Who Are Your Heroes and Why?

As I work on the final section of my eBook about Greg Mortenson and Lance Armstrong (“The Hero as Narcissist”), I’ve been thinking about why the public so ready to believe the stories they invented about themselves — that is, why we need heroes/heroines to admire. In my research, I came across an interesting quote. So far, I haven’t been able to attribute it to an actual person, whether it’s an ancient proverb or if someone in particular first said it.

“Tell me who your heroes are, and I’ll tell you who you are – or at least who you want to be.”

Whoever said it first, I think this sentence contains an important truth.

I’d like to ask for your help in clarifying my thoughts about this issue, so I’m inviting everyone to leave a comment and tell me: (1) if you have a particular hero or heroine; and (2) why that person is heroic in your eyes. Keep it short. In advance, I’d ask that nobody criticize the choice made by anyone else. I won’t approve any comment that shows disrespect for another person.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. Hey Joseph.
    I think, I have heard your quote before myself. I am not sure but if I should guess, I would claim that maybe CG Jung might be the originator, or maybe it goes back even further into ancient Greek philosophy? Please do post about it if you ever find out.
    As for my heroes. I don’t know if what I have qualifies as “hero” – I admire certain people for certain qualities but since they are all made of flesh and bones, they sure come also with things that are not THAT admirable. 😉

    To me, I am in general impressed with people that have a profound inner value system that is based on their experiences, both good and bad. We all go through hardships and adversities in our lives and these experiences shape us. I genuinely admire when someone manages to turn the negatives around and lets wisdom rule in a difficult situation. I am a huge philosophy fan and I really admire Seneca (I like stoic philosophy a lot and I resonate with his approach a lot! He also invented the “essay” and other forms of literature –> I like a well structured mind who knows how to use language!)

    A second hero or better said heroine to me is Frida Kahlo. I admire her creativity and her ability to express her most fearful emotions in her art. Her skill as a painter may have not been that outstanding but her ability to confront herself with her deepest fears and paint and sublimate it into something so beautiful as her paintings is truely inspiring to me.

  2. Mostly I reply on the Banks’ translations. Rumi making the point that you don’t know yourself. You, might tell me of your hero’s because they are delusional flights of fancy, whereas I (Rumi speaking), see your true soul beneath the mask. I’m not home so I can’t finger the quote at hand.

  3. Joseph, great quote. I am stealing it to Tweet later. 🙂 In regards to the questions posed my heroes have changed over the years as I have changed. What I once considered a hero is different. Currently I would say my Pastor, David who doubles as my sponsor, and my Rabbi, Ralph. Both are both my heroes. Both have wonderful minds and have a deep love for God, people, and family. They both also exhibit a high level of integrity, transparency, and humility. I am a father, ministry leader, recovery addict, husband, business and MAN which places me in, what I consider, a position of blessing, if I make wise decisions. These two men model what I desire to be in each of these roles of my life.

    In a more distant aspect my heroes are those patriarchs of the Torah and B’rit Chadashah. People like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Yeshua, etc. I think it is because I relate to so many of their struggles and desire a relationship with the Creator as intense as they experienced.

    Anyway, good luck on this exploration and God bless.

  4. i explain this to my clients this way: we only recognize the greatness in others when that greatness is within us too… however we look externally because we cannot believe that the greatness can be within us. for example only a person who has aspiration for homicide will consider a serial killer their hero. if it isnt within us, we will not recognize it in others. but we are too shy and consumed with self doubt to believe it. sometimes we think “i can only be fun and social when im with my friend A”… we attribute our own “fun-ness” to someone els and allow ourself to be fun only in that company
    my current hero is my therapist… part of it is as a therapist i would like to be like him as i grown in this career and part of it is his value system, love of humanity, dedicated service, ability to be free and open from self-limiting inhibitions.

    1. i think because of our self doubts and even loathing, we need to see it in others and we dont realize the heroes are only reflecting back what is in us.

  5. Goku from the manga / super sayayin series. He fights, loses, goes to train, comes back and wins over a 10x harder enemy, with a single hit.

  6. While I’ve spent more than twenty years teaching English to high schoolers, and courses in college to prepare budding English teachers for their classroom experiences and can thus point to varied heroes as inspirations: Odysseus, Penelope, Rosalind from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” because they remind me of qualities I like in myself, I have one real-life hero. My friend’s mom, long deceased now, was a true hero to me because she was truly genuine, humble, and loving: “Mom B”, as I called her, loved me BECAUSE of who I was, and DESPITE who I was, always. To me, that type of true, encouraging love was and remains worthy of being deemed “heroic” because it evoked then, and evokes still, the very BEST of who I am and can be.

