Heroism: Five Minutes Longer

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Leonidas statue, Thermopylae, Greece

My dad would often quote Mark Twain to us kids when we complained about doing something out of our comfort zone – “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do”. As a kid we traveled a lot. As we traveled, I remember thinking that my parents must hate speaking to strangers – they always made me do it. “Go ask that guy the way to the metro” “Go buy tickets” “See how long the line is”. I see now they were teaching me to be comfortable speaking with people and handling new situations. Now, in adulthood, when others may find meeting new people and traveling in foreign countries intimidating, I enjoy it. I am certainly nothing but ordinary – but I was pushed into uncomfortable realms that have helped me in this area of life. Put me on a ski slope, and my cowardice will quickly present itself.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; ‘these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions’; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Will Durant summarizing Aristotle

When we teach our kids to read – we push them to a more difficult book than the one last week – they may whine that it is “too hard” – but we know that progress is made in the extra, not the ease. 

Teaching our children to be capable of “heroics” actually comes naturally to parents – we want our children to become strong adults. However, this can be stifled by an excessive desire to make life easy or “happy”.

Sometimes we don’t want to hear the whining. Sometimes we let our anxiety of the unknown, (perhaps because we have not pushed ourselves enough out of our own comfort-zones) keep us from encouraging our children into those “extra five minutes”. We take the safe and flat road, forgetting that strong legs and healthy lungs only develop on steep inclines. If parents are there for anything, it is to encourage our children to climb, and to climb with them.

It may be true that the brave man is simply ordinary, but has become capable in those extra minutes – he likely has been there before. If we want to raise heroes we must encourage our children to step into those “five minutes”, in as many arenas and as many times as we can, so when the time for heroics arrives – they know what to do.

“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.”

Aristotle

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