Heroism: Human spirit at its greatest

Heroes and heroines conjure up many images in today’s society. From Marvel’s comic books turned movie characters, our service men and women who save and protect us from unimaginable dangers, to those among us who perform unbelievable acts of bravery in the face of adversity.

John Widley successfully landed a plane at Humberside airport after his pilot tragically collapsed in the cockpit and later died. John Widley, who had never flown a plane before, landed the aircraft with only instructors over the radio to guide him. The story made national news and he was immediately, and quite rightly, branded a hero.

Some say that heroic deeds stem purely from adrenaline, a hormone which increases strength, agility and brain power. Others throw a more pessimistic light and argue there is a need for glory amongst those who go the extra mile. Inherently, we are supposed to know right from wrong.

A young man named Dan Black, who won an award at this week’s Pride of Britain ceremony, made a humbling point: “I don’t think I’m special. If more people did good things then it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.” He suffers from paralysis, after he was knocked off his bicycle in a car crash. With the help of friends and family, he has raised over £20,000 towards stem cell treatment to help him to walk again. Dan then heard about Breacon Vaughan, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and his parents aim to raise £60,000 so their son could receive treatment in America to help him walk unaided. Dan told his father that he had 22 years of walking, but Breacon is yet to have 22 seconds, and thus he gave the £20k to the Vaughan family to reach their goal.

“My heroes give me hope, they light the way through long nights and heavy storms, they are the best of us, the best of all our hearts, and all our human spirit.”

— That is the opening line for 2013’s Pride of Britain awards, and how true they are.

Jean Bishop (91) is the ‘bee lady’ (nicknamed due to the much-loved bumble bee costume she wears when holding her collection box day in, day out) from Hull that has tirelessly raised over £100,000 for charity over decades of fund-raising.

Lance Corporal Matthew Wilson, after taking a bullet to the head in Afghanistan, survived due to his helmet cushioning the blow. Coming round from being knocked out due to the bullet’s impact, he continued to run towards an enemy sniper to divert attention from a rescue team helping an injured comrade.

These people, and countless others, have not performed honourably for any crowning glory. Becoming a hero is not easy. As studies into the bystander effect show, it is all too easy to just walk on by. The bystander effect is the sociological term for what happens when people witness an event and fail to help those in need.

It has been found that the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that anyone will come to their aid. This isn’t down to cowardice or cruelty, nor laziness. It is down to muted fear, and the deep-rooted thought that someone else will help. Unfortunately for the majority of us, the belief that one person cannot make a difference sometimes renders us helpless.

Heroes and heroines often go unnoticed, although with the prevalence of social media, more and more gain at least some of the recognition they deserve. On Russell Howard’s Good News show, there is always a segment at the end entitled “and now for the good news”. Every week, there is a short video of someone who has broken boundaries to bring aid and comfort to their fellow man.

In a world full of economic and political strife, natural and man-made disasters and atrocities affecting people around the globe, heroic acts not only save those involved, but inspire others to bravely face life in the same way.