  7. I’d say Mahatma Gandhi and Desmond Tutu are both ‘heroes’ of mine, in that I see them as very altruistic, compassionate leaders who cared for, and represented, vast numbers of people who suffered injustice. Although they were religious figures (I am an atheist), I admire their tolerance of other beliefs and readiness to criticise their own faith when the situation calls for it. In many ways, they were both down to earth, and rejected pomp, pretentiousness, and ceremony. They appeared, at least on the surface, to be genuinely humble. And their efforts have had an enduring, positive impact on their countries – sticking to their values in the face of persecution by government. I admire all of those qualities.

  8. Hero vs Role Model? Sometimes hard to make a distinction. I sat for a while trying to think of a single person as my “hero”; no one came to mind but I could think of a few people that have good genuine character that I look up to and want to emulate those characteristics.

  9. I have heard several variations of that quote. The most recent comes to mind from an exhibition of the work of linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner, and is taken from an african tribal saying, “Show me the language you cry in and I will tell you who you are.” and perhaps a more modern topical verison, “Show me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”

    Perhaps they all have appropriated the original “Tell me who your heroes are. . . ”

    For myself, growing up with two dysfuntional role models who I did not idolize, what does it say about you when you cannot idolize? Or at least have trouble doing so.

    1. oh good god, did not see your request at bottom. sorry, off piste. My heroes? off the cuff, Pippi Longstocking: irrepressible free-spirit who retained her innocence. Real life? This family I met whose father suffers from MS. They show a lot of courage and are good people.

  10. I am not entirely sure if “hero” is a word I ever really use, but if I have a hero it is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. If you are not familiar…..he was a Buddhist monk in Tibet who was forced out by the Chinese. He survived a brutal trek through the Himalayas and went on to become a popular Buddhist teacher, especially in the West. I love him because he has explained Buddhism, and what it really means, in the most practical yet beautiful way I have ever seen. I admire him because he was controversial and seemed to get a little thrill out of it, ha ha. A wise, wise man who freely admitted to breaking many Buddhist norms. His words are so powerful…..though he died many years ago his words have helped me to accept and understand even the dark, scary, twisty parts of myself and the human existence. I love him because he isn’t some warm-and-fuzzy Buddhist. He had the courage to teach Buddhism bare and real in a way that was accessible to so many.

  11. Well, not to put her on a pedestal, but (like you have said about your therapist) my therapist has quite literally saved my life. When I grew up and we had to answer this same question “Who is your hero?” in elementary school, so many of my classmates would write about their moms and dads. I could never say that about my parents because of the abuse I suffered. It was so sad for me that I couldn’t say my parents were my heroes – I didn’t have that same ability to state that like my classmates did, so I would always resort to some obtuse, flippant answer like “Abraham Lincoln”. So when I reflect on it today, knowing I didn’t get the parenting I needed and wanted, and knowing how reparative the therapeutic relationship has been for me (I no longer meet the DSM criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder), I can say that my therapist is my hero.

  12. One of my heroes is “scooby1961” on youtube. I have him as a hero because he is a patient, hard working person who has achieved a lot and hasn’t lost that passion for personal growth. He also broadened my horizons on what is possible and makes me feel like a failure in comparison.

    I want to be my version of him. Deep down I think it’s about competition. I want to match him by copying him first and then being better than him (just imagine how good it would feel to put your heroes to shame). In the copying phase I defend him because I am copying part of his identity, kind of like a low power merger fantasy.
    I also think enemies shape our identities just as much. I hate kick-boxing and car tuning because someone who harmed me likes those things.

  13. Before I started therapy my ‘heroes’ were any great orator, including Hitler (and I’m Jewish by the way) – but please let me explain.

    I used to get very emotionally aroused by watching and listening to great orators. I would feel a sense of potency, and become emotionally charged when watching these people – and it was irrelevant to me what they were actually preaching.

    After a few years of therapy, I can now understand what I was doing – I had a need to attach myself to anyone of power as a substitute for the inadequate feelings about myself. It was a quick way up – a flight into mania (as my therapist calls it). So instead of being in touch with my own inadequate feelings, I would search the internet and watch powerful speeches by dictators. That’s why Hitler is a good example which clearly highlights this need I used to have – even though Hitler was preaching the destruction of my own people, I still enjoyed watching him speak as it gave me this emotional high or mania.

