A firefighter who faces danger just by going to work – a donor who provides bone marrow for someone she’ll never meet. Whenever we learn about everyday heroes like this, we need to talk with our children about them.
by Joan M. Thomas
Everyone needs heroes—especially children. We all seek someone to emulate and admire, to serve as a model for what we want to become, to prove it is possible to rise above the mundane. But as we’re numbed by a multimedia barrage of sensational stories, we often wonder if real heroes exist.
Our children grow up exposed to ubiquitous tales of misbehaving rock stars, doped-up professional athletes, and “public servants” blatantly breaking the law.
Nonetheless, those same news media also bring tidings of hope to parents who want to get our children to venerate true heroes and heroines. Take airline pilot C. B. “Sully” Sullenberger.
Navigating his failing craft to a safe landing on Manhattan’s cramped Hudson River on January 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger saved the lives of both passengers and crew. Then, disregarding his own safety, he stayed aboard the sinking ship until he made certain everyone had been evacuated.
We would all like to think we could muster that kind of courage under duress, not to mention the professional expertise it takes to perform such a “miracle,” and the integrity of this pilot who has always insisted that he and his crew were just doing their jobs.
Popular TV show hosts sometimes highlight real-life Good Samaritans whose deeds would otherwise go unrenowned. One recent Oprah Winfrey broadcast focused on “Heroes in Hard Times.” Introducing viewers to ordinary folks in various parts of the country who selflessly gave back to the community, Oprah said, “Heroism comes in all forms.”
Looking around, we see regular folks selflessly donating kidneys to total strangers, firefighters and police officers who face potential danger just by going to work, and volunteers from all walks of life stepping in to help those in need. Whenever we find out about people like this, it's a vital part of our work of child parenting to talk with our children about them.
Who are your heroes?
Remember, you as parents are the ultimate heroes for your children. So besides trying to be a role model yourself, you can build on the example of your own childhood champions. Why did you admire them? How did they affect your life?
In my case, my Catholic upbringing acquainted me with patron saints, and I idolized my patron and namesake, Joan of Arc. She continues to inspire me with courage and independence.
If you talk up the traits you admire in heroes of the past as well as contemporary models like Sully Sullenberger, you can’t help but form a good impression on a child. Just for starters, here are a few characters and characteristics that parents might discuss at the dinner table:
Finding heroes anywhere
Even inanimate objects can inspire self-improvement. Take the story of “Charles Atlas.”
A fascinating article in the August 2009 Smithsonian reveals how skinny 97-pound Angelo Siciliano transformed himself into a revolutionary icon for physical fitness. As the Mighty Atlas, he inspired millions of young men to improve their physiques and thereby boost their self-confidence. Where did he get his inspiration?
At the Brooklyn Museum, from its statues of Hercules, Apollo and Zeus. Envisioning his own body in that state of perfection, he developed his method and eventually equaled those mythical heroes.
The body-building course sold by Charles Atlas more than a half-century ago has been resurrected by the Internet. It promotes a genuinely healthy way to get a good-looking body. Today, it gives hope to those “97-pound weaklings” who have the sense to avoid harmful drugs like steroids. That alone is a good lesson for any child.
The author of three books, freelance writer and historian Joan M. Thomas also enjoys writing feature stories and essays on current topics. Born in Carroll, Iowa, she now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, Bob, and canine pal, Sasha.