I'd like to talk about something I call "the Diva Syndrome". The Diva Syndrome is basically a need to define everything in its finest terms whether it describes it or not. What do I mean by that? The term "diva" actually means "a female singer of outstanding talent". In Italian, it basically means "a goddess".
By that definition, I would consider the following female singers "divas": Barbara Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Etta James, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Cher, and most likely, Madonna. Now there are more more that belong on that list but I am trying to show the caliber of singers that occupy that lofty design. They represent the best of the best. Nikki Minaj a diva? No. Miley Cyrus? No … ever! Maybe Pink … someday. Probably Mariah Carey … soon. And so on.
The point to be made is that we have begon to throw around words that represent the highest standards of performance or ideals and applied them to less than exemplary people. That is not to say that some people do not deserve to be recognized for their value but to apply terms like "diva" or "hero" to just anyone, diminishes the value of the term. It's like last place trophies. If everyone gets a trophy for participating, what's the value for a first place trophy. Far less, I dare say.
Today, in pathetic attempts to appear patriotic or socially responsive, people (and in particular news media) throw the word "hero" around as true true heroism is commonplace and I assure you it is not. True heroism entails a willingness to sacrifice one's own life to save others. To be a hero is to present moral excellence in the face of corruption and deceit without regard to one's own comfort and security. Yet, today the world is full of pseudo-heroes. Claimed by those who benefit in doing so or have their own cause elevated because they identify themselves with those they have claimed as such.
Today we proclaim members of our military as "heroes". Let me be clear about one thing, I respect and support the men and women of the armed forces but I can not support the blanket use of the term "hero" without lowering the esteem I have for those who have sacrificed their lives to save others. Members of the armed forces are paid a wage to do a job and they do it well, without a doubt. But at the end of the day it is still a job and my concept of hero does not include those who show up for work. The same holds true of police, firemen, and paramedics. It certainly does not include medical personnel who are very well paid to save lives. That's their job and we expect them to do it. It is the case, then a fry cook at a fast food joint is just as much a hero as a soldier because he too shows up and does his job. There is no difference. A soldier can be killed? So can a fry cook, but if that lowly fry cook thwarts a robbery attempt and in the process is shot, possibly killed. Then, he has become a hero.
To be a hero should not be confused with duty. Duty is your obligation to do your job or to live up to your responsibilities. To do your duty is expected. You are not rewarded for it except that you may earn a wage or achieve some acclaim for being forthright. A soldier is paid to do a job. Doing that job is their duty. If it means being put in harm's way, then it is their duty to do so. To be a hero means to go beyond duty. To do that which most others would not dare do.
I had the privilege of meeting a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient at a social function a few years ago. This individual, a medical helicopter pilot, was responsible for saving the lives of nearly a dozen soldiers in a gunfight in Vietnam. Without regard to his own safety, he retrieved wounded soldiers from a clearing while taking hundreds of rounds of bullets in his helicopter. When other helicopters would not risk going back into the area to get more trapped soldiers, he continued to go back. He retrieved all of them. His helicopter was shot up so bad it could not make another trip. He took six.50 cal. bullets to his legs, arms and chest while flying. He did not have to do any of this. In fact, he was ordered to return to base but he refused to leave those soldiers trapped. This is a case of extreme heroism. To call all soldiers heroes diminishes the term that is reserved for such men as that helicopter pilot.
Duty is an obligation to fulfill a responsibility or oath. Heroism is to go "above and beyond the call of duty". The list of great heroes in history is long and impressive. Great leaders, politicians, activists, and inventors of all types can claim the title. But more than the big names in history, it is the unsung heroes of everyday life that deserve our admiration the most. The common person who raises to the occasion not out of duty but out of love and compassion for their fellow man.
The best example I can think of is Rachael Beckwith who wanted to raise $ 300 dollars by her ninth birthday to help bring clean water to people in poor countries. Tragically she was killed in a car accident in 2011, $ 80.00 short of her goal just after turning 9 years old. Her cause and her death inspired countless others to join the effort to raise money to provide clean drinking water to poor regions throughout the world. Today, through her efforts the organization charity: water has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and bought clean drinking water to villages such as that of the Bayaka tribe in the Central African Republic.
Upon learning that people did not have clean water to drink, the 9-year-old girl said, "I do not want a birthday party, I do not want gifts, I just want people to have clean water". That is the voice of a true hero. A little girl who touched the lives of those she did not even know.