I heard a teacher comment with a lot of sadness that the problem with today’s youth is that there are no heroes to inspire them. She had asked the 15 year olds in her class to write on their hero and most could not get beyond Sachin, Aishwarya Rai and Sania Mirza and some even wrote that they did not believe in following anyone and felt that their individuality was more important than being inspired by any hero. She was a little concerned that we no longer seem to have people who could inspire the youth by the strength of their character and moral rectitude.

Decline of heroism? Don't our youth have enough heroes to show the way?
I was quite surprised to hear this because with the spread of democracy, access and opportunity have opened up for everyone and one would imagine there should be more heroes buzzing all over the place waiting to be worshipped and emulated. For instance, we no longer live in an age when the competition to a Prince- hero pays the price for being equally good by being disqualified from competitions on grounds of gaps in bio-data (Mandatory field: Biological fathers name) or by having a vital part of his body amputated!

Or this very wide open door of opportunity has perhaps resulted in a shortening of the tenure of herohood today. For example before someone creates a record, there is someone around the next corner ready to break it! The exclusivity enjoyed by the Arjunas and the Herculeses ensured longevity of their fame while today’s heroes’ share of the limelight gets reduced to a few days.Is that why herohood is no longer a sought after career – except when it comes with the huge benefits of the Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai variety?

The problem is not that there are no heroes anymore - there is plenty of heroic work going on quietly even in remote corners making a lot of difference to a lot of people’s lives. The problem is that they do not get publicity and recognition that could make them popular enough to act as inspiration for anyone who happens to be in their neighbourhood. Unlike the western media, our newspapers and television channels prefer to use their space on celebrity heroes rather than showcasing these unsung heroes of kindness, sacrifice and leadership. Perhaps the value of their work stands enhanced because of its obscurity. It is the community at large and specially the youth that lose out by not having role models to inspire them.

Roy Williams has written an interesting piece on the value of heores to a society:

"The saying, "The sun never sets on the British Empire" was true as recently as 1937 when tiny England did, in fact, still have possessions in each of the world's 24 time zones. It's widely known that the British explored, conquered and ruled much of the world for a number of years, but what isn't as widely known is what made them believe they could do it.

For the first 1000 years after Christ, Greece and Rome were the only nations telling stories of heroes and champions. England was just a dreary little island of rejects, castoffs, barbarians and losers. So who inspired tiny, foggy England to rise up and take over the world? ......Hoping to instill in his countrymen a sense of pride, a simple Welsh monk named Geoffrey assembled a complete history of England that gave his people a grand and glorious pedigree. Published in 1136, Geoffrey's "History of the Kings of Britain," was a detailed, written account of the deeds of the English people for each of the 17 centuries prior to 689 AD... and not a single word of it was true. Yet in creating Merlyn, Guinevere, Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table from the fabric of imagination, Geoffrey of Monmouth convinced a sad little island of rejects, castoffs, barbarians and losers to see themselves as a just and magnificent nation.
And not long after they began to see themselves that way in their minds, they began seeing themselves that way in the mirror.
Most people assume that legends, myths and stories of heroes are simply the byproducts of great civilizations, but I'm convinced that they are the cause of them. Throughout history, the mightiest civilizations have been the ones with stories of heroes; larger-than-life role models that inspired ordinary citizens to rise up and do amazing things."

So it would seem that if there were no heroes, one would need to invent them. And in our case, we have so many of the "real" ones, all we need to do is to turn the limelight on them.
33 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Stirring post!
    In my humble opinion, a true hero worth emulating, in recent history, for us Indians and for mankind, in general, is Mahatma Gandhi. But he's such a tough act to follow in this day and age of 'money, money, money', instant gratification and the 'me,myself & mine' culture!
    Overall a depressing scenario, if ever there was one!

  2. Visithra Says:

    im all for the individuality factor - i am me a jumble of experience, lessons and knowledge imparted by various individuals

    but you're right heroes are generated - end of the day it would seem that the pen was what that had released the heroism or cunningness of the british

  3. Paavai Says:

    I am reminded of Alvin Toffler. Transient nature will be the rule in future and the concept of permanency will cease to exist.

