Why do we honor heroes?
After all, people who commit a heroic act seldom do it for awards or accolades. Some of them act on impulse, make a split-second decision, and hardly know what they've done until it's over. Others see a need in their communities and attempt to fill it, sometimes risking their very health or security to serve others.
Take the two protagonists in today's inaugural report for "Suburban Heroes," a new weekly feature in the Daily Herald that highlights the ordinary people among us who act in extraordinary ways.
In this story, reporter Eric Peterson introduces us to a high school sophomore and a teacher who rescued a girl from drowning in the Hoffman Estates High School pool.
Trying to save a drowning person is risky in the extreme. People have died in the attempt. Yet, teacher Christopher Fetterman and sophomore Kira Nicole Weiland didn't hesitate, and a tragedy was prevented.
Heroes are inspiring and reaffirming. We all aspire to be better than we are and look for role models, so reading about suburbanites who commit feats of courage or enormous generosity reminds us that heroes are first and foremost ordinary folk, not larger-than-life characters. Remembering that gives us more confidence that, if faced with a similar situation, we too might step up.
Psychologists, however, say heroes benefit us beyond just the direct impact of heroic action -- a life saved, a difficult need met.
University of Richmond psychology Professor Scott T. Allison, who has written extensively about the effects of heroism on society, says it lifts us emotionally, behaviorally and even spiritually. Heroes, he says, nourish our connections with other people and show us how to transform our lives.
From the dawn of humanity, hero stories have given life more purpose -- by calming people's fears, lifting their spirits and hopes and encouraging the values of strength and resilience.
"There seems to be no end to the ways in which heroes improve us individually, interpersonally and societally," Allison writes.
In an age when people's failings lead the news almost every day and are endlessly discussed and picked over -- to find inspiration in ourselves should be a source of comfort.
Do you know a hero? Tell us about him or her at email@example.com or call our tip line at 847-427-4732. Help us tell the stories of people who deserve the mention, and who deserve the opportunity to influence someone else's life, simply through the retelling of their story.