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[OPINION] No country for lovers: Reflection for National Heroes’ Day

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Aug 28, 2023 8:00 am

Heroes come and go. And having lived long enough to be evaluated and decried out of their honored place, their own feeble lives set on a social microscope, they often buckle under the weight of their own frail humanity.

José Rizal, they say, was a penny-pinching womanizer, as if the two shouldn’t even go hand-in-hand, at least, not in the era of the hopeless shopaholic. Marcelo H. del Pilar, touted as Rizal’s closest competition in the intellectual arena, was accused of being ruthless and ambitious. Andres Bonifacio and Gen. Antonio Luna were notorious for their temper and pistol-toting days.

Gregorio del Pilar was a playboy officer, while Emilio Aguinaldo strutted around as a slobbering ally of the rich and powerful. Thinking also of Graciano López Jaena who, as historically assumed, could not have cared less if he showered or not. I wonder how they found out.

National Heroes' Day is celebrated every last Monday of August.

For a generation too “woke” for their own sanity, these heroes may have easily been ditched as victims of cancel culture. Our women heroes were a different breed, though. If anything, they were so unlike the men—but possessed of the same courage, if not more. 

So, we come to the question: What makes a hero? 

First of all, the word came from the Greek hērōs. The Greeks seemed to fully understand what their idea of a hero was: A mortal being who had achieved something past the normal scope of human capability that he or she was either honored or even worshipped as a god. 

There was something about the divine or semidivine in the idolatrous worship of “heroes” in the ancient world, whose mythos were almost always woven by poets. And they were hardly the perfect beings their achievements conceived them to be. 

The former Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford, Gilbert Murray, said in his book The Five Stages of Greek Religion, “We need not suppose that martyrs are the noblest of the human race. They were sometimes mad—hysterical and megalomaniac, sometimes reckless and desperate” (“Saturnia Regna,” p. 51). 

Soon enough, heroes—who were always assumed to be martyrs for a cause larger than themselves—seemed to have surrendered their semi-divine position to a more earthly plateau with the coming of nation-states and a secular worldview. 

What has not changed from the ancients to modern times is the idea that heroes are accomplishers of great deeds, of acts that defy human limitations with almost god-like power. Almost because we know better.

This is probably why most people toss around the word “hero” and associate it with nearly everyone who exhibits “superhuman” abilities.

It is the mark of love and courage not only to hold the line but to cross the line and defeat the enemy in his own turf.

So, what makes a true hero? 

To answer this riveting question, I’d like to recall the words of the French philosopher, mystic, and political activist Simone Weils: “To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself.” 

To be so consumed with bravely doing the right thing that commanding one’s self becomes the fire that fuels it—and what would that “order” or command be? To be no braver than an ordinary man, as Plato aptly wrote, but braver five minutes longer. 

Five minutes longer than the average display of courage so we could beat lies in its own game, let me add. “The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies,” said Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel speech in 1970. The extra five minutes allow you to think things through, to act and stay longer and with devoted focus on the task at hand. To walk the extra mile, to push it one step farther and further than necessary.

All because it is the mark of love and courage not only to hold the line but to cross the line and defeat the enemy in his own turf. 

No, the Philippines has no laws for heroes all because no one can and must legislate courage. Nothing can be more tragic than to identify a hero among us through law than the courage required of them. Heroism is love personified, as Rizal has so clearly penned in El Filibusterismo. 

“I do not mean to say that our liberty will be secured at the sword’s point, for the sword plays but little part in modern affairs, but that we must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it, by exalting the intelligence and the dignity of the individual, by loving justice, right, and greatness, even to the extent of dying for them—and when a people reaches that, height God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, the tyranny will crumble like a house of cards and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.” 

Be, therefore, the hero where you are.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of PhilSTAR L!fe, its parent company and affiliates, or its staff.