    As you say Arjuna and Yekalavya are not seen as heroes by the present generation since they question the fundamental rooting behind the devotion of these heroes and the present generation comes up with alternate ways of approaching what the 'heroes' have accomplished. Also if each parent serves as a role model for their child that would help too.

  4. Absoluely agree! We Need Heroes to remind us that there is so much more that we can do with our lives! And maybe there is less drama in the lives of our new heroes, and more cynicism around - but oh yes, heroism abounds!

    You may want to read about the new heroes of our times here -

  5. Looks like the end of the link is not displayed!
    The last word is resources.html

  6. ravi Says:

    Excellent post. I simply cite my own blogging experiences here thou in short n in these days of reading other blogs i have come accross so many wonderful bloggers that i feel nothing in comparison to them n they r all my heroes now coz their thinking process is so clear n their takes on life is so honest that i feel like calling them sirs n madams. Yes i agree with u that in these days the heroism is a relative term so to be on the better footing one will have to change constantly means there is no scope for being obsolete n outdated. Keep posting such thot provoking posts n for me its better these days to keep learning as much as i can from ppl like u coz its all my gain so for me its a win win situation so my concept of calling some one heroes will keep on changing.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Several points come to mind, Usha. 1stly, speaking from individual experience, I remember looking up to Arjun, Maharana Pratap, Bhagat Singh, MK Gandhi, Prithviraj Chauhan....the staple Amar Chitra Katha fare.

    Adoloscence onwards, Amitabh Bachchan has been India's greatest hero spanning decades, both in reel and real life. His integrity and professionalism and that elusive quality called "class" (which in my opinion, his predecessor in the public imagination- Rajesh Khanna- lacked) are motivating, as much as his onscreen Vijay character.

    I remember Sqn Ldr. Rakesh Mehra (was that that stronaut's name?)and recently, Kalpana Chawla- being fawned over by the media.

    Unsung heroes- both Outlook and India Today as well as Tehelka carry 1-page reports on the otherwise obscure men and women who do their bit for the community around them. And let's notforget Baba Amte, the women of the Chipko movement and scores of youngsters working in development agencies right now.

    There will never ever be a dearth of heroes. The issue is to point them out to those who need guidance- the coming generations.

  8. Paavai Says:

    Cant help thinking of this incident -my professor is a neurosurgeon - in fact the first lady neurosurgeon in the whole of Asia.

    Since she had a very difficult time being accepted as a student of surgery (gender bias in those days) she struggled to acquire the knowledge and skills. When she started teaching she wanted to give her students the best and would spend as much time with them as possible, discussing the subject. One day when she had stepped out to the washroom and was about to enter the lunch area she overheard the students say - this old hag does not seem to leave us alone always talking about the subject and boring us to death.

    Prof told me, I always wanted my teachers to share their knowledge and when it did not happen, I tried to make it happen and this was the result. Times have changed and one needs to go with the time and tide.

  9. Kishore Says:

    Mahathma Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Mother Teresa. Swami Vivekananda. President Abdul Kalam.

    There seem to be no dearth of leaders in the past or present. I'm not against idolizing one of them to frame our aspirations. But who actually has a direct impact on us, is the little relatively lesser important people that walk with us, in our daily life... be it the night-duty watchman of ur apartment who never sleeps a wink at night or that person u meet in bus every morning on ur way to work... more often than not, it is these hardly-noticeable people who create a major impact on our attitudes and thoughts simply because we deal with them on a daily basis.

    Common people (ie., u and me) do not have a revolutionist frame of mind.. what they need is a simple down-to-earth someone who can really make a difference to their living... a Gandhiji or an Abdul Kalam do not do that...

  10. Mahadevan Says:

    An excellent post. How did you get such topics? We don't have heroes/heroines beyond the realms of Cricket, Cinema and Politics. Even in these areas, the appeal is for a limited period. Dhoni has almost dethroned Sachin. Even Amitabh Bacchan is under threat from his own progeny. Nehrus have yielded place to the Gandhis. How many of our yungsters know that Amartya Sen has won a Noble Prize and that he is a champion of gender equality? Inspite of his idiosyncracies, Nirad Choudhry was one of the greatest intellectual this country has produced. Our Olympic Golds in Hockey we owe to Dhyanchand. We certainly need a Caezar to shake us from our slumber.

