Author Affiliation: Dr DeAngelis is Editor, JAMA.
The unthinkable tragedy of September 11, 2001, broke the hearts of Americans
and many others around the world, and it made us rethink our collective consciousness.
The terrorist attacks were a rude awakening to our potential vulnerability
and a sober reminder of the precariousness of life. But the events of September
11 also reminded us of the true nature of heroes, and a year later we react
by seeking out and honoring them.
America has been starved for heroes, but they are all around us. Apparently,
we had either forgotten the definition of "hero" or become accustomed to a
different meaning. According to Webster's dictionary, a hero or heroine is "a man [or woman] of distinguished
courage or ability, admired for his [or her] brave deeds and noble qualities."1 Because "hero" has come to mean both men and women,
I have combined the definition and will use the term to mean both. Nowhere
in the definition is there reference to money or power. However, it may be
easy to forget that fact with the substantial attention given to some chief
executive officers (CEOs), politicians, movie stars, and sports figures when
they are referred to as heroes. We have confused courage with cash and nobility
DeAngelis CD. Heroism. JAMA. 2002;288(10):1280. doi:10.1001/jama.288.10.1280