We are not Heroes

by | Aug 21, 2020 | Identity |

world humanitarian day

When I woke up this morning I did not put my underwear over my trousers. Nor did I put a cape on. Fly to work. And I have very average strength. I am not a hero. After waking, I put some clothes on, gave our kids breakfast, and went to the room I’m using as a temporary office.

I am also not a saviour. I’ll leave that to the key figures in the various religious and spiritual texts.

However I am white, male and have European descent. And I am a humanitarian aid worker. So unfortunately I get thought of and sometimes think of myself as a hero. I am not. I have met some heroes in the communities I’ve been privileged to work in. But I am not one. It is too close to colonialism. Too close to a version of aid I don’t believe in.

Yesterday was World Humanitarian Day. And while I understand the sentiment of wanting to celebrate and raise the profile of humanitarians, I’m not sure hero fits. Unless of course, we want to talk about the hero’s flaws. Hero is problematic also because it is a male term. Most of the pople who come closest to the ‘hero’ definition that I have worked with are female not male. But heroes are the central characters of stories, in humanitarian aid, we are not, the people affected by the crisis are. We are the supporting cast.

I do believe it is important to celebrate people. To celebrate who they are and what they do. And yes, some humanitarians do amazing things and go to places most wouldn’t. And sometimes, some of these humanitarians listen to the communities affected by disasters and remind them that they are not alone or forgotten. When we are our most human, we come closest to being heroic. But we still are the supporting cast.

It’s hard to be the main character when we leave after a few months or years. Which is what most humanitarians do. And yet, all good stories have good supporting casts. Superheroes have their sidekicks.

Celebrating humanitarians is an idea I can get behind. Calling us heroes is not.

Photo by King Lip


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