Across cultures, picking a role model can be a rite of passage for boys, whether they choose a footballer or an astronaut, James Bond in his dinner jacket or Superman in his cape.
But for adults, heroes are more than just a costume at a fancy dress party: the figures who inspire us can change our understanding of the world and the way we live our lives.
In 2016, our Being A Man festival asked what it means to be a hero in the modern world, and who impresses us most of all. We discussed issues such as men’s mental health, family relationships and self-presentation and hear from speakers including Kele Okereke, game-changing frontman of Bloc Party, and former Bond actor Sir Roger Moore.
Here, we ask some of the men involved in the festival who they look up to, and the challenges besetting the modern male hero.
All of us should be our own heroes. A real hero knows he should save himself first. Only that way can he have a positive influence on others.
For me, I think the most important ‘heroic’ quality a man can embody in 2016 is to be able to stand up when no one else can or will and do the right thing in the face of fear. I’ve been asked a few times recently how men can use their gender as a force for good in the world, and I usually point to videos taken on public transport of racial or sexual harassment taking place and no one challenging this. It doesn’t matter what you preach elsewhere, if you are capable of calling out this kind of horrendous behaviour, you absolutely must.
I pretended to look heroic – which is no mean feat for someone scared of guns and explosions going off – learned the lines and tried not to bump into the furniture!
It’s a challenging world we live in, more so than ever I think personally. We need role models to show us that in spite of these challenges we face, we can not only survive, but truly flourish and achieve wonderful things. We need more present-day heroes like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. There feels a real lack of inspiration right now, and a decreasing amount of hope in the world.
Growing up I started to understand that there were imperfections and weaknesses at the heart of every character, and a traditional sense of the hero, leaping from one victory to the next without fear, was fiction. This makes heroism a rarer beast, but more amazing when I do see it.
There are too many heroes now. We confuse those that are victims, are suffering and overcoming adversity, with heroes. There can be huge courage in conquering illness, for instance, but heroism is a higher level of selflessness,
To see that his children’s schools are properly educating them. To be involved in some of his children’s outside activities and see that no unethical and immoral things are going on. And then to love them – and hug them as much as he can!
The qualities that make a man heroic are patience, reliability, compassion and having a strong work ethic.
I have massive respect for those who defy convention in their time – not to be defiant, but to have a direction that is not normal and a total commitment to follow it through. Muhammad Ali was told that he was too scrawny to be a boxer. Even the start of his career he had to ’swim upstream’ with very little help. His fights are now legendary.
Usain Bolt is not really a sprinter; he is too tall. My admiration is not just his treble treble [winning all three gold titles at the Olympics three times in a row] but the hours and hours working with his coach and losing races while he gains in speed and strength.