What Makes Someone a Hero? (24 Qualities + Expert Insights)

Heroes. They inspire us, motivate us, and show us the best of what humanity has to offer. But what is it that sets them apart? What are the qualities that make someone a true hero?

In this article, I’ll share the main qualities that define heroism. We’ll look at examples of heroes and explore what it takes to be one in today’s world.

And who knows? By the end of it, you might just discover that the potential for heroism lies within each and every one of us.

Integrity and Strong Moral Principles

Heroes are people you can always trust to do what’s right. They’ve got a rule book in their heart that they stick to no matter what.

Even when it’s tough, they won’t cut corners or cheat. They’re the same good people in public and in private. You can count on them, just like you can count on the sun coming up every day.

What it looks like:

  • Keeping promises, no matter how small.
  • Telling the truth, even when it’s hard.
  • Making decisions that don’t just benefit you but are good for others, too.

Courage in the Face of Adversity

Heroes don’t back down when things get rough. They feel scared sometimes, just like anyone else, but they go ahead and do what needs to be done.

Heroes aren’t just the ones fighting fires or climbing mountains; they’re also the ones who stand up for a friend or try new things despite being scared.

Example: A hero might see someone being picked on and step in to help. They’re scared, but they do it anyway because it’s the brave thing to do.

Selflessness and Putting Others First

Heroes are those who think about other people before themselves. They share what they have, even if it means they get a little less. They’re not looking out for “#1”; they’re looking out for everyone else.

Heroes don’t do kind things to get something back. They help because it’s just who they are.

Example: When someone stops to help a stranger change a flat tire in the rain, that’s a hero. They get wet and dirty, but they do it to help someone in trouble.

"I think the biggest marker of heroism is true selflessness... whenever someone sets aside primary motivators such as money or time and devotes those resources to the strict benefit of someone else's well-being, I think such an act of selflessness is inherently an act of heroism."

Julia Askin | Marketing Coordinator, Fueled

Compassion and Empathy for Others

Heroes feel for other people. They get it when someone’s sad, afraid, or having a tough time. They’re the kind of people who don’t just say, “Sorry to hear that,” and move on; they really care.

Heroes can put themselves in others’ shoes, feeling their happiness and pain as if it were their own. It’s like a superpower that lets them connect heart to heart.

This could mean:

  • Listening to someone who needs to talk without checking your phone.
  • Offering help when you see someone struggling with heavy bags.
  • Saying kind words to someone who’s having a bad day.

Willingness to Stand Up for What’s Right

Heroes don’t sit back and stay quiet when they see something wrong. They’re the first ones to say, “Hey, that’s not okay,” and they mean it. They don’t just go with the flow if the flow is headed somewhere bad.

It’s not always about being loud; sometimes, it’s about being firm and not moving on what they know is true. Heroes are like those brave kids in class who question a bad grade — not just for themselves, but for everyone.

Determination and Perseverance

Being a hero means not giving up, even when things get super tough. Heroes keep trying and trying, no matter how many times they fail.

They have goals like saving the planet, helping people, or just being the best they can be. And they work hard at it every single day. When heroes fall down, they dust themselves off and get back up, because they know that’s how to make things better.

Bravery in Dangerous Situations

In scary spots where most people would love to run away, heroes stand strong. They face scary stuff head-on because they know someone has to.

It’s not that they’re not afraid — they absolutely can be! But they push their fear down and do what’s needed anyway. Heroes are the ones who run towards trouble to help when everyone else is running away.

Example: A person hears a call for help from a burning house and runs in to rescue a trapped family. That’s bravery in its purest form.

Sacrifice for the Greater Good

Sometimes, being a hero means giving up something important to you for others. It could be time, money, or even safety if it means making the world a better place. 

Heroes don’t make a big fuss about it; they just quietly make things better for others. They’re the ones who understand that sometimes, we’ve got to put our own stuff on hold for the sake of everyone.

What it looks like:

  • Sharing your favorite snack with someone who has none.
  • Giving up your seat on a crowded bus for someone who needs it more.
  • Donating money to help people, even if it means cutting back on your own wants.
"Anyone willing to sacrifice something of significant value for a stranger is a hero... The word hero is synonymous with the word sacrifice. They are one and the same."

Wes O'Donnell | Veteran US Army and US Air Force | Filmmaker | Journalist

Leadership and Guiding Others

True heroes are also leaders. They set an example that makes other people think, “Hey, I want to be like that.” Heroes are the ones in the group who help make plans and get everyone moving.

They don’t just boss people around; they show others the way by walking the path first. And the best thing? They make sure no one’s left behind.

Example: A teacher starts an after-school program for students who want to give back to their community. They show the students how even small actions can make a big impact.

Inspiring Others Through Actions and Words

True heroes set off a spark in people just by being themselves. They do and say things that light a fire in others to be better, too. They’re real-life proof that good people exist and that doing good is actually pretty cool.

This could mean:

  • Sharing positive stories and experiences that motivate others.
  • Offering encouragement when someone is trying to do something good.
  • Leading by example, showing that actions often speak louder than words.
"The hero emerges from the storm with new wisdom and inner strength. They become an inspiration to others by the way they live their life with their newly learned skills and not by giving up when times were hard for them."

