There was a time when the world endeared heroes either as demigods or extraordinary figures of “divine descent”, if not someone “endowed with great strength and ability” (Merriam-Webster, 1996, p. 543). Nowadays, however, the world’s connotation of heroes has surely come a long way. No longer are they attributed with divinity or mysticism; no longer are they construed to be possessors of superhuman abilities. Instead, the world calls heroes as people – ordinary human being by all measure and standards – with a tall vision, compelling charisma, and perceivable determination and passion in what they do, or those who live a life marked with exemplary character or unquestionable moral uprightness.
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In view of these qualities, I wish to argue that Martin Luther King, Jr. is a person that best exemplifies what modern-day is all about, precisely on account of three reasons: first, that he was a person who possessed a tall vision for this country; second, that he became a symbol of courage for a people seeking to discover one; and third, that his martyrdom has sealed his place in the echelon of the great and selfless.
First, I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. a hero on account of a larger-than-life vision that defined the cause of his lifelong fight. What rendered him as a person cut above the rest was his vision – a dream that was resonated across the country, and beyond his generation, through his fiery “I had a dream” speech. At 34, King, Jr. was already a civil right leader who fought for social equality at a time when social stratification between the whites and the blacks was the pervading status quo. The vision was in itself larger than life; not the least an unmistakably ambitious dream. It constituted engaging in a Promethean struggle to bridge the spanning gulf that divides the two most dominant races within the American continent. It entailed breaking the illusion of superiority that marks the comportment of the whites over blacks, as well as the unhealthy enmity engendered by the blacks over their white compatriots. It is a dream completely novel yet urgently controlling. It is a vision of radical freedom; a vision of liberation at a time when America was already calling itself a free nation. For these reasons, I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s exemplifies what tall vision can do for this country.
Second, the courage that marked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life is another testament to his greatness. Heroes, I must say, are united by the common thread of courage that defines the manner in which they fight for their convictions. King, Jr., to my view, is no different. This is because what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for was an issue divisive in many respects. And despite being doubted, criticized and even maligned, King, Jr. chose to stand tall by his convictions no matter what. I am not tempted to think that he was all together fearless. To the contrary, I have reason to think that he too feared for his life, especially for the life of his loved ones. Being courageous against mammoth-like odds, I must argue, is a quality especially contagious. For after choosing to pursue his tall vision, despite receiving all kinds of threats against his as well as his loved one’s life, the people – both blacks and whites at that – who resonated with his ubiquitous display of grace and tenacity, started to jumpstart the revolution that would make America live up to its free-nation status. Herein I am reminded of an idea I read from an online article by Jack White, writing for the Time Magazine. In essence, White holds that King Jr.’s welcome invitation for equality made the United States a country “distinguishable” from many nation-states in “Africa, under apartheid” (White). In my opinion therefore, King, Jr.’s courageous decision to inspire the conscience of the greater American public enabled the country would to boast itself as being ahead of its time, as is now the case.
Third, inasmuch as martyrdom sometimes acts as the final determinant of a hero’s greatness, I believe that Martin Luther King’s death constituted as the leader’s final ascent to the echelon of the great and the revered. Dying for one’s cause, I believe, is an essential aspect of heroism, not because we adore the death of a truly inspiring figure, but precisely because it inspires people to pick up from the causes which a leader had begun. Selflessness and sacrifice act as aspects attendant to the concept of dying for what one believes. Under normal circumstances, heroism is not infrequently measured by how much a leader is willing to lose for the sake of a goal worth fighting – or dying – for. Thus, when someone dies for the sake of goodness, justice, integrity and truth, that person becomes an immortal reminder of the nobility and worth that come with having to live in a world torn by evil, injustice and lies. In the same manner, we can say that when Martin Luther King, Jr. died, he showed the world that he was willing to lose everything for the vision that he embraced. His vision, so to speak, did not follow him in otherwise peaceful resting place. Instead, his death became the inviting cause to gather more people to believe in the vision; a vision paid for by no less than his very own life. At the very least, King, Jr.’s death became a catalyst for people to bring upon their shoulders the burden of completing the cause which the fallen had failed to accomplish, at least in his lifetime.
By way of conclusion, I wish to reaffirm my initial contention that Martin Luther King, Jr. is the best exemplification of what modern day heroes brings into mind, being that his life was marked by three distinct facets or qualities befit of legendary figures – that he was a man of great vision, that he summoned every ounce of courage that he could find to fight for such dream, and that his death marked the culmination of his unmistakable sense of selflessness and nobility. With this in mind, I therefore conclude that heroism is not about being born with divinely endowed attributes or supernatural powers. In the final analysis, heroism lies in how one is able to transcend limitations so as to do great things for the sake of the one’s fellow.
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