Stories frequently show how characters grow to become heroes, or demonstrate and prove that a character is a hero. A hero represents an ideal, the ability to set aside selfish desires and work for the sake of others, sometimes sacrificing personal goals in the process. In a word, altruism. Heroes live by a moral code, with the will to endure, resist temptation, and help others.
Whether it’s called honor or morality, a code of ethics has been part of every community and society. The specifics vary, but all are rooted in honesty and respect. Tell the truth, don’t lie, and don’t become a liar by failing to follow through on a promise. Cheating and stealing are in fact part of lying, because they perpetuate falsehood. A person who steals is claiming that what they stole is in fact “theirs”, just as a person who cheats claims that they “deserved to win”.
All of these beliefs come back to the old adage “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If everyone lies, cheats, and steals, life becomes a lot more troublesome. Instead communities work together, trusting and relying on each other so that each individual member doesn’t have to worry quite so much.
Most characters learn a version of “right and wrong” at a young age, but over time everyone creates their own version based on personal experience, and most end up with a relativistic moral compass. Instead of never lying they believe that “once in a while a lie is ok”, depending on circumstances.
There’s also the question of who merits and warrants trust and respect. A person’s social circles function like rings. The innermost is “the self”, then “close family members and friends”, acquaintances, and strangers. However, there’s also rank and position to consider.
Leadership & Service
People are rarely equal. Throughout life we rely on others, deferring to experts with greater knowledge and skill, giving them power over us. But this is power rooted in knowledge and skill. Leaders, in contrast, are granted power by the people, who either elevate or accept them as “in charge”. This is because leadership is far less rooted in fact. A leader may rely on facts, but ultimately their decision is nothing more than an educated guess, and yet a decision must be made.
This is why leadership is founded on trust, and why it represents a powerful temptation for corrupt and egotistical individuals, and why many become skeptical about leaders, and people who strive to become leaders.
Heroes often make reluctant leaders. The most aggressive heroes take leadership when they recognize that no one else can handle the situation, while others wait patiently to be nominated, and still others will steadfastly fight to avoid it. In all cases the hero regards it as a chore, work that must be done, not an opportunity or elevation. In this way they reinforce the ideal that leaders are merely servants, not masters.
A moral person does what is right. A brave person does what is right in the face of fear. It can be taking action or enduring hardship, but it always involves overcoming fear and regret. A character who does not feel fear cannot be brave.
The most common image of heroism is the volunteer or rescuer, someone who eases the suffering of others through their actions, often at great personal risk. However, rescuers can easily appear foolish or arrogant, inserting their help where it is not wanted or needed, or overbearing on others. In both cases the solution is simple enough, humility. Treat the rescue as a partnership. Give the victim an opportunity to ask for help, and contribute.
Victims often garner sympathy, but they can also demonstrate courage, and earn admiration. Even a person with no control over their fate can still control how it affects them, if only by holding on to hope. Give them something to do, some small act that shows they are still working to change their fate, or watching for an opportunity.