    Now after years of therapy I have started to be ok with sitting with my own indaquate feelings (the shame thing you have spoken about). So I am a lot more guarded when watching orators – I try to listen to what they actually preaching, instead of misusing their orative ability as a quick way up emotionally. And no, Hitler is NOT my hero in any way shape or form, but at least now I can understand why so many people were taken by him because that was my experience.

  14. I have many heroes, but will name only two. Leonard Cohen, because he wrote his truth, even when it wasn’t popular or understood (although the world is now catching up to him!). And another writer Aruhndati Roy, who wrote a beautifully constructed book ( The God of Small Things ) about racism and childhood trauma and its far reaching consequences and said that when she was writing it she had no idea if it would make sense to anyone else but herself.But she did it anyway. Easy to see where I am coming from!

  15. My heroes are an assortment of biblical characters (including Jesus) and Eastern Orthodox saints and martyrs– living testimonies to the possibility of spiritual transcendence, people who over came the world through faith. It’s not escapism when it involves all of you. My opinion. 🙂

  16. I’m going to reply with a typical fictional superhero – Batman.

    He transforms his tragic family history and trauma into saving others, without ever being credited for it and without ever self-righteously allowing himself to cross moral boundaries (he never kills the villains or even sees himself as morally superior).

    I suppose I see him as humanity’s capacity to be a hero WITHOUT narcissism.

  17. Probably Paul Goodman. For his ability to see things as a whole and to deal with these things instead of moving off into fantasy. I suppose the briefest word would be “awareness”. Also his willingness to follow up with proposals for actionable positive innovations. He isn’t terribly well known these days which is a shame I think.

    E Stanley Jones a conservative evangelical in some ways but had a good sense of our physicality, our social nature and social justice (he spoke for Indian nationalism when still ruled by England). A really remarkable person.

  18. How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!–Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou is my she-roe. I was only a teen when I first found her poetry but the empathy and understanding I found in her words changed the way I viewed myself and felt about the world. I think because I was so young, and feeling “seen” by her poetry was so profound, she has remained on a pedestal of wisdom and empowerment and grace for decades now. I’m a fan of other women who create art that empowers or inspires me, but Maya Angelou is a hero.

    I look forward to reading your conclusions about why we need heroes. It’s very interesting to ponder.

  19. It has been such a long time now, so the [for lack of a better word] gratefulness has worn off a bit. The person I am referring to is a university professor, named Molly Fergusson. When I left home at around 16, I also dropped out of school. Up until the point I am going to refer to, I had a difficult time sticking to anything-I usually dropped out. Anyways, to keep it short, I returned to university in my thirties, and managed to complete the pre-university course only because Prof Fergusson believed in me, encouraged me etc. otherwise I would have dropped out. Now I have almost completed my MA. She is one of my heroes…I named my daughter after her.

  20. My hero is a simple monk from the Ramakrishna Order who left India and came to the United States when he was asked to serve as spiritual teacher at the Vedanta Society in San Francisco. Following the ideal of the Order of service to God in all beings, he has dedicated his life to serving others and teaching us a philosophy and practice that has brought me great strength of mind, Love in my heart, compassion and courage. He lives the life of a giver and never asks for anything but service to others. He owns nothing. He expects nothing. And his generosity of heart and experience provide me a living ideal that gives my own struggles meaning and purpose. As well, I greatly admire Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, The Peace Pilgrim, and others who selflessly give themselves to help others find their light.

  21. My mother! Because I’ve seen & experienced her guve with such gratitude and a servants heart! Especially now in middle age, as a mother of two, I understand at a visceral level how often selfsess it can be to put your children’s needs, be it emitional, psycholigical, social, physical, academical, spiritual … ahead of yours for so long, especially with limited resources of time and money. As the oldest of a family of 9 kids who lost her father at young age, she gave to her siblings & mother as well. She reached out for so many to make their lives better. That is her true joy, to make a difference in others! I find it admirable & almost impossible for me to give so freely & joyfully.

  22. My grandmothers are my heroes. Both were born around the Depression, insisted on attending college, dealt with imperfect husbands, and lived full — yet not excessive — lives. They spent their free time developing relationships with family and friends. One recently died from cancer, but managed to never let it become a central issue. It was not mentioned in her services or obituary because, somehow, it never was important. This last part is hard to put into words, but watching her die was one of the most instructional times of my life.

