What is a hero, and what are the qualities of heroism? What makes someone stand out and be called a hero? Here are some thoughts from thinkers of the past:

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Heroes don’t stand in line, they set out alone into the unknown and lines form behind them.

— Abhijit Naskar, Revolution Indomable

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.

— Abraham Joshua Heschel

Poets and heroes are of the same race, the latter do what the former conceive.

— Alphonse de Lamartine

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

— Arthur Ashe

Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

— Bertolt Brecht

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

— Bob Dylan

And, after all, what is a lie? Tis but / The truth in masquerade; and I defy / Historians—heroes— lawyers—priests, to put /A fact without some leaven of a lie.

— Byron, Don Juan

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

— Christopher Reeve

There is a spirit and a need and a man at the beginning of every great human advance. Every one of these must be right for that particular moment of history, or nothing happens.

— Coretta Scott King

You have to have people who prick the consciences of the nation.

— Coretta Scott King

Sometimes, I am also identified as a civil rights leader or a human rights activist. I would also like to be thought of as a complex, three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human being with a rich storehouse of experiences, much like everyone else, yet unique in my own way, much like everyone else.

— Coretta Scott King

We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.

— Eleanor Roosevelt

It requires philosophy and heroism to rise above the opinion of the wise men of all nations and races.

— Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Anyone who’s making a huge impact or speaking out about what they believe in or who’s brave enough to be themselves is a superhero to me.

— Emma Stone

The rich world of his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own life. It gave him a certainty of judgment and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation.

— Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

It is the nature of the noble and the good and the wise that they impart to us of their nobility and their goodness and their wisdom while they live, making it natural for us to breathe the air they breathe and giving us confidence in our own untested powers. And the same influence in more ethereal fashion they continue to exert after they are gone.

— Felix Adler

We call him a hero who maintains himself, single-handed, against superior numbers. We call him a master-horseman who sits a fiery and vicious steed, guiding him at will. And in like manner, we call him a moral hero who conquers the enemies within his own breast — and we admire and revere the soul which can ride its own passions and force them into obedience to the dictates of reason.

— Felix Adler

The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.

— Felix Adler

What I wanted to express very clearly and intensely was that the reason these people had to invent or imagine heroes and gods is pure fear. Fear of life and fear of death.

— Frida Kahlo

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.

— George R. R. Martin

A nice war is a war where everybody who is heroic is a hero, and everybody more or less is a hero in a nice war. Now this war is not at all a nice war.

— Gertrude Stein

People are wrong to say that we have no heroes left. Just as they have always been, they are all around us, choosing to do the right thing, no matter what.

— Heather Cox Richardson

I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.

— Helen Keller

True heroes are made of hard work and integrity.

— Hope Solo

People like Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Jack London and Upton Sinclair were wonderful writers who joined the movement against war and injustice, against capitalism and corporate power. That was a very exciting period in American history.

— Howard Zinn

The hero draws inspiration from the virtue of his ancestors.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The greatest personalities that ever existed have been those who united human beings and put them on the road toward cooperation and effectiveness and peace. Those whom the world has held highest have helped to unite and not sever interconnectedness. They have not been the destroyers of differences but the harmonizer of differences.

— John Lovejoy Elliott

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

— Joseph Campbell

Here’s to the bridge-builders, the hand-holders, the light-bringers, those extraordinary souls wrapped in ordinary lives who quietly weave threads of humanity into an inhumane world. They are the unsung heroes in a world at war with itself. They are the whisperers of hope that peace is possible. Look for them in this present darkness. Light your candle with their flame. And then go. Build bridges. Hold hands. Bring light to a dark and desperate world. Be the hero you are looking for. Peace is possible. It begins with us.

— L.R. Knost

When leaders take back power, when they act as heroes and saviors, they end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and deeply stressed.

— Margaret J. Wheatley

A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back — but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.

— Marian Wright Edelman

We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men. . . We are who we are because they were who they were.

— Maya Angelou

A hero cannot be a hero unless in a heroic world.

— Nathaniel Hawthorne

I felt deep within me that the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!

— Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

Resistance is feasible even for those who are not heroes by nature, and it is an obligation, I believe, for those who fear the consequences and detest the reality of the attempt to impose American hegemony.

— Noam Chomsky

It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals.
O blow ye evil winds into my body’s fire my soul you’ll never unravel.
Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight and everything would worthless seem,
I have lived amidst eternity — Be grateful, my soul — My life was worth living.
He who was pressed from all sides but remained victorious in spirit is welcomed into the choir of heroes.
He who overcame the fetters giving wings to his mind is entering into the golden age of the victorious.

— Norbert Capek

I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madame C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge.

— Oprah Winfrey

We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.

— Pema Chödrön

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The search after the great men is the dream of youth, and the most serious occupation of manhood.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Hero is not fed on sweets
Daily his own heart he eats

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The characteristic of genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the common, nor the common the heroic.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Tis not important how the hero does this or that, but what he is.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran,–
But let me live by the side of the road,
And be a friend to man.

— Sam Walter Foss

To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself.

— Simone Weil

To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.

— Theodore H. White

I don’t believe in war as a solution to any kind of conflict, nor do I believe in heroism on the battlefield because I have never seen any.

— Thor Heyerdahl

Rosa sat so Martin could walk, Martin walked so Barack could run, Barack ran so we all can fly.

— Unknown
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