Every generation, teenagers come up with something new to identify themselves as somehow unique and different from their parents and/or previous generations. They feel a strong need to create a distinct identify for themselves that will make them feel important, significant, or appreciated in some way – in the United States, they most often resort to changing their hairstyle and clothing – as if those things ever truly identified an individual. Despite that constant generational cycle, heroes over the ages tend to change very little regardless of their race, ethnicity, or culture. True, there are some characteristics that may be unique to certain cultures but certain traits are universally admired (certain philosophers excepted). Those “heroes” may be different in many ways – from the clothes they wear to the way the speak to the technology they use to overcome their personal challenges. But those things are generally not what make us respect, honor, or appreciate those characters. Sure, Wolverine has cool claws and a unique hairdo but ultimately, that is not why he is such an appealing character. We like, love, or respect characters in stories because they somehow exemplify character traits that we admire and strive to emulate – but more particularly those characteristics that bring about a better world. Let me demonstrate with an example:
I saw a news article yesterday about an eight year old boy (Tyler Doohan) who saved six relatives from dying while their house was burning down. He died while trying to save the seventh person: his invalid grandfather.
That’s a great story.
It wouldn’t matter if it happened yesterday or one hundred years ago because it highlights his selflessness and his courage. I didn’t take the time to learn about that boy’s background, his likes or dislikes, his hobbies or passions. I won’t remember any of that a year from now anyway. What I will remember is the implicit love this boy showed towards others, the lack of concern for himself that he displayed, his compassion for others, and his remarkable courage. Those are the things that truly make someone a unique individual: donning timeless, noble, and true principles upon oneself and using those never-changing characteristics to make the world a better place. This boy was unique, not because of his hairstyle, his clothing, or whether or not his peers thought he was cool (it might even make him seem more noble if he was nerdy and not well liked at school). He was unique because history has shown that very few boys have ever exhibited the kind of courage, selfishness, and love that this boy showed the other day. And I think we can all appreciate that he doubtless had zero thoughts about whether or not his friends and family would think he was awesome because of his bravery – he didn’t have time to think about those things – undoubtedly, he was too busy trying to make the world a better place to even think about what others might think about him. Indeed, individuals who obsessively worry about what other people think about them rarely, if ever, demonstrate the strong character found in this young boy hero.