  23. A couple of heroes that come to mind for me immediately are R.D. Laing and John Dewey.

    I suppose I consider them ‘heroic’ because they gleamed a vision of how mental health care and education (respectively) could be more nurturing to the human condition, they noticed how a cultural preoccupation with ‘objectivity’ and ‘productivity’ was clouding popular views of what human beings need in order to actually thrive- and not only did they have this vision, they shared it and planted seeds for change. Even though Laing got a little bit…..’out there’ towards the end (which I don’t entirely dismiss, but I have a hard time appreciating as much), I think his earlier work was amazing. When I read either of these writers, I’m amazed by how true their ‘vision’ rings (and how it gives definition to a discontent I already felt, but couldn’t quite put into words). And I’m astounded they could notice it and articulate it so well (and so long ago). In short, I guess, I see them as forces that worked to direct our culture (and all the automatic thinking therein) towards more humanistic ends.

  24. Maybe the distinction between “idol” and “hero” needs to be made. An idol doesn’t really do anything except garner worship, whereas a hero is actually courageous and cares about humanity or some truth. Here are my computer’s dictionary definition of these terms:

    idol: An image or a representation of god used as an object of worship.

    hero: A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.

    A true hero both cares and demonstrates exceptional courage. I think there are true heroes on earth.

    Lance Armstrong was no hero. Though you could say his Livestrong Foundation helped humanity a bit, that foundation was really PR for his public image, he didn’t actually care about people, and he showed no courage.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by contrast was extremely courageous, and cared deeply about racial equality and human suffering. I’ve heard he was a philanderer, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a hero. The problem is, heroes are often made into idols through idealization.

  25. China’s “Tankman” — that guy who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tianamen Square. An anonymous every-man who put aside his personal well-being to protest oppressive rule. The most heroic moment ever captured on video, IMHO. I’ll take that over some bike-rider any day.

  26. I never seemed to have had a hero. Is that sad? I do admire peoples skills and talents. But to me this is only one aspect of them.
    Anyway, this is probably not very helpful, but reading this post made me realise that I don’t have hero’s.

    1. I don’t think it’s sad. I used to have heroes but I no longer do. There are people I admire but that’s not the same thing.

  27. David Ben-Gurion and Malcolm X. Both are unlikely leaders who possessed a rare blend of historical perspective and historic vision on the one hand, and grit and the ability to get things done on the other.

    There are more reasons but w/o writing an essay I think that pretty much sums up who I want to be!

  28. Strong/political (for me, strongly left-wing) women who have stood up for what they believed in/gone against female stereotypes to try to change the world (which is still ruled by men)/ triumphed over adversity.

    E.g. Simone de Beauvoir, Bernadette McAliskey, Asiye Guzel, Frida Kahlo…

    I also really admire creative people who have used their creativity vision in amazing ways – though all the below sounded very hard to live with so not quite ‘heroes’:

    E.g. William Blake, R.D. Laing. Arthur Wragg, Marguerite Duras

    Real life heroes too would definitely include the many refugees I have worked with.

    Anyone reading this list will probably know it’s me 🙂 as it’s quite eclectic!

  29. Heroes? Men and women who put their lives on the line selflessly in the service of others. The first responders who died on 9/11 go into this category. Musicians, artists, writers, and even political leaders don’t.

    Role models? Herman Wouk, a brilliant writer who just finished and published his latest novel at the age of 97, and that is not a misprint.

  30. My hero is definitely my therapist. Although saying that I feel a little guilty, because I fear it’s a label that’s unfair to expect anyone to live up to. She’s my hero because she challenges me to accept comfort and care, and to believe that I am worthy despite what I learned during my upbringing. She challenges me to discern the difference between beliefs and facts, and to ask for support when I need it. And, she’s there for me to the greatest extent she is able. Even when her schedule doesn’t allow for her to help me out, the way she communicates it still teaches me how to apply boundaries in a self-preserving yet compassionate way. Thank you for your work and effort Joseph. Cheryl.

  31. The quote about heroes reminded me of another: “Hitch your wagon to a star, and remain where you are.” As one of the comments hinted, the chief heroes are mom and dad, at least while we are young . This also brings to mind Konrad Lorenz who showed the world that ducklings could be brought to have a pair of rubber boots for heroes. His book On Aggression (Das sogenante Böse) made him a sort of mild hero to me back in the 1960ies . I have looked up to quite a few in my younger days. I `m afraid I have no heroes today, but there are many I admire for certain traits and/or skills .

    Kudos to Karen for “she-roes”. which was new to me.

