What Makes a Hero?

The vigil at the Apple Store in SF

Normally when a celebrity passes away I consider the event tragic – but no more so than any other of the human deaths that happen every day. I generally have a somewhat callous attitude toward our celebrity-driven worldwide culture.

Yet I found myself profoundly moved by the passing of Steve Jobs, despite myself. At first I was confused and mystified that someone I had never met could elicit such a reaction. Creative prowess aside, how had he instilled such a reaction?

A comment on this Gizmodo post got me thinking. The author said that Jobs was no hero. I pulled open the dictionary to have a look at the meaning of the word and realized there could be no doubt – no matter how trite it may be to say so, Steve Jobs is (was?) one of my heroes. It was not an intentional thing, and I never realized it until now, but it cannot be denied.




What’s in a Hero – For You?

The dictionary defines it like this:

A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.


Free EBook Download
Enter your email address to download "The 10 Steps to Nonstop Accomplishment."
Free Ebook Download
Enter your email to get the free "Nonstop Accomplishment" Ebook. It's loaded with all the best mind and body hacks, including how to be more productive and happier.

I’m not here to make the case that Steve Jobs was courageous or outstanding. You can be the judge of that for yourself. I have watched Pirates of Silicon Valley, read books like Inside Steve’s Brain, and so on – and all I can say is that I have been inspired by the man.

And that is all that matters.



What’s NOT in a Hero?

Even the casual media relating to Steve Jobs makes no effort to hide the fact that he was occasionally… difficult to work under. Or around. Talk to some, and you’d be sure his character flaws were numerous. Some would say this disqualifies him from “hero” status, or that his achievements were somehow not worthy of the ranks of “conventional heroes” (whatever that means).

Any student of the great Greek classics knows, though, that every good hero has a tragic flaw. In fact, in the Grecian sense, a tragic flaw (a major problem in his character) is one of the quintessential parts of a hero. It serves, in a sense, to remind us that even heroes are humans. It reminded the Greeks that even the highest-reaching of men was limited – but that it was no reason to not admire them.

A painting of Achilles dragging the lifeless body of Hector around Troy, one of the most painstakingly cruel and vengeful acts of the hero


Dig deep enough, and you’ll find a tragic flaw for any hero. Likely, the greater the pedestal the greater the flaw. I don’t seek to defile any memories here, but I challenge you to search around to have a look at Mother Teresa’s views on the necessity of human suffering. If you need more convincing that all these holy names were flawed humans, check out the episode “Holier than Thou” in the TV show “Bullsh*t” by Penn and Teller. You can find some clips on YouTube, if you like. It is quite… interesting.

One of my favorite TV shows, Firefly, perhaps said it best (in the episodes Jaynestown, where one of the baser characters finds himself an accidental hero in a backwater town, a title both undeserved and unwanted):

It’s my estimation that every man
ever got a’statue made of him was one
kind of sommbitch or another. Ain’t
about you, Jayne. ‘Bout what they

So was Steve Jobs a hero? To me, and many in the tech community, he was inspirational. I still look at what he did and use it as a reason to push myself. So, yes, to me he was a hero.

What about you?

Weekly Love
Sign up for the newsletter to receive unique tips, recommendations for books and podcasts, and much more.
  • http://twitter.com/MontroseMorris Suzanne Spellen

    Okay so you’re a fanboi. We get it already. 

    • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane the Experimenter

      *shrug* if you want to characterize it as that, sure. ‘Twas more intended to be my musing on the nature of the word “hero” than anything else. When I first read the Iliad many years back, my teacher at the time radically changed my perspective on the word. But, if you’d like to completely de-intellectualize the issue, then you are correct.

  • athelstan

    Steve Jobs fut un des pionner qui ont changé le monde entier à travers de la révolution informatique. Il s’est même quasiment fait arrêter avec Capn’ Crunch durant une session de Phone Freaking.

    Tout le monde a leur défaut. Les masses exigent que leurs chefs et que les gens célèbrent se conforment à un standard de comportement qui est impossible d’achever. Au fond, les gens veulent seulement rire et se moquer des autres…

    Pour moi, un héro est un individu qui est capable de survivre et surmonter l’abus de la société sa stupidité commune pour vivre comme IL veut. Que j’ai déjà écrit: une chaudière de crabe…

    • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane the Experimenter

      “vivre comme IL veut” – ça c’est tres interessant, mais je suis en accord. J’aime bienne l’idea. Mais… ça implique aussi l’idee de quelque chose “etrange” aussi, non? Par example, une homme qui “veut” toujours voir le TV n’est pas un hero. Les heroes tout ont un grande rêve, et la motivation pour fait-il aussi. Et, oui, in cette situation les heroes doivent “suvrivie et surmonter l’abus de sociteté” :)

      • athelstan

        C’est seulement étrange à comparer avec la majorité, par exemple, en Amérique du Nord, c’est étrange de manger du chien, main e Corée… Tu as raison qu’homme qui ne veut seulement que regarder la télévision n’est pas héroique mais n’importe qui qui va à contre courant démontre un certain courage.

        Alors je suppose que l’héroisme se distingue aussi par un élément de bienfait commun c’est à dire que plusieurs gens (même toute l’humanité) profite de la victoire du héro (oui, c’est ironique car c’est même gens voulaient réprimer l’héro qui les a sauvés…)

        Mais en même temps, les masses sont jaloux et envieux de l’héro, ce que les Australiens appellent le “tall poppy syndrome”. On veut te placer sur un piédestal seulement pour t’en faire tomber.

        La victoire de Steve Jobs et tous les autres pionniers informatiques a certainement amélioré la vie de centaines de millions de gens ce qui les qualifie d’héro. Mais pour moi, héro se désigne vraiment dans le sens Nietzschéen.   

        • Max Hydrogen

          Sorry, I mixed up my accounts. I wrote the name Athelsatn by mistake.

Back to Top