Recognizing and nurturing our young heroes

In President Reagan's inaugural address, the reminder to see the heroes around us deserves further attention. Too often the news emphasizes primarily the world's abundance of anti-heroes, exhibiting their hostility toward society. But in President Reagan's words, "Those who say we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day . . . the citizens of this blessed land."

Can we broaden the definition of hero further? Can we include not only the hard-working farmers, factory workers, taxpayers, and patriots mentioned by the President, but also the children? Would it be stretching the imagination to consider young children as heroes when they have yet to graduate from school, earn a living, or demonstrate responsible citizenship?

Going back to the basic sence of hero, as one dictionary defines it, "taking an admirable part in any remarkable action or event," children indeed deserve this label. Examples do not always jump out at us, nor do children frequently announce some admirable part they've played. Yet young heroes are everywhere.

One small illustration proved this recently. While a family was cooking some food in the living room fireplace, flames suddenly burst out in the pan. The parents panicked and fanned the flames which only made things worse. Amid the yelling, their nine-year-old son acted alertly, quickly getting a container of water and drowning the fire. They admired his calm in contrast to their confusion.

Hero is also defined as "a person regarded as a model of noble qualities." This characteristic is often easier to identify. Adults know the natural joy of children, their perseverance in learning things from crawling to riding a bike, and their longsuffering when injustice strikes. Adults sometimes don't know that a child is considered a hero in his own circle of friends. Here children and young people may be admired for their academic, social, or athletic leadership.

Still, if we can't think of some vivid examples of young heroes, perhaps more guidance toward this type of character is needed. Remarkable actions and noble qualities, like young tender plants, need cultivating.

An adult's everyday example of worthwhile qualities and actions are unspoken, forceful sunshine for growing heroes. So are the models found in literature. There are countless young children in the Bible, in biographies, and in children's stories who gave their best in a time of need.

With all the training must come opportunity. Stepping back and letting children lead allows them to use their qualities. Parents, schools, churches, and communities can provide the essential teaching, while treasuring the budding heroes we have now. After all, don't our future farmers, factory workers, homemakers, and presidents deserve such opportunities?

John Gardner once wrote, "Throughout our history we have profited by the daring of our young people, by their adventurousness, by their hunger for new horizons, by their willingness to make sacrifices and to seek something without knowing what they sought."

Selected reading about young heroes:

"A Cavalcade of Young Americans," by Carl Carmer. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.

"The Bravest Teenage Yanks," by Willard A. Heaps. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce.

"Call It Courage," by Armstrong Sperry. New York: MacMillan.

"Julie of the Wolves,c by Jean Craighead George. New York: Harper & Row.

"This Time, Tempe Wick?" by Patricia Lee Gauch. New York: Coward, Mc Cann & Geoghegan Inc.

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