  32. I have to admire actress Carrie Fisher. She knew her recent bipolar episode on a cruise ship as getting “serious” because she was starting to experience that “everything she saw, she interpreted as some type of sign or metaphor.” This was it! This was the most accurate description of my own manic experiences – the first 27 years ago. Knowing that someone has really been to that place — so hard to define, yet so real. Where colors have meanings, and everything had meanings, and everything can remind you of someone or something — at a manic pace. It was almost fun, the clarity and realizations — but ultimately false. I’d never heard that place described so accurately. I feel less alone. Carrie gets my respect for dealing with her bipolar condition in a very public way, yet continuing her life.

  33. My heroes – Helen Keller. She lived her life in the service of others despite tremendous personal hardship. And Anne Frank and Viktor Frankl and all the countless people they represented who suffered with a positive attitude or simply without quitting. These individuals’ stories keep me going sometimes; I think of them when I feel hopeless and miserable or just feel sorry for myself.

  34. Jane Goodall. “The peace of the forest has become part of my being,” she writes. “Indeed, if I close my eyes, I can sometimes transform the noise of loud talking or traffic in the street into the shouting of baboons or chimpanzees, the roaring of the wind through the branches or of the waves crashing onto the shore.”
    I am a Psychiatrist now interested in Forest Medicine.

  35. Peggy Payne, the most ethical person I know. A. Lincoln, for bringing us away from slavery, whatever his reasons and timing. Milton Erickson,MD,MA, for overcoming massive personal physical challenges and being the most positive contemporary influence on the field of psychotherapy. Beetoveen, for giving us his extraordinary music. Dr bob

  36. What if I have no heroes? Will you be able to tell who I am or who I want to be?
    (This is the truth — I drew a complete blank when I read this question…)

  37. Having read the replies, I realize as I grow older that qualities inspire me. These make the person a hero/ine. There are so many people in real life who represent good and evil, yet its always a mixed bag.

    Watching TV with my children, I rediscovered cartoons and sometimes watch them with family. One of my favorite heroines is a fictional character Didi. She is the sister of Dexter in the cartoon “Dexter”. I love her playfulness and light-heartedness, her dogged pursuit of her big brother Dexter. He considers her quite inconsequential in his “mighty, scientific” work, yet whenever he is in a bad scrap, she is the one who saves her. She brings heart to the mind.

    My favorite bad-guy is Mojo in “the Power Puff Girls”. While he keeps provoking and creating evil acts, it is out of a need to be loved by the professor, and eventually his heart prevents him from taking that last step that will make him completely evil.


  38. Atticus Finch – doing the best he could though it was stacked against him, trying his honest, imperfect best, to stand up for what needs stood up for though EVERYONE else stands against (seemingly), fighting hard what may seem the hopeless fight, though despite the end results of the trial, no good man or woman standing up against evil is hopeless. Somebody’s got to, even if that somebody loses. They’d lose more, if they didn’t. Gregory Peck became my favorite actor, because of this role, but he has other memorable portrayals as well. Until we watched TKAMB in 8th grade, I never knew some people might stand against the bullies of the world, even when they were the only ones. I still marvel at it. You can probably guess a little about why that hits home, for me. Recently I’ve had some rather strong psychosomatic reactions to perceived indifference to abuse, and typing that out just now makes me realize even more layers of why Atticus Finch, and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of him, are so . . . beautiful, to me.

    1. I also have a great admiration for Atticus Finch … but then, he’s a fictional character. Do our heroes need to be real people or can they be drawn from fiction?

  39. Dorothy from the wizard of oz…she finally realized all she thought she needed, she had all along. She also is not a perfect idealized character, but is naive and idealistic. She wakes up to herself and while the farm is the same as she left it, she has been changed by her inward journey of personal growth and actualization. Her path in the story resonates for me on my own journey.

  40. The little prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) – he’s so fragile but brave in the same time; so innocently curious, he is pure and has a truly disarming wisdom

  41. Heroes that ‘endure’ while retaining their ‘humanity’…meaning that ‘life’ will present us with ‘mysteries’ and there’s a great temptation to ‘rage’. The answer is within…

  42. Not sure that I can help you with this as I no longer have heroes. I can tell you who used to be some of mine…Sylvia Plath, Enid Blyton…mostly writers (all narcissists as it turns out..i think many of the best writers are narcissists).

    Fascinating question about the public’s need for sporting heroes…Oscar Pistorius too.

