Becoming Your Own Hero: Encouragement for Young Change-Makers

by | Aug 18, 2023 | Blog, For Educators, For Young Heroes, Heroes

“Weeeee!” shrieked my five-year-old niece, nearly jumping out of her sneakers. Her excitement was palpable as she clung to her rescued hamster, whom I’d just helped narrowly escape from the clutches of a local cat. “You’re my hero,” she exclaimed, her eyes beaming with admiration.

But then came an unexpected twist in her innocent proclamation. In her next breath, she named another person as her hero — a pop star. I instantly cringed at the realization that my niece, like so many other kids her age, had become enamored with a celebrity rather than someone whose true essence embodied the spirit of heroism.

In our social-media-obsessed society, the distinction between celebrity and heroism has become blurred. It pains me to see that a recent national survey revealed that only half of American teenagers have a hero in their lives. And of those who do, a significant majority chose movie stars, musicians, or athletes as their idols, with few women named.

This alarming trend reflects a larger issue — one where the true essence of heroism, rooted in character, is often overshadowed by fleeting fame and superficial qualities. Heroism, I believe, is not about fame, wealth, or awards; it is about possessing the qualities that represent the best of humanity — courage, compassion, hope, perseverance, humility, and faith.

Sitting down with my niece, I sought to redefine heroism for her. I asked her who in her life had shown her what it means to be brave, to persevere, and to never give up. Her answer was both heartwarming and profound. She looked up at me and said, “Mom, Dad, and my kindergarten teacher.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

These real-life heroes, people who had touched her heart and made a lasting impact on her life, were the ones who truly deserved the title of heroes. I then introduced her to other changemakers, individuals who might be better known, but whose actions and achievements were equally worthy of admiration.

From Wilma Rudolph, who triumphed over adversity to become the fastest woman sprinter in the world, to Jane Goodall, who realized her dreams of working with wild animals in Africa, the stories of these remarkable individuals ignited a spark within my niece.

At that moment, she discovered something extraordinary — that she, too, could be a hero. It wasn’t about being famous; it was about finding the courage to make a difference, to be true to herself, and to live a life defined by the qualities that matter most.

As I reflect on this cherished moment, I am reminded of another critical aspect of nurturing young changemakers — the love for nature and the environment. Our planet faces unprecedented challenges, and it’s vital that we enlighten and empower the next generation to protect it. But before we inundate them with facts and figures, we must also cultivate a deep love and connection with the natural world.

Children need opportunities to play in nature, to explore the wonders of the Earth, and to feel a sense of awe and wonder. It’s through these experiences that young people develop an emotional bond with nature, forming a foundation of understanding and yearning to care for it.

Once this bond is established, we can gently introduce the challenges we face as a planet. We must be honest, but we must also instill hope and motivation, emphasizing that every individual, regardless of age or background, has the power to make a difference. Heroes are not just characters in stories or famous figures on screens; heroes are ordinary people who choose to act with courage and compassion.

In our increasingly troubled times, maintaining hope is essential, especially for our young ones. We can keep hope alive through stories of remarkable people who have faced immense challenges and emerged triumphant. These tales remind us that even in the darkest moments, the human spirit can bloom, like a wildflower in the harshest storm.

So, dear readers, I urge you to become your own heroes. Embrace the qualities that define heroism — courage, compassion, perseverance — and find inspiration in the stories of others. Remember that you don’t need fame or celebrity status to make a difference. The power lies within each of you, waiting to be awakened.

Together, we can create a world where heroism is not confined to fiction but becomes a reality in the lives of countless changemakers.