Let's review. The Chilean miners gained international fame by ... getting stuck in a hole for two months and not killing each other. That's a significant accomplishment, to be sure (the not killing each other part), and one worthy of worldwide fame. And no doubt they're interesting people with fascinating stories to tell. But how did we make the leap from "celebrity" to "hero"? What did they do that was heroic?
I've gone on record expressing my disagreement with throwing the "hero" label around willy-nilly. I still contend that Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is an excellent pilot, great guy ... and no hero. Sully did what he did at least partly out of self-preservation. By saving himself he also happened to save the passengers on board his plane.
This is the complete opposite of what a hero does. In my view, a hero actively puts his or her own life at risk specifically TO save another's life.
Interestingly, when AOL News posted the Thanksgiving event story Thursday, many commenters on the AOL News page and its Facebook page expressed the same view about the miners -- what they did was admirable, but hardly heroic.
Some people say that "hero" is just a word they use to describe people who are admired for their achievements. After I wrote about Sully, I got plenty of e-mails quoting Webster's definition -- as in "hero (n): an object of extreme admiration and devotion."
I hate to break it to you, but Webster's is wrong.
If an NFL quarterback can be a hero, then we'd better come up with a new word to describe Sal Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor this week for risking his life to save a friend in Afghanistan.
Not one of the Chilean miners risked anything down in that mine. They went down there to earn a living. They stayed down because they were trapped. And they managed to survive. It was a challenge, but so is raising a family, struggling to make ends meet in hard economic times, fighting cancer or any of the many other tall challenges millions of us struggle to overcome each day.
That doesn't make us heroes.
In my book, heroes are, and should be treated as, a rarefied breed. They are the people who respond to a higher calling that says, "This person needs you, but there's a chance you won't make it back."
Millions of years of survival instinct screams within their DNA "Danger! Stay back!" But they go forward.
- Staff Sgt. Giunta and the members of his platoon
- Sgt. Sherri Gallagher, Army Soldier of the Year
- Pedro Garcia, Police Officer of the Year
- Every wounded warrior at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.