  43. I don’t use the word “hero” very often. The only time I use it is when I refer to staff who work with my daughter who lives with extreme challenges. She has Down Syndrome and Autism, and the staff at the school and residence where she lives demonstrate true heroism on a daily basis. They work from a deep love and respect for humanity that deserves recognition and admiration. What makes them heroes is that beyond their measly earnings, they expect no payment. It is true vocation.

  44. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I have any heroes. I’m not sure what having a hero would even feel like or would mean to me. The idea, alone, is distressing. Hmm. I wonder what that’s about.

  45. Heroes? No, we’re all just regular people. Some people do extrordinary things, but I guess they’re still human. I don’t like sports much, and though I understand athleets work very hard, I don’t consider them role models. To me, there’s comfort in the fact that we all have flaws, and idealizing someone would make me feel inadequite in my own life.

    1. It should be possible to have role models for particular areas without having to idealize them, to keep their other flaws mind.

  46. Interesting quote and topic. I find myself thinking about it differently after responding to the “idealization” chapter in the discussion group on your book. Heroes are associated with idealization and I’ve been wracking my brain to try to come up with a good hero (to reflect well on myself). Before reading the chapter and responding in the discussion I would have chosen Gandhi or MLK or Viktor Frankl or Rosa Parks but I’m beginning to question my hero worship so I feel a bit trapped. Although I would choose these people because of their absolute integrity and courage in speaking truth to power without violence and even with love and kindness. And their unending search for truth within themselves. That is what I want to find one day in myself.

    1. It’s what I’m trying to sort out — how to admire someone without idealizing them. I’m beginning to think that all heroes are idealized, almost by definition.

      1. I guess through these discussions I’m starting to think that the Hero worship is about the qualities we see in someone else that we admire and want to emulate but we must recognize that they have faults (I heard Gandhi didn’t spend much time with his kids), and that the goal is to move from the idealization just being a distraction to actually working on ourselves and really fostering the qualities in those people that we admire. So Heroes aren’t totally useless right? You just don’t want to get stuck there.

  47. If it has to be someone famous: Janusz Korczak – who insisted in staying with the orphans he was responsible for during their deportation from Warsaw to the Ghetto and later to Treblinka in WWII. He could have saved himself but did not abandon the children and instead gave them dignity and expertly tried to take away their fear. He finally went into the gas with them. On top of that he was a great writer.
    What makes him so admirable for me is that his intellectualism did not stop when it would start to hurt himself. No excuses. He walked the walk. He was fully aware of what would happen to him if he stayed with the children and payed the ultimate sacrifice for them.

  48. I’m not sure I have any heroes/heroines although I have deep respect for those who put their lives on the line for my safety. I do have muses/role models, and I would have to say that Carl Jung comes closest to receiving my “hero-worship” because he has fascinated me since I read “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” which has kept me reading his works for more than a decade and prompted my journey toward individuation.

    1. In your view, what is the difference between a hero and a role model? When I first started thinking about it, I assumed there was a difference, but a lot of what I’ve read makes those terms seem fairly interchangeable.

      1. Personally, and maybe it’s because I grew up enchanted with Arthurian legend, I see heroes as warriors/leaders like King David, King Arthur, Roland, or closer to present, Patton or Martin Luther King. That being said, I can readily agree that culture has probably diluted the real meaning of hero, which is kind of a pity.

        I think that role models are people you want to emulate, but that are not necessarily “heroic.” But, the truth is there is not a hero or role model (in reality, not fiction) that is perfect, and we can only choose to emulate the behaviors we find admirable.

      2. To my mind, and the way I use the terms, a hero is someone you worship and a role model is someone you emulate. The hero is idealized and represents an unattainable perfection and perfect happiness. This is who you wish you were when you want to be someone else. We can see the extremes that people take this idea to when fans stalk and murder their favorite celebrities. It’s someone you want to merge with and leave yourself behind.

        But the role model is someone who’s path you learn from, someone you want to know warts and all. You see your own flaws and struggles reflected in theirs and through watching them, learn healthy ways to overcome challenges and meet similar goals. It’s someone who puts you more in touch with yourself.

        In my experience, people tend to use the word “hero” for the distant celebrity or famous figure, but are more likely to say “role model” about someone they know personally who has guided and supported them.

        That said, I think it’s very possible to blur the line between the two in how you see a person you admire. I think that’s probably very common.

        1. I like that distinction between ideal and attainable. It’s what I was thinking when I first started out on this topic but the more I read, the lines seemed blurred.

