We think of heroes as people who go above and beyond their obligations. We designate someone a hero and give them media attention because, to be a bit blunt about this, we didn’t expect that individual to do what he or she chose to do.
For instance, a taxi driver is celebrated as a hero when he gives an officer an assist. It’s newsworthy because we don’t expect the taxi driver to take such a risk.
This designation of heroes as those who do what we don’t expect has odd consequences. Police officers, by the nature of their job, face potential personal harm every day. We don’t necessarily think of that as heroic; they’re just doing their job. But when an officer wrestles an alligator, that’s a different matter.
It’s a little weird.
I have a different view of heroism.
I take nothing away from extraordinary acts of physical courage. We are right to consider such acts heroic and such individuals heroes.
But I think there is another class of heroes we rarely celebrate.
Let’s return to my friends in law enforcement. Many of you never face a life-threatening assailant. Yet over and over again, you intervene in tense situations, provide comfort and security to a frightened resident or a lost child, and say goodbye to loved ones and put the needs of the community ahead of your desire to tend to those dearest to your hearts.
You are not the only heroes. Nor have I finished if I include other first responders, though surely you must be added to my list. But you who are heroes in this sense come from many different professions and occupations. You’ve chosen to take up the burdens of your community, often at a real emotional and physical cost to yourselves and those you love.
You are heroes. Because heroism isn’t just about physical danger. It’s about willing sacrifice. It’s about giving priority to strangers’ needs, regardless of their wealth or influence, regardless of how one is treated. The difficult citizen, the frustrated parent, the stressed business owner, the angry teen . . . every day, in communities across this state, you put the needs of that citizen, that parent, that business owner, that teen, above your own.
You work for a city. More importantly, you serve the people of your city.
Often, that service is taken for granted, even treated with condescension. So many of us don’t consider what it costs you to ensure that the street lights glow, traffic lights cycle, water flows clean, trash disappears, books wait on library shelves, parks invite us to rest and play. We take all of this for granted.
We take it for granted because we can. Because you make sure our cities work. You do so when it is easy, when it is difficult, and yes, even when it is dangerous. You serve those who thank you and those who curse you, those who respect you and those who, without a clue about what you are really doing, condemn and ridicule you.
You serve anyway. Because you have chosen public service as your vocation.
You are my unsung heroes. And today, I sing your praises.