Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Dilution Of Heroism?

The pilot that successfully landed the A320 on the Hudson River, Chesley Sullenberger, and spared every life aboard the plane is not a hero as a result of this amazing feat. He is a pilot. And a damn good one at that!

If I was responsible for bringing that plane down safely on the water, it is all but certain I would have failed miserably. Not necessarily because I am no hero but because I am no pilot!

To me, a hero is simply one who resists instinct in order to save others. By resisting instinct, I mean willingly facing danger that violates one's instinct to avoid said danger. But in this case, the pilot did not choose the danger. It befell him. He was simply doing what he does best.*

If one is still unable to resist the temptation to label Sullenberger a hero, imagine a different scenario. What if he was a true hero but less skilled as a pilot, and as a result, everybody perished. Would he posthumously be labeled a hero? Not likely.

It seems successful outcomes such as this inspire feelings of heroism. But it is nothing short of certain outcomes like this stem more from professionalism and perhaps even luck, not heroism. 

*Many might claim the pilot's "real" heroism was demonstrated by him being the last one off the aircraft. But isn't this one of the pilot's fundamental duties, if able? For if he was not the last one off and there was loss of life, the pilot would live the rest of his life with this burden. Is this behavior (a pilot choosing to be the last one off the plane) indicative of heroism? No. It is a behavior motivated predominantly by a pilot's wish to avoid being charged with “dereliction of duty”. Even a coward would likely do the "right" thing to avoid being ostracized by society!

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