What Makes Someone a Hero? (13 Great Answers)

What qualities or characteristics make someone a hero?

Is it bravery? Courage? Selflessness?

Leon Ho

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO, Lifehack

Conquering obstacles head-on

A hero is an individual who is not a victim of circumstances – instead, they conquer their obstacles head on.

Heroes embrace their limitations and appreciate them for their ability to make the hero both stronger and wiser.

Wes O’Donnell

Wes O'Donnell

Veteran US Army and US Air Force | Filmmaker | Journalist

Willingness to sacrifice

What Makes Someone a Hero? This seemingly complicated question actually has a very simple answer:

Anyone willing to sacrifice something of significant value for a stranger is a hero.

You can see this reflected in the actions of firefighters who volunteer to run into extreme danger to save citizens. Soldiers often relive the tale of Private Milton Olive III, the first African American Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War, who sacrificed himself by jumping on a grenade to save his squadmates; both black men and white men.

Journalists in countries with authoritarian regimes often risk their lives by reporting on local atrocities in order to make the public more informed. Physicians or attorneys who take massive pay cuts to help the indigent, destitute and penniless. Even the organ donor, who, upon their death, allows another individual to benefit is a posthumous hero.

The word hero is synonymous with the word sacrifice. They are one and the same.

Army Lt. Col. Jeremy M. Latchaw

Jeremy M. Latchaw

President, Macatawa Unmanned Systems

Giving your time to mentor those who are impoverished

Ordinary Americans make the greatest impact on an individual’s life through their one-on-one interactions with each other.

It is easy to overlook the impact ordinary people make when we hear politicians proclaiming how they can change the country for the better, or how they intend to put programs in place that will help lift the poor out of poverty.

But think about this: without the individuals who are personally giving their time to mentor those who are impoverished, teaching them skills needed to get a job and keep it, there would be no possibility for true societal change.

The problem with being an ordinary hero is that you may not get many thanks or much praise, but the gratitude you do receive means an incredible amount more.

Susan Gonzales

Susan Gonzales

Veteran | Founder, Silent Professionals

Endowed with something that is not of this world

“Hero” is such an overused word. It’s funny when you hear people call someone a hero for saving a dog. You’re not using the word incorrectly, but we use it for a lot. It’s admirable to save a dog but it’s on a different part of the “hero” spectrum.

A hero is someone who’s been endowed with something that is not of this world. It’s a strength or something that is beyond human. I saw that many times while in the military. One incident really struck me and, for that work, this soldier was awarded the medal of honor.

I was an intelligence officer at the time. I don’t want to make it seem cooler than it is. I want to be real about the role. There are things I’m very proud of but for the most part, I got to sit in a relatively safe space. What I did get to do is provide support when a mission happens.

You literally see what’s happening on the battlefield. In one part of Afghanistan, there was a battle every single day during the time I was there. Actually, the movie the Lone Survivor happens in that region. That region has these instances of wind that whip down the mountains. It’s unpredictable; the air is thin so you can’t fly too high.

Yet if there was an IED and somebody’s arm went somewhere, our soldiers were going to bring every last bit of what they could recover from their remains and bring it back home. Even if that meant losing their own lives. And it wasn’t even something people thought about; it’s just something they would do.

One guy, he lost both of his arms doing so and he was bleeding out. He died from those wounds but he did it in order to provide protection and safety for his brothers and to bring them back even if he wasn’t still alive.

People like to talk and say I’d definitely do something like this, but nobody knows what’s they’re going to do. It’s easy to talk tough but when you see it happen, and there’s nothing to gain, there’s so much where instinct will tell you, ‘you need to stay alive’ but you deny that—that’s definitely the makings of a hero.

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.

J. Paul Nadeau

J. Paul Nadeau

Motivational Speaker and Keynote Speaker | Business Negotiations and Conflict Resolution Expert | TEDx Speaker | Author

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes

To me, heroes are not born. They are chosen. But it’s not any one person or group of people who choose a hero. It’s a tragic, sad and/or unexpected event that happens that first calls to the ears, their eyes and then the hearts of men and woman who become our heroes.