  49. Well, Einstein, Da Vinci, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Jung are definitely among them, as is Lao Tzu, Steve Jobs and serial millionaire Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps. Why?
    Because each of them demonstrated, curiosity, tenacity, wisdom, perseverance and belief in self. And, because they found a way to simplify a complex concept to such an extent that everyone could share their vision.

    1. As well as self entitlement and/or interpersonal exploitation and/or lack of empathy and/or grandiose sense of self importance and/or terrible parenting…

      Steve Jobs, for one, certainly did demonstrate those “qualities” altogether (but he is not the only one in this list). Families of dead workers must still really feel the strength of his “vision”:

      If only they could have shared it more!

      So is it true? Tell me who you heroes are, I’ll tell you who you are…? For your own sake, I hope not.

  50. When I think of hero I catagorize it into two separate entities. 1. What someone has done for me, and 2. What someone has done for the world at-large. My personal current hero would be my therapist, and my hero for the world at-large would have to be Jesus of Nazareth.
    They can both also be catagorized as role models because they are people I learn from.

  51. I’ve learned that it’s dangerous to have heros and heroine. That can easily lead to hero/heroine worship – the need to imbue people with qualities larger than life, turning them into fantasy to fill a void in ourselves, which then makes us unable to accept them both with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. When I read/hear/meet people whom I admire, I work hard to keep them off the pedestal, to see them as real people I can learn from – people who have worked incredibly hard to accomplish their goals. There is no magic, instead there is information and wisdom to glean.

  52. Judi Bari is my hero. She was an activist for labour and reproductive rights and environmental justice. She was a radical who bridged deep distrust between different groups to make common cause in bigger political struggles – for example, she allied environmentalists with loggers against tree spiking and unsustainable, job-killing logging company practices. She was joyful and funny, writing and singing songs for strikers and clinic defenders. And she was tenacious. Someone tried to murder her and a colleague by bombing her car, and they were maliciously prosecuted, alleged to have placed the bomb themselves. They sued the FBI and Oakland police over the malicious prosecution, continued the fight as she was dying of cancer, and won years after she died. She was a remarkable woman, and her courage and faith in humanity inspire me.

  53. Jesus. No matter what I have done or will do, He forgives; He forgets/wipes the slate clean and loves me all the same (unconditionally). All I have to do is believe in Him and sincerely ask for forgiveness.

    No one else would literally die for me (after the things I’ve done to them) go to Hell for me, conquer Death and loving make room for me to come home with them to live eternally happily and safe.

    My God died for me.

    Just stop and think for a moment.
    Really think!
    He did not only carry my sins on that cross but everyone who has ever lived and will ever live. You know the things you have done. Imagine the weight of your sins on that cross and multiply it by an infinite number of individuals. No one will ever truly understand what He literally went through for all of us (in life or death).

    It wrenches my heart and soul to think of His sacrifices… tears flow like rivers. To stop and consider His feelings, then and now, how His heart must ache.

    My God, my King, my Savior, Jesus is my hero!

  54. Four of my heroes that immediately come to mind are Pat Tillman, Yoni Netanyahu, Anatoli Boukreev, and Sybil Edmonds.

    Pat was the NFL player who was killed in 2004 in Afghanistan by friendly fire (covered-up to exploit his death for propaganda), Yoni was killed leading the 1976 Raid on Entebbe saving hijacked passengers, Anatoli Boukreev was the Russian climber who rescued others caught in a 1996 storm on Mt. Everest, and Sybil is a feral blogger who was the test case for the bipartisan use of the “States secrets” clause (her memoir is “Classified Women”).

    What defines a hero? I would argue integrity is fundamental. For example, the reality of both Pat and Yoni was much deeper than their iconic images. Both possessed a core of honesty and integrity, led by personal example, and lived their lives intensely. Neither cared much about money or personal comfort. Both were mavericks, intellectuals and avid readers. A fitting quote can be found in the book “The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu”:

    “Of all the aspects of his character one predominates – integrity. By this we do not mean only honesty toward one’s fellow man, but, above all, honesty toward oneself. An inner wholeness marked Yoni’s entire behavior, inspired his way of life and determined his objectives. That wholeness resulted from a great need for absolute harmony between his thoughts and deeds. … For Yoni, unlike many of us, could not hold beliefs without living them to the full. Once convinced of the rightness of an idea, whether in the personal or national sphere, he had to do what he could to actualize it, regardless of the hardships or risks involved. Again and again he asked himself whether he was working toward the realization of his life’s aims.”

