Why Heroes Matter

I’m going a little deep today.

From Dictionary.com:


  • a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character: He became a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
  • a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal: My older sister is my hero. Entrepreneurs are our modern heroes.

I think we all need heroes in our lives for our mental, physical and spiritual health. Why? Because of the second definition above. We need role models to inspire us. To keep us moving forward and improving our lives. We need something to aspire to. That’s not the only thing we need, of course, but I think there is something about heroes that is food for the soul.

What made me think about this? I was listening to the song Warrior’s Code yesterday:

Micky Ward wasn’t a great boxer, but it was his determination not to quit that made him so inspirational. There’s a few lines from the song which motivate me a great deal, especially if I’m having a lazy day, or I’m feeling a little down:

You fight for your life because the fighter never quits
You make the most of the hand you’re dealt
Because the quitter never wins

You make the most of what life has given you. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. It reminds me a little of D.H. Lawrence’s poem Self Pity:

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

What I take from this poem is that we mustn’t feel sorry for ourselves, or we should fight against such feelings. Take the hand you were dealt in life and make the most of it. Wallowing in self-pity can only lead to self-destruction.

When I was growing up, I had another hero in the realm of sports: Wendel Clark.

All Heart!

This was a player who was, again, very good but not great. He was no Wayne Gretzky. He was respected for his goal-scoring, body-checking, fighting and above all…heart.

Indeed, the more I think about it, both men shared several characteristics:

  • They never quit
  • They were courageous
  • They were not afraid of physical pain and suffering
  • The were determined and driven
  • They worked incredibly hard all the time
  • They didn’t make excuses for themselves
  • They took responsibility for their actions
  • They didn’t feel sorry for themselves
  • They always trained hard
  • They took on tremendous physical punishment, but kept moving forward

I still look to these men for inspiration. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Micky Ward’s first fight against Arturo Gatti I. It always inspires me:

The same thing with Clark. A few years ago, someone put together a highlight reel that gets to me very time. I don’t advocate beating on someone once you’ve got him down though:

As I grew older, I found heroes in different areas of life. I call them my intellectual heroes: Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. All three have had a huge impact on my intellectual development and worldview for which I’m hugely grateful. Yet, the more I learnt about their personal lives, the more heroic each has become in my eyes.

In particular, von Mises’s example has inspired me to stick to my own beliefs and not compromise. Moreover, he inspires me to work harder the older I get. Why? Here was a man who had to flee Austria in the 1930s because he was a Jew. He found refuge in Switzerland for a time, but then felt pressured to leave that country and seek safety in the United States. He managed to get there whilst travelling through France on the way to Portugal: during the German invasion of France in 1940! Had he been captured by the National Socialists, well you know how that would have ended for a Jew in 1940.

Ludwig von Mises.jpg
Ludwig von Mises

So von Mises got to America, at the age of 59 no less, with the ability to read English but not speak it. Moreover, as a free-market, classical liberal, he could not gain an academic post anywhere in the States. Yet, he didn’t give up and feel sorry for himself. He learnt to speak English fluently and became incredibly productive when it came to scholarly output. His greatest work, Human Action, was published when he was 68 years old. He did eventually secure a visiting professor position at NYU that was paid through private funds. The university never paid him a salary. Nonetheless, from that platform he inspired a new generation of intellectuals including Murray Rothbard. In fact, he even has an institute named after him in his honour.

If we return to the list I wrote above how does von Mises fare:

  • He never quit
  • He was courageous – he always fought for his beliefs
  • He suffered emotionally – being driven from his homeland, being denied academic posts, being a stranger in a strange land
  • He was determined and driven
  • He worked incredibly hard all the time
  • He didn’t make excuses for himself
  • He took responsibility for his actions
  • He didn’t feel sorry for himself
  • He always trained hard – in the sense that he read an enormous amount of scholarly works
  • He took on tremendous emotional punishment, but kept moving forward

So, this man, in a very different area has also been a great role model for me. He pushes me to work harder the older I get. He inspires me not to compromise my beliefs. Because of his example, and those of a few others, I have no desire to ever retire. I want to work until I can’t.

I feel bad for those who don’t have heroes or think that they are just for children. I think we should all take serious stock in what we value and seek out heroes who will inspire us.

I’ll leave you with a verse from Virgil which inspired von Mises during the madness of the First World War; he was conscripted (i.e. forced to fight) into the Austrian army.

Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito.

Translation: Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it. 

Go find your heroes.

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