They are born in a split second when disaster or adversity strikes, or when a sad, unthinkable human condition or injustice exists that calls for immediate humanitarian intervention. No, a hero doesn’t choose to become a hero. They become heroes on the spot and forge ahead taking hero action because it’s in their blood.

What makes a hero? No one can say for certain. Can it be a heart that cannot turn away from injustices or sad human conditions that compels the hero to leap forward and take whatever action the situation calls for despite personal consequence, injury or even death? Can it be conscious that cannot ignore the suffering of another human being or the tear shed of another child?

Whoever these heroes are, they run into burning buildings to save a life. They run into schools when active shooters are firing at innocents. The stand solely before a battalion of tanks as a human shield, or slip a daisy into the barrel of a rifle, pointed at a crowd of peaceful protesters. They sit by the side of a dying loved one until the end.

They operate on a broken and dying body for hours on end to save a life they don’t even know. They wake up at all hours of the night to feed their hungry child and put them back to bed, knowing full well that they won’t sleep a wink. They get shot in the face advocating for children and student’s rights by terrorists and live to fight for another day to spread the work of hope across the globe.

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.

G. Brian Benson


Award-Winning & #1 Best-Selling Author | Coach | Creative | TEDx Speaker

Anybody who is willing to learn

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and I feel that anybody who is willing to learn, grow and become more self-aware is a hero in my book.

Self-growth isn’t easy and it forces us to take a deeper look into ourselves and what we find isn’t always pleasant and comfortable to talk about and deal with. But I have personally found that self-work has been the most important thing that I have ever done for myself.

It removes weights, learns about ourselves, allows us to reach higher heights, connect more intimately with family and friends, clean up disagreements, forgive, tap into our true greatness and help inspire others to do the same. So if one can do that I feel that they are a true hero!

Related: How to Improve Yourself Every day

Aashna Patel

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

A hero can be a stranger who made your day better

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then the observer decides who is beautiful. It works almost the same for a hero. If a hero is in the mind and heart of the beholder, then the observer decides who is a hero.

A hero can be someone you admire, a mentor, a parent, a child or a friend but it can also be a stranger who made your day better by his or her act of kindness.

Growing up, I always felt my parents were my heroes and they still are. They loved me unconditionally and did remarkable things for others unselfishly. They introduced me to giving without expecting anything in return.

In Indian culture, we call this “seva.” Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service. Being conditioned to this type of spiritual practice as a child shaped who I am and who I aspire to be.

Related: How to Be Less Selfish?

In my life, I have met many heroes. A hero is a person who gives when no one is watching. A hero has humility and gets pleasure from other peoples’ happiness. A hero has patience and the courage that sometimes defies imagination.

A hero understands that giving back to his or her community is a privilege and not a means of getting recognition.

A hero can make a positive impact on one person’s life or for millions.

I want to take a few moments of your time to tell you about one of my heroes, Nimesh Patel aka Nimo. I’ve known Nimo for over 15 years. He used to be a rapper in LA. After a serious hand injury, he moved to India for ayurvedic treatments. He never moved back. Instead, he volunteered at the Gandhi Ashram in Gujarat.

When I visited, he took me on a tour of one of the largest slums in India. All the children were dancing and smiling even though they barely had any material things. No one begged for money. Everyone just wanted me to take their photos and videos. It was one of the best days of my life and where Nimo volunteered almost daily.

Nimo decided to nurture the talents of these children and produce a musical. He created the Jai Jagat World Tour, a dance drama featuring 17 underprivileged children from India. The show is about how our planet rediscovers love.

Nimo is one of my heroes. He understands and practices “seva” on a daily basis. He lives and breathes love and kindness and he truly makes a positive and memorable impact on the lives of everyone he meets. And best of all, he does it with humility.

Pratibha Vuppuluri

CEO, She Started It!

Real-life heroes really do exist

We see them every day, talk to them, and spend time with them. Some of them even live in the same roof where we live.  Are you wondering who are we referring to? Well, here are some examples of real-life heroes and the reasons why we consider them as one.

