What Makes a Hero: Characteristics & Traits of Exemplary Individuals

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios (1783-1830) was a South American war hero and political leader. Bolívar is also known as "El Libertador" (the Liberator) because of his key role in Latin America's struggle for independen
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios (1783-1830) was a South American war hero and political leader. Bolívar is also known as "El Libertador" (the Liberator) because of his key role in Latin America's struggle for independen | Source

What exactly is it about certain people that makes them easily classified as a hero? The man who jumps into a river to save a drowning child is obviously a hero, but why? What traits or characteristics of this person, like many other everyday heroes, make them a hero and what sets them apart from the rest of society?

Well for one, heroism is not something that can be taught nor can one purchase it. Most heroes, in their literal and real world sense, exhibit a number of similar characteristics that sets them apart from the general population. These individuals confront the challenges of the world head-on even when faced with impossible odds or imminent danger. Heroes are idolized by people because of their accomplishments and the good that they represent. And more importantly, heroes exhibit a lot of desirable and common characteristics that define their persona. Here are some of the most noteworthy traits that most heroes we can think of have.

Bravery and Courage

Bravery is probably the most commonly named characteristic that a hero has. Bravery is similar to courage but it differs in that a brave person may not necessarily think about the consequences of their actions before they do it. A brave person makes quick decisions to save someone's life or stop an imminent disaster without necessarily weighing the risks of doing so. A brave action that results in disaster is often referred to as a stupid action. There is a fine line between what is considered brave and what is considered stupid. A brave person is sometimes (but not always) courageous as well.

People that are considered heroes usually exhibit a strong sense of courage. This is shown in their ability to persevere in any situation regardless of the circumstances. A courageous individual will put their fears aside for the greater good and not allow it to stop them from completing their mission. Courage can be divided into two sub-categories. There is physical courage such as the ability to face physical pain, imminent danger, and possibly the threat of death. There is also moral courage which is the ability to stand up for what is right even in the most oppressive of situations. For example, admitting a wrong doing that may result in dire consequences for the individual takes a lot of moral courage.

Terry Fox (1958-1981) was a was a Canadian athlete and cancer research activist who attempted to run across Canada with only one leg. He eventually lost his life to cancer but not after running for 143 days. Image used with permission.
Terry Fox (1958-1981) was a was a Canadian athlete and cancer research activist who attempted to run across Canada with only one leg. He eventually lost his life to cancer but not after running for 143 days. Image used with permission. | Source

Determination and Perseverance

A real hero exhibits a lot of determination and perseverance. Heroes don't give up easily and are willing to get up and keep trying regardless of the steepness of the challenge in front of them. A determined hero is one who holds firm to their values and purpose and does not let things get in the way of accomplishing their goals. Determination means that giving up or quitting is not an option. Determined individuals will stop at nothing to be successful.

A hero who perseveres is one that has experienced significant hardships but is still willing to go on and fight for what is right. They will do whatever it takes to succeed and often success is result of out-determining and out-persevering an obstacle. A soldier on the battlefield who continues to fight even after they have been shot has persevered and risen above their suffering to accomplish their mission. A "nothing can stop me" attitude goes a long way to making someone a distinguished hero.

Selflessness and Sacrifice

A hero often exhibits a strong character of selflessness. They are often motivated by an intrinsic need to help others before they help themselves. These individuals are unselfish and live to promote the health, safety, and welfare of other people. This behavior is common among heroes as this is what helps set them apart from most other people in the world.

Similar to selflessness, heroes also often make great sacrifices for the greater good of humanity. A sacrifice could include anything from the loss of sleep to the loss of a big opportunity or even the loss of a limb or other body part. A person that is willing to make a great sacrifice to help someone else would easily be considered a hero.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is a scientific hero to many people (including myself).  He was so dedicated to solving the problems of the universe that was still working on them while on his deathbed.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is a scientific hero to many people (including myself). He was so dedicated to solving the problems of the universe that was still working on them while on his deathbed. | Source

Dedication and Endurance

No one has ever succeeded at anything without first committing themselves to meeting their goal. This is called dedication. Dedication means that someone trains hard, learns, practices, and prepares for the challenges that they may face. Every hero will experience some down time at point or another. Fires don't burn forever, students eventually need to go home, and a policeman's shift will eventually end. However, this does not mean that these individuals will stop being a hero when the clock hits 5pm. A dedicated person is one that uses their down time to make themselves stronger, smarter, faster, and more able to fight the next day's battle. It could also mean that they take extra shifts or volunteer their time to further their mission.

Endurance is the ability to continue even when faced with exhaustion. To be a dedicated individual means that you have developed an endurance to continue doing what needs to be done on a daily basin. Heroes never quit - they have a high level of endurance that allows them to achieve anything.

Other Characteristics of Heroes

Heroes usually have several other characteristics and traits beyond the standard ones listed above. For example, humility is a great attribute for any person to have and is often shown by people that are considered heroes. When a person claims that they "are not a hero," they are showing a lot of humility. Other examples of heroic traits include people who show high levels of integrity, valor, intrepidity, skill, strength, and fearlessness.

Is There Anything Else?

Yes actually. There is something else that makes a hero who they are. In most cases, a hero has a strong motivation to accomplish their mission, whatever it may be. This motivation is sometimes called their "cause" or their "purpose" and is the one thing that they see as a reason to do what they are doing. Bravery, selflessness, sacrifice, and perseverance all stem from the hero's inner purpose. A hero's motivation could come from anything such as an early life tragedy, a fear of losing loved ones, or even a staunch desire to promote the health, safety, and welfare of humankind.

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