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.