When I was a little girl, the knights were my heroes. I thought they were courageous because they galloped in to enemy territories, fought the dragons and rescued the princesses. That required courage, didn’t it? Then I grew up a bit and thought that the firemen and the soldiers were courageous. How else could you explain the willing desire to flirt with danger? As years passed by, my definition of courage expanded and included more people. These ‘courageous’ people, my heroes were the valiant, the strong, the powerful and the brave. Never to have a gender bias, I included both men and women in this group and put them on a pedestal. By now I had included bungee jumpers, para gliders, car racers and daredevils along with some astute leaders and game changers and called them, ‘brave.’
Then I met a little boy. Puny, slight and barely four feet in height, he stood there facing two bullies, twice his girth. I expected him to retreat but surprisingly, he did not. Instead, he looked them straight in the eye and said, “No!” He didn’t shout. In fact, he looked calm, composed and confident but repeated, “No, I won’t give it to you. Please go away.” I was amazed at the little boy’s audacity to stand his grounds. It was later that I found out that the two elder boys had a habit of extorting money from the juniors. Their age and size allowed them the authority to bully the weaker and the younger students of the school. Their usual dialogue was, “give us your money. We want to eat ice cream.” Most juniors handed in the money, but this boy didn’t. He faced them. After a brief scuffle, the bullies went away. I was a visitor to that school so I stayed away from the scene but that day, I tweaked my definition of courage. Courage, I decided was as much in ordinary people and in little things as it was in extraordinary heroes and jaw dropping feats.
Courage, I decided was the mist that allowed ordinary people to believe in their own ability to become extraordinary. Now that my definition of courage had expanded, I found myself surrounded by extraordinary people. My world was full of heroes.
I knew the woman who abused by her own father, had the courage to break free and start an NGO for kids. I had spoken to the man who roughed up as a street gang leader but had the courage to leave the world of drugs and gang fights to volunteers as a mentor for orphans. I had also met the woman, who in spite of cerebral palsy and severe disabilities, smiled and served food at the restaurant. These were the real people with real names, who had shown great courage but they didn’t wish to be named, preferring anonymity. So, I granted them this anonymity but still put them on the pedestal.
These everyday heroes are inspiring in their own way but sometimes, inspiration craves tangibility and famous stories have the potential to inspire many more with similar storylines. They have the power to inspire others to be courageous and that too, on a larger scale . So I looked at Helen Keller, Malala Yousafzai, Sophie Scholl, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and many more. These people used their fame and their ability to help those in need, stood up to those who oppressed and in turn, inspired a larger population. Both, in my opinion are heroes and I salute them both, the anonymously courageous ones around me and the ones who have achieved fame.
They make me question. Will I show courage when faced with difficulties? Will I have the courage to stand by my people when they need it most but behave their worst? Will I have the courage to stand by what I believe in? Will you?
I am currently reading the story of an amazingly courageous woman, Somaly Mam.
Born in a poor Cambodian family and sold in to brothels, her story is that of despair and it breaks your heart and churns your stomach with gory details. But that’s not why I want to recommend this book. I want to recommend it because her story inspires. Because it shows that however difficult the circumstances, there is a spirit inside us all that is resilient and that’s what matters. Somaly Mam escaped the brothels, but it was not enough for this woman to have escaped her ordeal, she went ahead to establish the Somaly Mam Foundation in 2007. This non-profit organisation is dedicated to supporting anti-trafficking efforts in Southeast Asia and has rescued many girls and young women sold in to slavery. In spite of the death threats and warnings, Somaly Mam perseveres.
In a way, she is my knight, marching in to the enemy territory, fighting the demons of the society and rescuing little princesses. She is my hero. Remember, the little boy I told you about? Well, he is my hero too and so are those amazingly resilient people who stood by their convictions, grumbled perhaps but did not crumble. I salute!
Allow me to introduce you to some real life young heroes now by introducing an organisation that I am closely associated with, SoCh. Soch in Action (SoCh) is a social enterprise that focuses on creating opportunities for children, youth and adults to be involved in social change and showcases social initiatives by some of our outstanding young heroes. Its annual event, Be The Change is back for the 4th consecutive year, this time with the theme, ‘Be Younique.’
In my next post, I will be covering the event and talking to some real life heroes, who have decided to ‘be the change.’ Stay tuned!