Heroes and Heroism

It has been a busy week getting back into post-holiday mode. I had the first two sessions of a J-term undergraduate honors seminar this week – my first experience teaching undergraduates in a classroom setting (although I’ve given several retreats to undergraduates).

The Aquinas Scholars Honors Program at the University of St. Thomas is designed to enrich the educational experience of the school’s most talented and dedicated students through intellectually challenging courses and a variety of cultural and social experiences. This includes a number of honors seminars, interdisciplinary courses with a small number of students that focus on “creative and experimental topics.”

I am teaching a course titled Heroes and Heroism. Heroism is something we often view as beyond us. We think of those to whom we ascribe the label “hero” as different from ordinary people. As I explained to the administration when I proposed the course, my goal is to help students articulate what heroism is, to be inspired by the acts of a variety of people on whom that label has been placed, and to help them (in the words of Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo) see heroism as “something that seems in the range of possibilities for every person, perhaps inspiring more of us to answer that call.” The plan is to explore such issues by looking at some figures of the present and recent past who have been given the label “hero”, considering them through film, speeches and biographical writings.

We’ve had two lively classes thus far. In Monday’s class we talked about what it means to call someone a hero and why heroes are important to us. We then spend some time talking about Malala Yousafzai. In Wednesday we considered Oscar Romero.

What does it mean to you to call someone a hero? Who are some of the people you label heroes? How do they inspire you? Some good questions to consider.

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2 thoughts on “Heroes and Heroism

  1. One of my heroes is the Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, Blessed Franz Jägerstätter. His letters from prison to his wife and family are really thought-provoking. In one of his letters or journals he compares Nazism to a train speeding down hill to hell; he sees himself as urging the people to get off.

    There is a video about him. Orbis has published a book with his letters and writings.

    He was discovered in the 1960s by Gordon Zahn who wrote IN SOLITARY WITNESS.

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