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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

The twilight of heroes

Sat, 03 Oct 2015 16:50:00 +0000 Posted in Today Extremadura

In the present age, historical heroes are increasingly being forgotten; moreover, new ones are hardly encouraged to emerge. A very significant symptom is the decrease in the number of publications of heroic literature. After "The twilight of ideologies" (F. Fernández de la Mora, 1965), we can speak today of "The twilight of heroes", in the same sense of decadence.

We live in a society with an orphanage of heroes, in which heroism is ceasing to be a value and a reference letter for a successful life. The figure of the flesh-and-blood hero is being replaced by the banal fictional "heroes" of cartoons and comic books, artificially created for mere entertainment.

Thomas Carlyle laments the disappearance of hero worship: "Ours is a society that denies the existence of great men, and does not even aspire to have them". It is therefore worth remembering that society was founded on the cult of heroes. The true history of the world is the biography of great men and women; with their example of sacrifice and self-improvement they invite us to grow in the face of difficulties and to rise above mediocrity.

Many heroes were heroes despite coming out of nowhere (or, probably, because they came out of nowhere). A good example is the Romanian child prodigy Nadia Comaneci, who was born 50 years ago in a lost village in the Carpathian Mountains and who would come to be considered the best gymnast in history. At only 14 years old, 1.50 meters tall and weighing 40 kilos, she was the queen of the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976. Her great performance on the uneven bars baffled the electronic scoreboards, as they were not prepared for the score of 10. On her return to Romania, she was welcomed as a heroine.

For Ken Robinson, heroes "inspire us and lead us to marvel at the wonders of human potential. They open our eyes to new possibilities and enliven our aspirations. They may even push us to follow their example, moving us to engage in public service, exploration, breaking down barriers or reducing injustice. In this way, these heroes play a role akin to that of mentors."

The oblivion of heroes is causing an inner emptiness in those who are in the age of great ideals (the young). This causes a lowering of their level of aspiration, thus leaving the way open to settle for fashionable anti-heroes. On the contrary, reading biographies of great heroes often arouses admiration because of their positive rebelliousness in terms of values and because they challenge the conformist society. The same teenagers who are bored listening to theoretical lectures on human virtues are often moved when they discover these virtues embodied in a hero.

Professor Lorda emphasizes that the fulfillment of duty in situations of extreme difficulty has an exemplary value that is decisive in the Education of young people:

"There are circumstances in life where human dignity may demand great sacrifices; that is, heroism . Sometimes, duty leads us to face pain and death rather than give in to what is unworthy of a man. (...) The history of all cultures is full of exemplary gestures of men who have known how to sacrifice what staff before duties that they considered higher: for the good of their country, for the love of their parents, their spouse or their children, for friendship. (...) They are admirable deeds that awaken the desire to imitate them. They have served in all cultures as guidelines for the Education of youth."

Heroes are usually forged in adversity, growing in the face of difficulties-challenge that invite them to give the best of themselves. García de Leániz, affirms that "they must let themselves be made by hostility", and gives as an example many anonymous men who in the First World War revealed themselves at the front as great soldiers: "The maximum adversity of the battlefield stimulated a fund of heroism that they themselves were unaware of. They were heroes surprised by their heroism".

It would be unrealistic to ask all young people to aspire to be protagonists of great deeds, but it would be realistic to ask them to value and try to imitate the quiet daily heroism of many people in their ordinary lives, who take care of even the smallest details of their family and professional duties. Young people should know in time that youth was not created essentially for fun, but for heroism. That is why Eugenio D'Ors invited the young people of his time to heroism in any official document and learning.