to reform the nationís laws on drunk driving.

In California, MADD was credited with prompting the nationís toughest anti-drunk-driving law, and drunk driving laws and arrests were reported to have decreased by twenty percent in the first moth after the law went into effect. Moreover, some two hundred MADD chapters had been formed throughout most other states.

Candy Lightner is an example of the modern hero. Her heroism did not require her to kill anyone, nor even risk her own life. What it did require was her willingness to take personal responsibility for a public problem she didnít cause. Where some heroes earn their stripes by putting their lives on the line for a few seconds or minutes, those like Lightner do so by committing themselves to the less dramatic day-in day-out work of creating a better would for everyone.

Heroism is still alive in modern America. And yet, it is stacked up against heavy odds, as weíre going to see. Letís start looking at some of the obstacles that confront those who would take responsibility for public affairs.



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