Allison Bruning, MFA | Author | Principal, Academic Warriors

Commitment to Making a Difference

Heroes are all about sticking to their goal of making the world a better place, no matter what. They pick something to improve—could be big, could be small—and they keep pushing forward because they truly believe in their cause. 

They’re in it for the long haul, no matter the obstacles. Heroes show us that a little bit of stick-to-it-iveness goes a long way.

Example: Someone fundraises for years to build a community center in their neighborhood. They face setbacks, but they don’t give up until the center is built.

Honesty and Truthfulness

You can always count on a hero to tell it like it is. They’re straight shooters, the kind who tell you the truth but with a kind heart.

Heroes don’t fib or beat around the bush. They stand by the truth, and that makes them as reliable as your favorite pair of jeans.

Example: If you’ve accidentally paid too much, a hero is the cashier who points it out and gives it back. They do what’s honest, not because they have to, but because it’s who they are.

Respect for Others and Their Beliefs

A hero treats everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter if someone is different or has beliefs that aren’t the same as their own. They listen to others with an open heart and mind, even if they don’t always agree.

Heroes understand that respect is like a bridge that connects people from all walks of life. They’re polite, they’re fair, and they make a point of showing everyone that they matter.

Example: A hero meets someone with a completely different view and still has a friendly chat over a cup of coffee. They walk away, maybe not agreeing, but still respecting each other.

Resilience in Tough Times

When life throws punches, heroes bounce back like those wobbly clown punching bags. They face challenges and setbacks without losing their cool or their smile.

A hero’s ability to recover and keep going is like a rubber band — they stretch but don’t break. They know that tough times don’t last, but tough people sure do.

What it looks like:

  • Getting up for another try after failing at something.
  • Keeping your chin up when things don’t go your way.
  • Finding a way to laugh even when you feel like crying.
"I teach my students that a true hero is someone who has gone through many struggles but never gave up on their dreams or goals... A hero will use their inner strength, analytical and critical thinking skills in order to preserve through all their obstacles."

Allison Bruning, MFA | Author | Principal, Academic Warriors

Responsibility and Accountability

Heroes take responsibility for what they do, the good and the bad. They don’t try to blame others when things go wrong. Instead, they own up, apologize, and work to fix their mistakes.

Being reliable like this builds trust and shows that they’re someone who can be counted on, especially when the going gets tough. Heroes know that being responsible and accountable is part of being a good person and making a positive change in the world.

Example: If a soccer ball goes through a neighbor’s window, a hero doesn’t run away. Instead, they ring the doorbell, apologize, and offer to make it right.

Loyalty to a Cause or Loved Ones

Heroes stick by their friends, family, and the causes they believe in, even when things get hard. They’re the people you can count on to be there, no matter what. This loyalty is about supporting and protecting those they care about.

Being loyal makes heroes the kind of people everyone wants in their corner. Heroes are like the North Star in the sky — always there, guiding and steady.

Example: A hero is the friend who stays by your side, even when you’re being a bit of a grump. They don’t wander off; they stick with you when you need them most.

Generosity and Kindness

Heroes are generous with their time, energy, and resources. They’re the people always ready to lend a hand, share what they have, and spread kindness wherever they go. It’s about their willingness to help others in any way they can.

This generosity is often contagious, inspiring others to act in kind ways too. Generosity and kindness are superpowers in their own right, making the world a bit brighter for everyone.

Example: If you’re short a few coins at the store, a hero is the one who chips in to cover you. It’s not a grand gesture, just a simple moment of “I’ve got your back.”

Open-Mindedness and Willingness to Learn

Heroes know they don’t have all the answers and that there’s always room to grow. They listen to different points of view and aren’t afraid to change their minds when they learn something new. 

This openness makes them wise and understanding, helping them make better decisions for themselves and the people they help. 

What it looks like:

  • Listening to someone else’s point of view without judging.
  • Trying something new, even if it’s out of your comfort zone.
  • Changing your mind when you get new information that makes sense.

Passion for Helping and Serving

Heroes are driven by a strong desire to help and serve others. They find joy and purpose in making a difference in someone’s life, no matter how big or small the action may be.

Their passion isn’t just a one-time thing; it’s what gets them up in the morning and fuels them to keep doing good day after day. This enthusiasm for helping is catchy, encouraging others to lend a hand, too.

Adaptability and Quick Thinking

Whenever things change fast and without warning, heroes are quick on their feet. They can roll with the punches and come up with a new plan before most have even figured out what’s going on.

This ability to adapt quickly makes them reliable in emergencies and everyday challenges alike. They use their wit and flexibility to find solutions, never getting too stuck on one way of doing things. 

This could mean:

  • Changing your plans on the fly when something unexpected comes up.
  • Finding a new route quickly when the road you’re on is closed.
  • Keeping calm and thinking clearly, even when things get stressful.

Resourcefulness and Problem-Solving Skills

Heroes look at problems and see possibilities, using whatever resources they have at hand to find creative solutions. This resourcefulness means not giving up when the going gets tough but digging deep to overcome obstacles.