  11. Usha Says:

    Yes, Gandhi is a tough act to follow but unlike the avatars of our mythology he showed that a normal human being can rise to that level through the strength of his character.
    Let us not be depressed. Let us showcase the unsung heroes. They are all around us.

    Visithra: I think the value of heros is in letting us want to stretch to the limits rather than be content with what fate throws our way. One can use ones own individuality but be inspired by some one else's achievements through persistence, perseverance etc..

    Paavai: Yes, I think parent's can do that easily in the early years by example and by coaching.

    Asha: true. Thank you. I agree. We only need to LOOK, they are all around us quietly doing great things. I will check out the site.

    Ravi: Thank you. Yes, I am amazed at the level of writing especially some of the youngsters. They are so talented.

    Abhilash: I agree that amar chitra kathas have done a great job in making our kids understand our history and to cultivate pride in our history. If they have inspired children, why this massive exodus out of the country. Why expect the system to set itself right rather than pitch in to set it right?
    And the lacunae in having role models is also more in the sector which does not have access to these kind of litereature. They are exposed to so much of ugliness in their day to day lives, like the construction worker's son who was being kicked by his father and mother with chappaled feet - where do they turn for inspiration? And that is not anegligible minority in this country.
    Paavai, that is a very touching example. Have experienced it in my college too. Happens ever so often. They just do not appreciate a valuable thing when they see it. Where have we gone wrong?

    Kishore: I completely agree. Like Paava said, Parents could be the first role models.

    Mahadevan: Thanks. I agree about the sports heroes.But I'd like to believ that there are so many other heroes. Only we need to turn the limelight on them.

  12. Jackal Says:

    i wud partly disagree.....yeah rt we dont have heros like Gandhi ji etc....but still there are heros who are ordinary ppl whom no one sadly writes u have to actually find them......the other day this gal Monika...who refused to marry the idiot asking for dowry isnt less than any hero......

  13. Subhashri Says:

    Great post Usha!!
    in my opinion,the direction of youth have turned very materialistic..heroism exhibited is 1 part..heroism acclaimed is the second..nowadays..those cousins/friends/kins of urs who get a double degree and make money in the foreign land are increasingly becoming heroes..wether are not they are doing something extraordinarily brilliant or not..iam reminded of the swimmer kutraleswaran who was same age as me and we incidentally studied in the same school...very recently i heard that he is into no more of championships and competitions(correct me if Iam wrong)..guess heroes would also turn to something which people would acclaim..
    my 2 cents ..:)

  14. Shiv Says:

    Yeah true...there is no one who can inspire us as in the past..but the thing is we can hold on to our very own individuality than following someone else..wat say??

  15. Pradeep Nair Says:

    Not many who hit headlines are real heroes; and many real heroes don't hit the headlines. The nobility and spirituality of heroism is in the aciton -- big, medium or small; and never in how widely he is known around the globe.

  16. Shriedhar Says:

    Hi usha.

    u do write some thought provoking stuff!!

    hey, im gonna comment in the evening again, coz i din read it fully now . jus wanted to say thnx.

    thnx 4 droppin by :)

  17. Ardra Says:

    actually, Usha, I think we do meet some people in daily life whose deeds are inspiring and motivating- only, we need to keep our eyes open, be receptive-

    and I come here regularly but dont always comment becos, mostly everything has been said...:-)

    and I too am in awe of some of the writing that i've come across here in cyberspace ...

  18. Anonymous Says:

    I think that there is a certain "quality of myth" about heroes, per popular belief, that separates them from just great human beings. So it is impossible to deduce that somebody or the other is or should be a hero based on actions or achievements alone, unless they are a part of popular imagination.

    Like your story about England goes to show, propoganda, marketing, publicity are exactly the kind of devices one needs to use to translate true geartness into popular heroism.


  19. Mohan Says:

    Hi Usha,

    I liked this post..Very interesting..want to make several points..

    Hero worship is based on individual acts and not on nationality. Sometimes, some of our countrymen are offended if someone has a hero from some other country. What is wrong in that? How is it any less worthwhile to idolize Bono of U2 who is manically committed to charity than some birdbrained hiphop girl bands? Or even Anu Malik who knows only to steal?

