Hero Fatigue

A few years ago, everyone wearing a U.S. military uniform was called a hero.  Now every firefighter, police officer, EMT, nurse and doctor on the frontlines of the covid-19 pandemic is called a hero.  It’s inexpressibly fatiguing.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a hero as “one that shows great courage”.  Doing your job should not be equivalent to showing great courage.  Undoubtedly, there are times when individuals in all these professions (or any other) go beyond what is expected of them and perform on a heroic level. But calling everyone a hero diminishes truly heroic action.

It’s like elementary school sports where every child gets a medal or an award to “build self-esteem”.  But it doesn’t.  Children know when they haven’t put in the extra effort that would justify receiving an award.  Knowing they haven’t earned their award can lead to shame and insecurity that undermines their confidence the rest of their lives.

If a child can recognize hollow praise, so can an adult. Being called a hero heaps tremendous pressure on the recipient. Must the individual take outrageous risks every work shift in order to perform deeds worthy of being called a hero?

What of the emotional toll?  Heroes are generally portrayed as individuals without fear or self-doubt or exhaustion.  But everyone has fears and self-doubts. Everyone suffers exhaustion.  Trying to live up to being heroes may deter emergency response and medical people from seeking help to cope with their fears and depression lest they be thought unheroic.

Some might see our hero worship as acceptable based on another of Webster’s definitions for a hero as “an object of extreme admiration and devotion”.  Certainly we can admire the emergency response and medical staff for continuing to do their jobs despite the danger of infection and possible death due to infection.  But those risks existed, even if they are now enhanced, the day they signed up for the job.

I’ve read many interviews given by World War II medal winners who are now labeled as heroes.  Each of them denied being a hero. They said “I just did my job” or “I didn’t think about what I was doing, I just knew I had to do it”.

Let’s show our appreciation for the emergency responders and the medical teams working the front lines of the covid-19 pandemic by reducing the pressure we put on them.   Let’s drop all the hyperbolic hollow talk about “heroes” and just let them do their jobs.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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