Heroes’ knack for solving problems helps them tackle challenges that seem impossible to others. It’s this can-do attitude that sets them apart, showing that sometimes, a bit of ingenuity is all it takes to make a big difference.

Example: When the school’s bake sale is short on tables, a hero brings in old doors and stacks of books and makes makeshift tables. Just like that, the cookie crisis is averted, and the day is saved.

Humility and Modesty

You won’t hear heroes bragging about their good deeds. They’re the modest types who do amazing things but don’t make a fuss about it. They help because they want to, not for applause or a gold star.

Their actions speak louder than their words, and they’re not after a spotlight. Heroes know that real change isn’t about getting attention—it’s about making a difference quietly and humbly.

What it looks like:

  • Sharing credit with others when something goes right.
  • Staying grounded, even when you’ve achieved something big.
  • Recognizing that there’s always room for improvement, no matter how good you are.

Forgiveness and Mercy

Heroes don’t hold onto grudges or seek revenge. They understand that everyone makes mistakes, and they’re ready to forgive.

Their hearts are big enough to let go of anger and make peace. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s their strength. Heroes see forgiveness as a way to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

Example: When someone accidentally spills a drink on a hero’s new shirt, they don’t get all mad and shouty. They just laugh it off and say, “No worries, accidents happen.”

Optimism and Hope in Difficult Times

Even when things look bleak, heroes can find a silver lining. They keep hope alive, even in the toughest times, inspiring those around them to do the same.

This optimism is about believing in the possibility of a better future. Heroes spread this hope, helping to lift spirits and motivate others to keep fighting. Their positive outlook reminds us that there’s always a chance for change and improvement.

What it looks like:

  • Looking for solutions instead of dwelling on problems.
  • Finding the good in a bad situation and focusing on it.
  • Helping others see that no matter what, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
"To me, a hero is someone who can turn their face toward the light, even when it is pitch dark and so incredibly difficult to see even a sliver of light. The hero finds it."

— Sherry Richert Belul | Author | Founder, Simply Celebrate

More Insights From the Experts

“You don’t have to be a veteran to be a hero, of course, but you do have to display some character that’s not of this world, whether it’s standing tall in the face of wrongdoing around you or saving someone’s life and risking your own. A hero is someone whose actions you’ll remember forever.”

Susan Gonzales | Veteran | Founder, Silent Professionals

“…Giving without expecting anything in return. In Indian culture, we call this ‘seva.’ Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service… A hero is a person who gives when no one is watching. A hero has humility and gets pleasure from other peoples’ happiness.”

Aashna Patel | Travel, Lifestyle, Entertainment Host | Writer | Producer | Member of the Board, Institute of Neuro-Innovation | Spokesperson, Neurovella’s Brain Spa

“I think some of the most heroic people are actually ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations and in that split second just do the right thing without giving it a second thought.”

Paige Arnof-Fenn | CEO, Mavens & Moguls

“… Real-life heroes do not have supernatural powers, but they have superpowers (in the form of strength, knowledge, love, care, etc.) to help make this world a better place to live in.”

Pratibha Vuppuluri | CEO, She Started It!

“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They come in all ages, sexes, colors, and religions. They are made of flesh and bone but have one quality many don’t have: selflessness.”

J. Paul Nadeau | Motivational Speaker and Keynote Speaker | Business Negotiations and Conflict Resolution Expert | TEDx Speaker | Author

“To me, a hero is someone who is living their daily life with gratitude and joy and kindness to others… Those are the real heroes and you can find them around you everywhere.”

Beth Bridges | Coach | Author | Speaker

Frequently Asked Questions

Can anyone become a hero?

Yes, absolutely! Being a hero isn’t just for movie characters. Anyone can be a hero by doing things that make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

Do heroes always do big, dramatic things?

No, not always. Heroes can also be people who do small but very meaningful things every day, like standing up for a friend or helping a neighbor.

Why do we look up to heroes?

We admire heroes because they show us the best of what people can be. They inspire us to be brave, and kind, and to care for each other.

Can heroes make mistakes?

Yes, heroes are human, and all humans make mistakes. What’s important is that heroes try to learn from their mistakes and keep trying to do good.

Can being a hero make you happier?

Yes, helping others and spreading kindness can make you feel good about yourself, bringing more happiness into your life and the lives of others.

Final Thoughts

In the end, being a hero is about making a positive difference in the world, no matter the scale of your actions. It’s about having the strength to face challenges, the compassion to help others, and the resolve to keep pushing forward.

So, the next time you witness an act of heroism, take a moment to appreciate the impact of their deeds.

Remember, you have the power to be a hero, too! Whether it’s through a kind word, a helping hand, or a brave stance, each of us has the potential to create change and inspire others. Embrace your inner hero and make a difference in the world around you.

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Jessa Claire is a registered healthcare provider. Music lover. Daydreamer. Thalassophile. Foodie. A hardworking Capricorn. Most days, an incurable empath. An old soul. Down-to-earth. Vibrant.

When she's not writing, she can be seen relaxing with headphones on or engrossed in her favorite fan fiction book.