    The first heroes (and to this day) for me are my parents. Part of what I am is because of them, biology notwithstanding. I love, adore, respect, and worship them. Whether this goes for all is an open question.

    There is nothing wrong if a kid says "I want to be myself rather than become the local Sachin or ShahRukh." It shows the nature of blazing an independent trail and that is always refreshing isnt it?

    The story abt Britain need not be relevant to our folk and at this time as well. Fully agree with you that there are heroes all around us and some of them are quietly going abt their deeds in their own small ways. The woman as "jackal" mentioned, people who run orphanages and blind schools (I have been there and I know how tremendous these ppl are) and so many others.

    Keep such posts coming...:)

  20. Harish Says:

    Really great post, Usha. There is a fine line between admiring heroes and using them as inspiration to forge ahead; and worshipping them as other-worldly creatures of destiny. In my opinion, the more we see them as normal people with extraordinary drive and zeal, the more attainable tasks seem to become.

  21. Usha Says:

    Jackal: We are not in disagreement. I am also saying that there are so many people amongst us whose heroisnm hardly gets noticed. I salute that girl Monica. These people are causing great societal revolutions.

    Bhooma: I am shocked to hear abt Kutraaleswaran. So sad.and you're right. Finally the ability to earn money has become a quality to emulate.

    Shiv: There is much to be said about individuality but heroes provide benchmarks which let you stretch your limits. These heroes can be real or mythical or even fictional. Particularly if you come from a milieu where you see bigotry, illiteracy and superstition, you need external inspiration to rise above it.Something that tells you about the life "out there" beyond this pettiness.

    pradeep: It is not the heroes that lose out by being obscure, they never seek the limelight anyway. But it is the society that loses that loses out on the inspiration and the benefits that could have been sparked off by their torches.

    Shridar: thank you.

    Ardra:Thank you. yes,I am awed by the writing of some people here. Nice to see how refreshing spontaneous writing is.

    Souvik: I guess you are right about the aura , the myth that makes heroes different from just great human beings. Nice to see you around after so long!

    Mohan: interesting points. Thanks.I am happy you liked the post.
    Yes, heroism transcends boundaries. For instance Helen Keller or closer home Mother Teresa. For me anyone anywhere who stands up for what they think right , is a hero. Even someone younger by many years.

    Harish: Thanks . And oh yes, that is a very valid point. Not just stop with admiration but use them as inspiration.

    I'd just like to wrap up with what another great American Poet said:
    Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  22. ravi Says:

    Hi now more than anything else i read ur posts to see the quotes that u use to describe urs point of view n these selection of quotes is marvellous n infact it reminds me of some public schools in new delhi which post a new inspirational quote every morning at the sign boards that are erected their at the enterances of these school n virtually every student before entering the school do read these quotes. So in the same way before entering ur informatiave n educative posts i do look forward to these quotes which u paste as ur daily ritual and selection of the quotes is great n simply ageless n this bonding of u with these quotes make ur posts ageless n u rightly call ur blog as the agelessbonding. Keep posting. God bless.

  23. A.R.Malik Says:

    Usha, more on this issue after I can get some reference material from howard gardner (the guy who came up with the theory of "multiple intelligences") ... will then provide more input on what heroism is all about.

  24. her Says:

    These days people don't acknowledge heroes..their own heads are too heavy for their shoulder..

    Yours truly is an unsung hero..hawhawhaw.. :p

  25. Usha Says:

    Ravi: That is an interesting piece of info abt The Delhi schools - a great idea. I rememebr we had a board with a "thought for the day" at school too.

    Abhilash: Look forward to that interesting piece in your blog.

    Lioness: Too bad dont you think? Poor unsung hero, shall I sing to you - do you have the courage to endure that?

  26. The chief executive reason for the decline of heroism is the production of less number of movies with Arnold in it; he is busy with Kahligorniaa.!

  27. her Says:

    Hahaha! :P

    I am sure thou singest well madamoiselle!

  28. Very interesting post, Ush.

    This is why it scares me that kids don't read these days! All those tales of heroes are just forgotten.

  29. Swapnil Says:

    Here, Take...
    Each one of them is a story of perseverance, self-belief, high moral values, courage and spirit of fighting against all odds.

  30. ashok Says:

    damn good blog...keep up the good work! cheers!

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