One might ask who or what is worthy of hero status. In response, I say to them: no one person. Is respect for a hero defined by what is right, or rather by the notion of a civic duty and responsibility? As society progresses and molds, the increasingly common image of a hero champions itself in humanitarian missions and sporting venues alike. Nelson Mandela freed South Africa. Humanitarians like Bill Gates and Oprah donate millions of dollars to starving kids in Indonesia. Michael Jordan saved the Bulls during the 1996 playoffs. Though well accomplished, this type of hero has developed into something rather common. Conversely, I believe one attains heroism intrinsically. My vision of a hero is one who battles to do well in the world and accomplish great things through his or her mind. The key lies in active thought. By making a conscious decision to think--not because someone told you, but rather from a deep longing for truth and rightness--you gain a level of understanding unparalleled in schooling, law or government. I cannot define heroism in a single person because people are flawed. Rather, I consider the interconnected chain of thinkers who came before me admirable and displaying heroism in their own right.
Jon Krakcauer's creative non-fiction Into the Wild recounts the tale of a young thinker who dared to move against the push of society. The main person, Chris McCandles, grew up in a Virginia suburb of Washington DC. His father worked normal hours, commuted in a mid-sized black sedan, and arrived home every day at five thirty only to find the grass neatly trimmed and dormer windows in need of yet another coat of white paint. As a young man, Chris exhibited behaviors of an active thinker--losing himself in the forest, buying meals for homeless people and hookers and talking to them like any other person. However, Chris's defining moment was realizing the connection between duty and self. If we live indebted to our parents--going to the college they want us to attend, and becoming what they think we should be--we miss our own lives. In turn, as we mature we live through our children. This effectively creates a vicious cycle of obligation and regret. Chris realized that we do not have a duty to our parents, though we may be indebted, but to posterity. Chris acted in the extreme: he separated himself from his family, burnt all his money and walked around the United States with only a dry bag of rice. Though some shortcomings marked his personality, the "No, I am going to do what I know to be right," mentality makes his unique thinking heroic.
Works of great American thinkers line the hallways of libraries across our nation. Piles of old books--dry, stale, disintegrating at the bindings--store vast collections of thoughts and original ideas, but who reads them? The words of truly great thinkers do not ruminate in between pages, but rather in the minds of those touched. The words of one of America's most prolific philosophers, Henry David Thoreau, continue to echo as strong as they did over 170 years ago. Of trees and fires, angels and devils, truths and fallacies, Thoreau mused on life. However, he endeavored to do more than think alone--rising above this stream of conscious thought to "live deliberately." Much like McCandles, Thoreau separated himself from the fleeting, vapid opinions of American society by moving out into the woods. Alone in the wilderness, Thoreau formulated a piece of literature destined to shape American culture, Walden. His ideas transcended beyond social pressures, the barriers of time, class or generation, and epitomized heroism of thought. While Thoreau thought as an individual, his work mirrors that of his predecessor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I view this as an example of a progressive thought chain; Thoreau transformed and built upon Emerson's ideals and insights. As an effect, posterity gained the tools to do the same--expand, build, and transcend.
One can view the nature of life as a process building upon the work of the past. On a small scale, grass-eating termites in Kakadu, Australia, build upon the base of their ancestors, constructing towers up to six-meters high. Unassisted by tools, these sightless and fragile termites work tirelessly to create truly astounding colonial homes. On an infinitely larger scale, according to NASA, our galaxy contains over 100,000,000 stars, is 100,000 light years wide, and bulges 16,000 light years thick at the middle. Though our galaxy takes up an unimaginably vast quantity of space, astronomers consider it to be but one of millions. Every day, hour, and second, the universe continues to expand at the speed of light, 12,000,000 miles a minute. Naturally, we find the oldest stars at the center of the universe. New stars grow and set off from this universal center, utilizing the energy and heat from the old. Seemingly unrelated things, from ants to our expanding universe, prove the shear value of building upon the work of the past. Chris McCandles, Henry David Thoreau, and many others discovered the significance in learning from the past in order to reach a higher echelon of thought. In the face of resistance, they stood up for intrinsic truths derived through contemplation. Therefore, I say this: my hero is not one man, but the thinkers who came before me. Above all things they taught me that there is no time like the present--use the base provided to the best of your ability for this instance will only come once.