When my boys were little, our family loved a terrific Fisher Price toy series called “Rescue Heroes.” We collected these action figures, who all had different jobs keeping people safe: Billy Blazes and Wendy Waters fought fires, Jake Justice was a cop, Sandy Beach was a lifeguard, Rocky Canyon was a mountain ranger– you get the picture.
Those kinds of heroes were easy to recognize and had noble, clear intentions. But as children get older, it’s more difficult to find heroes to revere. Out of curiosity, I asked my kids to name their heroes and gave them time to think about it.
12-year-old Jacob: “I don’t know. I don’t have any. That’s hard.”
9-year-old Aden: “Baltimore Ravens player Ray Lewis because he’s a great player and does a lot of charity work. And my mom and dad because they take care of me.”
6 year-old Eli: “Hmmmm. Well, me (pointing to himself.) And my friend Benjamin because he told a bully on the bus to stop when he was being mean to me.”
Some cute answers in there, but no substantial icons. It was hard to come up with people they admire and want to emulate.
The trouble with modern times is we all know too much. We are constantly hearing about accomplished people –at the top of their game and ripe for hero-worship– who fall from grace for personal weaknesses (see Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Martha Stewart, the list goes on and on.)
I started thinking about this when I heard the story of Malala Yousufzai. She’s a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who just wanted to go to school. When the Taliban took over the area where she lived, she spoke out against their presence in her town and their ban on education for girls.
Last week, a Taliban group targeted Malala, storming her school bus and shooting her in the head. After a few days in a local hospital, she was flown to England to get specialized treatment in a safe environment. The AP reported today that although she has suffered major brain trauma, her condition has improved and she’s moving her limbs.
I talked about Malala’s story with my kids at dinner the other night. They asked many questions and were shocked to hear that kids in other parts of the world actually have to risk their lives to get an education, and sometimes fight for the right to learn.
I told my boys that Malala is now one of my heroes, for being brave enough to stand up against the ultimate bullies– for herself and for all the girls in her country. She proved that sometimes it just takes one voice, or one action to capture the world’s attention, and hopefully inspire change.
To read more about Malala’s story, click here. Who are your heroes? Do your kids have any? It’s a good dinner table discussion topic. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.