    Similarly, Pat Tillman’s widow, Marie, wrote (in her book “The Letter”) “There are people who don’t respond strongly to words like “honor,” but Pat did. Those five small letters strung together meant the world to him” (Pat’s hero was Rachel Corrie who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003).

    Note: I’ve written extensively about the bipartisan whitewash of Gen. McChrystal’s central role in the cover-up of Tillman’s friendly-fire death at the Feral Firefighter blog. In particular, you might find my April 2011 post, “Jon Krakauer’s Credibility Problem,” to be of interest to you . It describes the backstory of Krakauer’s take-down of Mortenson to launch his friend’s start-up of Byliner.com

  55. I was glad to learn there are other people who don’t have someone they would think of as a hero. I often hear references or questions about who would be a personal hero, and I have never had a good or ready answer. . . .and wondered if I were a little off kilter for not having one. There are many people I admire and respect, but since I don’t idealize others, and recognize ‘everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time,’ this hero business has always been a little fuzzy for me.

  56. Hello. Thanks for sharing that interesting quote!

    Heros of mine are: Artist Niki De Saint Phalle. She made the kind of art I wish to. Jesus: I mourne for the lack of morality I see in society. I dearly wish more people were Christian in real, genuine, caring sense.

    I admire almost to the point of envy very intellectual people: Some psychiatrists, psychologists. I would love deep insight into people around me. Academics. Talented people who can express themselves incridably; cellists, flautists. Artists with great capability in drawing and painting.

  57. Hello, Catherine again. Actually, psychiatrists and psychologists for insight not only into others but myself also. I have been mentally ill since childhood and as such long and strive to attain improved health and to live life more fully.

  58. One of my great heroes has been Amelia Earhart. In fact, just the other day our philosophy club had as the subject “The Ten Greatest Americans,” and I had her on my list. I complimented the presenter on the subject because it helps one identify exactly WHY someone makes their list of greatness. I ended up offering as rationale that Amelia won the battle of consciousness in a rare and extremely admirable way. Which means, very low on defense mechanism dominance in her consciousness, very high on presence and authenticity of “being with” her actual experience instead of habitually warding it off, very alive as a result, wholehearted as a result, integrated as a result … all the things so difficult for most to be.

      1. The exercise of picking great Americans was revealing as to various classmates criterion. I eschewed all fame, influence, power, historical significance, wealth, success, brilliance and charitable endeavors arguments in favor of the purely psychological … and the exercise pointed up to me that this viewpoint I pretty much take for granted. I’d like to talk to you about it perhaps, Joseph. Started your book the other night and the next morning out at breakfast saw a guy dead on you, glasses and all, enough almost to ask if it was you. Just some doppelganger wannabe copying your style probably. He didn’t write this.

          1. That’s what I mean. Central Florida here. Enjoyed the book (Why Do I Do What I Do?). Some strong stuff in there, some perfect for me. Not an insignificant message to be gleaned from it is to not mistake your self for your defense mechanisms. That’s a doozey in my book. Those defense mechanisms are veiling and shrouding our potential authentic experience, and they do so tenaciously.
            What do you get if you combine Brene Brown’s vulnerability studies with Joseph Burgo’s analysis of defense mechanism? Some wisdom about a truer, deeper human experience for sure. Would you agree that defense mechanisms can be thought of as buffers of our vulnerability?

  59. A tad late, but still..
    My dad was/ is my hero. Even though he died, when I was 15, over 47 yrs ago.
    His own father was killed at Gallipoli, when he was maybe 2 or under. He overcame his alcoholism, and struggled hard to look after his family as well as expressing his creative urges.
    Above all, he was kind and loving. My other hero is Brad Pitt. What a great dad he seems to be, great husband and actor.

  60. Hello, Joseph. I found your website and decided to write you.

    My hero is my uncle. Back when I was younger, I was little overweight, a little awkward, and not very good at sports, but I idolized my uncle. He’s not a tall individual, but (to an 8 year old) he was a giant to me. He’s brave, kind, strong, a very good handyman, and incredible awesome at sports. All those things about him I admired and I wanted to be like him. The flip side, I felt very Intimidated around my uncle, thinking I could not measure up to him or at least impress him. Over time, my uncle taught me to believe in myself and gave the courage to better myself than what I was. He ultimately gave me an incredible amount of confidence in myself as I grew into adulthood and I gratefully thank him for that. Though I’m now 29 years old, I still look up to my uncle (as a hero), believing that he’s the coolest uncle anyone could have and still the giant of a man from my childhood.

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