Heroic Acts, Then and Now

Yesterday, being Bonifacio Day in the Philippines, I reflected on what it means to be a hero in the past and in our times. Philosophers from the early Greek thinkers to modern philosophers like Hegel and existentialists like Camus certainly had different views on what acts and what qualities make people heroes.

Kenda Cherry, in her article The Characteristics of a Hero, quotes Franco, Blau, and Zimbardo who identified heroism as: (1) Acting voluntarily for the service of others who are in need, whether it is for an individual, a group, or a community; (2) Performing actions without any expectation of reward or external gain: and (3) Recognition and acceptance of the potential risk or sacrifice made by taking heroic actions.

Cherry also cited a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which suggested that heroes have 12 central traits: (a) Bravery; (b) Conviction; (c) Courage; (d) Determination; (e) Helpfulness; (f) Honesty; (g) Being Inspirational; (h) Moral integrity; (i) Protectiveness; (f) Self-sacrifice; (g) Selflessness; and (h) Strength.

Most of all, Cherry emphasizes, empathy and compassion contribute most to heroic behavior: “People who rush in to help others in the face of danger and adversity do so because they genuinely care about the safety and well-being of other people.”

In the past, we put our heroes on pedestals, revered them for their great acts. Certainly, Andres Bonifacio, who led the Philippine revolution against Spain, deserves praise and recognition. His contemporary Jose Rizal certainly deserves the accolade national hero too. Personally, I hold the three priests we collectively remember as Gomburza (Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora) as my heroes for their courage to confront a Church complicit in the oppression of our people.

More recently, as I have written many times, we have seen the heroism of those Filipinos, many of them in their youth, who resisted the Marcos dictatorship. Among the martyrs of that time, the lives and examples of my fellow Ateneans Edgar Jopson, Emman Lacaba, and Evelio Javier resonated the most. But the sacrifice of young women like Liliosa Hilao and Lorena Barros must also be noticed.

Not everyone was killed by the forces of dictatorship. Two of my personal heroes Pepe Diokno and Haydee Yorac survived the regime and succumbed to cancer later. Among Ateneans, my contemporaries in the alternative law movement—Bobby Gana who died in the Cebu Pacific crash in 1996 and Joy Casis, who died recently – are also heroes in my book. And definitely Susan Quimpo, who fought hard against Marcos revisionism among other things, is a heroine young women should emulate.

Certainly, women like Meggie Nolasco and Rose Hayahay, who fight for the rights of Lumad in Mindanao, and youth leaders Sarah Elago, Ayna Punzalan, and Kara Lenina Taggaoa are also women to look up to. Their courage never ceases to amaze me. That is why I stand with them as they are red-tagged as I do with Eufemia Culliamat, Bayan Muna representative, whose daughter just got killed by military forces.

Environmental defenders are my heroes as well. Last Saturday, I visited the Masungi Georeserve and was awed at the courage of Ann and Billie Dumaliang and the people that work with them. I met their father Ben and discovered that I had a role in the creation of the reserve, always under threat from intruders who want to destroy this ecological oasis near Metro Manila. I stand with them so this does not happen.

Local officials like Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro and Alcala Mayor Tin Antonio are definitely heroes of this time of the climate emergency. We need leaders like them all over the country.

In the fight against COVID-19, our medical frontliners are, of course, heroes. Even with a vaccine, the fight is far from over. The least we could do is to follow the rules and to support them.

Finally, there are those who quietly do good and kind things. They too are heroes. Personally, in these past days, I have seen how Alessandra De Rossi, an actress I have always admired (her movie Homecoming from 2003 is a must- watch for my students during the pandemic as it is about SARS), has gone out of her way to help families and children faced with illness. Using the power of social media, I have seen that she is able to do a lot of good and doing so without fanfare. If many others are like her, we would have a much better world.

Maybe we do not have to be all heroes. We just need to be good and kind people. As Albert Camus wrote in The Plague: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency.”

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