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As more time passes from the Tucson shooting, more stories are coming out about how the gunman was stopped -- and as the heroes who stopped him are identified and tell their stories, we are seeing some common elements -- the elements that define a hero.

First up, they all insist that they aren't the heroes. They just did what they had to do; it was the others who were the real heroes.

Second, they all express regrets for their deeds. They wish they could have acted faster and done more to help.

Being a hero isn't easy. It requires some truly remarkable traits.

First up, it requires opportunity. One has to have the chance to be a hero.

Second, it requires the ability to instantly assess a crisis and immediately recognize what needs to be done.

Finally, it requires setting aside one of the most primal instincts in the human mind -- the instinct for self-preservation. These heroes instantly recognize danger -- and rush towards it.

Speaking personally, I've done brave things in my life. I have confronted bad people, doing bad things, at personal peril. But in those cases, the danger was not immediate -- I had time to carefully consider my actions, and have carefully chosen my course.

I've also done craven things -- more than I would ever admit publicly. I know them, myself, and regret them and feel the shame.

But I've never been heroic. I've never had that opportunity to put myself to the test.

And I'm glad. Because I don't think I have the heroic instinct. I can face danger, but not instinctively. My initial reaction is to flinch or freeze or flee. It's only when I have time to think that I find my courage.

I think that my reactions are quite common. The heroic instinct is rare.

But not too rare. It's times like this weekend that we find our heroes. Not actors, not musicians, not athletes, but ordinary people who, when put to the test, step up and do what needs to be done, in full disregard for their own safety.

This Saturday, we learned once again that anyone can be a hero. We just never know who among us is a hero -- until we need them.


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Comments (12)

Who among us is a... (Below threshold)

Who among us is a hero? Well, you might try Dick Winters, who passed away Jan 2nd, and insisted on a private memorial.

Matter of fact, you might try that ENTIRE generation. They epitomize your description of hero.

And their grandsons and granddaughters comprise today's version.

Heroes all.

As another great hero once ... (Below threshold)

As another great hero once said: "Let's roll!"

“punish your enemies”,<b... (Below threshold)
Barry Soetoro:

“punish your enemies”,
“get in their faces”
“bring a gun to a knife fight”

I learned this from my mentors, Bill Ayers, Saul Alinksy, and my real dad noted Commie Frank Marshall Davis.

After saving my dive buddie... (Below threshold)

After saving my dive buddies life, my comment was "I really didn't want to haul his body up those 60 feet of stairs (in full dive gear) and face his wife for not acting". Or the other one - "The training for what to do in a dive emergency kicked in. The checklist went thru my head and I executed it, step by step." (This last is symptomatic of ergency workers everywhere, and why you pratice emergency responses over and over.)

"We just never know who amo... (Below threshold)

"We just never know who among us is a hero -- until we need them."

I would submit that those 'heroes' made a conscious decision, well before the event. Something they thought about and came to the decision "I WILL NOT be a victim! I WILL NOT give up!".

I was struck by a statement made by one of the victim's at Virginia Tech. Afterward he pointed out a desk and said "That's where I chose to die." Simple, declarative sentence. Yet did he mean that he CHOSE to die in that PLACE, or that he CHOSE to Die (become a victim)?

As you pointed out - when such an event occurs, there is no time "to think". Having previously made the decision, as mentioned above, all you have to do is ACT!

Gee. Glad Obama could spar... (Below threshold)

Gee. Glad Obama could spare a couple brief moments to speak about Tuscon before moving on to policy wonkishness.

Thanks JT. This is what the... (Below threshold)

Thanks JT. This is what the MSM was lacking for a lot of their reporting. The down to earth, everyday citizens that did extraordianry things because other people needed help. Those stories encourage me. I would like now for the MSM and other outlets to stop using this killers name. Just call him the Arizona nut job. ww

I disagree with the 'instan... (Below threshold)

I disagree with the 'instantly' aspects of your qualfiers. Someone is no less a hero if they take a second before jumping in.

To me, the definition is whether one left a safe position and put themselves at risk in order to help out. In your case, you could have done nothing and remained safe, it was the fact that you (even, and perhaps, especially, after thinking about it) put yourself in harm's way made you a hero.

Sometimes life throws you i... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

Sometimes life throws you into a dangerous situation where you just have to act tough and do the right thing regardless of the high personal cost or risk.

My dad's brother was on a nuclear sub during the Cuban missile crisis and his sub and a Russian one bumped together off the coast of Cuba, causing an electrical fire in the torpedo room. While other sailors ran out of the room, John stayed behind to put out the fire, but received very serious second and third degree burns and spent months in the military hospital. But, he prevented those torpedoes from exploding and saved the entire sub crew from death. Duty demanded that he do it.

In business, I always knew that I had a duty to protect my customers and provide them a safe shopping experience. But, I remember about 1983 when some mentally ill guy named Danny with a machete walked into a business I owned and started to corner my customers with the weapon. I ran over and stood in front of my customers as a human shield to protect them.

I told him, "Danny, you're scaring my customers. Put that thing away. Here's a dollar, go buy yourself a coffee". I'm sure glad he backed down and left. That sure beat getting hacked up with a machete. My customers were safe.

A big part of being a man is being honorable and doing the right thing, no matter the personal cost. I'm so happy that a few men stepped forth during the Arizona incident to do the right thing and put down that lunatic before he could reload and helped save the lives of the wounded.

This is why society should have so much respect for police, fire and military persons. They act like real men and step forth to do the right thing every day. That's a dangerous job. No place for cowards.

Great post Jay. Unlike some... (Below threshold)
Don L:

Great post Jay. Unlike some cultures, the love for a fellow human by most in ours, doesn't stop at risking one's own life. Thank you, for centuries of Judeo-Christian tradition.

Another part of being a man... (Below threshold)

Another part of being a man is to not tell instances when you were "brave". The act speaks for itself. Words do not work. ww

The key is to act very quic... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

The key is to act very quickly. I once hesitated to get involved in a rescue of the tail -end of a group assault because I was with someone, whom I was legally responsible for and could have put him in danger too. After I saw the report of the assault in the paper, and went through all the mug shots, I resolved to be more pro-active in the future and act decisively and quickly, and it has worked ever since, and I have not had a bad conscience and been complemented. There is little competition, because most everyone hangs back as part of a the syndrome of Kitty Genovese . They don't want to get involved.






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