February 06, 2013 - It bugs me the way society just casually throws around the word 'hero.'
It seems like everybody's a hero these days.
You went to work today – you're a hero!
You drove the kids to school – you're a hero!
You threw your trash in the garbage can, instead of on the ground – you're a hero!
You did all of the above yet no one noticed or applauded you for your efforts – you're an unsung hero!
Being a hero used to mean doing something extraordinary. It used to mean going above and beyond what you're required or expected to do.
The term hero used to be reserved for those who saved lives, won battles, sacrificed life, limb or fortune for others, demonstrated great courage in the face of extreme danger, etc. Well, not anymore.
Thanks to our self-esteem-obsessed culture where kids receive trophies, medals and ribbons for just participating, it's mandatory that everybody feel special about who they are and what they do. Apparently, you're a hero for just getting out of bed in the morning.
But doing your job or fulfilling your obligations doesn't make you a hero. It makes you a responsible person, which is definitely a good thing, especially in a society where responsible people are in short supply.
We should all take pride in the things we do and do them because we want to support ourselves, our families and keep society running smoothly.
But there's nothing heroic about any of that. Being responsible doesn't automatically equate to being a hero.
Heroes aren't just people who do what they're supposed to do – or what they're paid to do, for that matter.
While I certainly respect and am thankful for folks who wear badges and uniforms – be they police officers, firefighters or soldiers – I don't believe every single one of them should be called a hero. They're people who have chosen to do a job for which they receive wages and benefits like anyone else. They only become heroes when their deeds go well beyond the job description.
Heroes are people who transcend everyday life by the doing the things the rest of us can't do or won't do. That's why we honor them, hold them up as examples and name deli sandwiches after them.
A hero's actions should inspire others to be better than what they are. You're not a hero for just showing up.
To me, real heroes don't think of themselves as such and they don't want others to label them that way.
A perfect example is Oxford resident Larry Walker.
Back in September 2012, I interviewed this World War II veteran about his involvement in the Siege of Bastogne, which was part of the larger Battle of the Bulge – one of the most famous and pivotal battles of the entire war.
One of the first things he said to me was, "I was always proud that I did see combat, but don't call me a hero. I don't want to see any of that hero stuff, please."
Surrounded and outnumbered by Nazi soldiers who gave U.S. troops two options, surrender or be annihilated, Walker and his fellow G.I.'s chose option three – fight like hell and snuff out Hitler's last desperate hope.
It's amazing that after all that, Walker doesn't want to be called a hero or treated like one.
But then again, he's from a generation that didn't need or expect to be praised for everything they did.
They just did their job and went home.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.