web analytics
Home > Rant > A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich

A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich

August 15th, 2010

Last week, USA Today opined that flight attendant Steve Slater–who famously quit his job by taking a plane’s emergency slide to the ground–is not, as some would have it, a hero. I agree. While it takes a certain kind of bravery to choose unemployment in this terrible, terrible economy, there’s nothing particularly heroic about what he did.*

But where I take issue with the editorial is the comparison it makes between Slater and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his damaged aircraft in the Hudson River last year. “Heroism,” it suggests, “is about selflessness and grace under pressure.” Certainly Sullenberger exhibited the latter, in spades. ┬áBut selflessness? He was in the plane. It’s not as if there was an option to save himself that didn’t also involve saving the passengers.

Now, I am in no way denigrating Captain Sullenberger’s actions that day. He performed his job in exemplary fashion. We should all be so lucky to find ourselves aboard Sully’s crate.┬áBut, here’s the thing: Sullenberger is a commercial airline pilot. Not crashing the plane and killing everyone aboard is pretty much the minimum we expect from them.

Let’s move on from the good captain. I don’t want to sully the name of Sully. I’m just using him as an example of our something that bugs me: our overuse of the word “hero.”

To me, a hero is someone who not only puts others ahead of him or herself, but voluntarily risks personal safety to help the helpless. A soldier facing enemy bullets to pull a wounded squad member into cover is a hero. So is someone who suffers on behalf of someone else’s civil rights. And firefighters? Inherently heroic.

However, we use “hero” to describe all manner of people. Sports figures, of course. Folks who tell their boss that thing we always wanted to tell our boss. And disaster survivors. Especially disaster survivors. In times of catastrophe, we lionize victims and saviors alike.

To paraphrase The Incredibles–a movie in which a troubled boy confuses superpowers with heroism–“When everyone is a hero, no one will be.”

*It was pretty cool, though.

Categories: Rant Tags:
Comments are closed.