  • Engineers. Engineers are our heroes when it comes to building our homes, the structures where we work, the roads where we drive our cards, as well as the bridges that connect one place to another.
  • Policemen. They are heroes for ensuring peace is within our communities. They risk their lives to make sure no bad people will harm the civilians.
  • Teachers. They are the ones who mold future leaders, engineers, policemen, businessmen, etc. Without our teachers, we don’t have professionals who attend to our needs.
  • Doctors. They are heroes for ensuring people are healthy and living well.
  • Environmentalists. They help protect Mother Nature for today and future generations.
  • Fathers. They are heroes for working hard to give the best future for their children and in protecting their families.
  • Mothers. They are heroes for keeping families together, for being unselfish, for attending to their children’s needs, for loving every single member of the family unconditionally.

These are just a few of a long list of everyday heroes. Yes, 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.

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Paige Arnof-Fenn

CEO, Mavens & Moguls

Ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations

You do not have to save a life or run into a burning building to be a hero but those things certainly qualify. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

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.

They do not consider the personal risk or who is going to get credit, they just see a situation where help is needed and decide to jump in to do what they can.

I see stories about heroes every day from the bystander who tackles a gunman to ordinary people performing simple acts of kindness helping neighbors, the elderly or children in need to the teacher who volunteers at a prison to help incarcerated youth learn relevant skills so they can lead productive lives when they finish serving their time. Caretakers helping loved ones lead happy lives are heroes too.

Heroes are both very special and also everywhere around us I think. What makes someone a hero is just noticing all the heroic acts people do every day and saying thanks.

Allison Bruning, MFA

Allison Bruning

Author | Principal, Academic Warriors

A hero emerges from the storm with new wisdom

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. Anyone can be a hero. This world doesn’t always accept or understand the autistic population.

A hero will use their inner strength, analytical and critical thinking skills in order to preserve through all their obstacles.

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.

Sherry Richert Belul


Author | Founder, Simply Celebrate

Someone who is able to offer love and kindness, no matter what

I mean the person who holds open the door for a stranger, even when it is stormy out and so much easier to simply slip in and take care of oneself first. I mean the person who remembers a friend’s grief, six months after the funeral and offers to come over to make tea and sit with the deep sadness. I also mean the person who is so angry she can barely stand it, but instead of lashing out she is able to choose measured words that will not wound.

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.

To me, a hero is someone who focuses on what is loving, good, and beautiful in someone the rest of the world shuns or ignores.

To me, a hero is someone who walks outside and chooses to see the color of the leaves or to feel the small breeze, rather than complaining about the neighbor’s noise or the trash on the ground. A hero quietly picks up other people’s trash and throws it away, smiling all the while, because he is focused on a lovely thought in his own head.

A hero intentionally changes the focus of her attention so she is filled with the magic and mystery of life.

A hero intentionally takes good care of herself and others — knowing that love has no boundaries and needn’t play favorites.

A hero cherishes the “ordinary” — her child’s giggle, the swish of kitty’s tail, the taste of lime, the luxury of a hot shower.

A hero does not buy into this culture’s barrage of “not enough” or “something wrong,” and instead basks in what is beautiful and true.

To me, a hero wakes up each day with a willingness and anticipation to find and offer goodness in any way he can, no matter what the circumstances.

A hero is someone who feels like walking sunshine. I meet these heroes every single day!

Related: Famous and Motivational Hero Quotes and Sayings

Beth Bridges

Beth Bridges

Coach | Author | Speaker

Someone who is living their daily life with gratitude, joy, and kindness

To me, a hero is someone who is living their daily life with gratitude and joy and kindness to others.

This is even though they themselves are going through grieving a loss or dealing with an illness or the health struggles of a loved one. They are willing to ask for help and understanding, but they don’t dwell on it. And they are still willing to help and encourage others. Those are the real heroes and you can find them around you everywhere.

Julia Askin

Marketing Coordinator, Fueled

I think the biggest marker of heroism is true selflessness

Very few people know the meaning of or believe in the value of sacrificing oneself for another. I think the lack of willingness to sublimate the self is simply because our western cultural values have historically dictated otherwise.

We live in a very ego-centric society with relatively selfish cultural values in part due to capitalistic motivators and “enlightened self-interest”.

However, 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.

While it is often difficult to glean the intention and true motivation behind self-sacrifice, I nonetheless believe a virtuous values-based framework for any action is modern-day heroism.

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