I recently attended an address by a revered community and religious leader who pulled up several images of well-known sports heroes with the aim of inspiring the young people in the audience to set and achieve goals of their own.

The speaker reviewed brief biographies of these sports figures and told of the endless discipline and hard work each one had applied to become successful. It was impressive.

However, during his talk, the thought occurred to me that one need not be famous to be called a hero.

English novelist Charles Reade wrote, “Not a day passes over the earth, but that men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows.”

Heroes are all around us. And each of us has benefitted not from just one, but from the examples and admonition of many people in our lives.

Ricky Martin, the Puerto Rican singer and author, said, “Heroes represent the best of ourselves ... A hero can be anyone from Gandhi to your classroom teacher, anyone who can show courage when faced with a problem. A hero is someone who is willing to help others in his or her best capacity.”

Our heroes may be found in stories of courage about unknown people. They may also be intimate friends, associates or family members.

As he delivered his official lecture, upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, Portuguese author and poet Jose Saramago said, “The wisest man I ever knew in my whole life could not read or write.”

He was speaking of his grandfather, a hard working country peasant who would invite young Jose to sleep with him under the fig tree and tell him nighttime stories about wisdom and courage as he gazed at the Milky Way.

I’ve asked some people close to me about their heroes and I’ve received some interesting answers.

A 12-year-old told me her whole family is filled with heroes who support her and encourage her in her school and sports activities.

“They’re always there, even my little brother,” she said, “to lift me up and remind me to do better and never to give up.”

A young man told me he often remembers the encouragement of his high school automotive teacher who inscribed in his yearbook, “Students like you make teaching worthwhile.”

Another young woman said, “I want to emulate my father. I want to follow his path of kindness – always putting others before himself.”

Referring to her grandfather, a family member of mine told me the biggest hero in her life is her Grandpa Bill. He owned a small countryside grocery store in central Utah.

When he retired and sold the store, as his family helped clean it out, they found many IOUs in the cash register. They were from her grandpa’s neighbors who he knew were having a hard time, and from whom he never intended to collect. He also donated a great deal of land for community use.

A close friend told me one of his heroes is his wife who nudged him into accountability after they were married, helping him to avoid the shiny, distracting goods he wanted but didn’t need.

Another reported that his daughter, who struggled with depression when she was young, was able to learn to cope and move on to a successful college experience.

“I’ve struggled with addiction,” he said, “and I know that depression can be an even greater obstacle. I admire her so much for the courage and strength she’s mustered to work through it.”

Another young friend of mine had the goal of becoming a dentist, but he was also challenged with addiction and depression. Watching him power through it all has helped me realize that my own deficiencies can be conquered.

We can all learn from one another. We can all be heroes in the lives of those around us. It’s easy. A simple smile, a word of encouragement when we sense it is needed, an offer to help a neighbor even without a request, being respectful of others in the workplace, donating time and/or resources to a needy charity, contributing to responsible civic discourse and treating others as precious souls, all can be positive actions which make us heroes to our loved ones and those around us.

Robert A. Hunter is director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University. He may be contacted at rhunter@weber.edu.

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