Let me tell you they are out there—those of confounding selflessness and seeming immunity to fear.They have eluded concise definition since the beginning of recorded history. –Admiral James Stockdale, 1991, on “Heroes and Heroism.”

They are out there not as celebrities but ordinary folks who knew fear and yet proceeded to get a worthy mission or cause done. They are out there in their deprivations and yet persisted that their fellowmen may see better days ahead.

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Talking about heroes and heroism, biking legend Lance Armstrong, who bravely fought the odds of the big “C” and still won the “Tour of France” admitted the trickiness of both words. He admonished his listeners not to throw these concepts “around easily.”

Like Lance Armstrong, heroes overcome enormous challenges in life and marked human history with their inspiring stories. Confronted about their outstanding contribution to the cause of life, many heroes would much prefer the comforts of being regarded as just another guy who was doing his or her best to survive. In the humility of their outlook and appreciation of their work, they are all the more treasured by common folks who also strive to make something out of their ordinary lives.

It is hard to ascribe a hero label on just anyone given the profound expectation from this high calling. Still, Admiral Stockdale’s generous appreciation of seeing heroes and heroic deeds in our midst should inspire in each one of us a daily and healthy dose of desiring to have some measure of this high calling. It’s a noble cause, indeed, that is lost in a society bent on acquiring a celebrity status or engaged in “get rich quick pursuits.” As a consequence, our history as a nation continually declines with services and goods undelivered or haphazardly done by uncommitted, non-sacrificing and lazy minds and hands. 

And so, I take on Admiral Stockdale’s views, and make honest and hardworking folks my heroes. These are uncelebrated folks who strive with values that stabilize and strengthen families and communities even if the quest is harassed by the society’s celebrity and get-rich-quick needs and mindset. 

I sigh with my sympathies for a Filipina, a teacher who married to a Chinaman. She resigned her job to help her husband raise a family and a grocery business. In her own words (delivered during the recent Philippine Economic Briefing here last March 18) she explained that many local Chinese families prospered, not so much because of a high education or tricky schemes, but simply because of hard work, commitment and dedication to the cause of their businesses.

I make much of the lady’s testimony knowing how the ancestors of some Filipino-Chinese friends built a stable business or livelihood with great patience. They persisted and kept much of their complaints to themselves, particularly the harassment they get from some government employees and even their own hired fellow Filipino helps. The lady just got that point transmitted clearly even as she narrated how her good husband managed with meager resources to establish their business. 

In the beginning, the lady’s Chinese husband was the grocery manager, cook, janitor, and did almost everything. Visitors demanding to talk to the owner or manager could not understand why they are either talking to a guy dressed as a laborer. It is a far cry, indeed, from native Filipino businesses subsidized by government loans and grants. The business has its well-dressed manager with several employees,’ all of them of course receiving fat salaries doing a job or two.

In local Chinese businesses, employees are hired with affordable pay but provided with food and a place to stay. In earlier times, it was a good arrangement for people grateful enough to appreciate the availability of work and made it an opportunity or stepping stone to acquire a trade or to pursue higher education. I know people who did just that and came out the better, both as outstanding citizens and still continued as friends to their former Chinese employers. Later, the situation changed. People got themselves employed in some Chinese establishments; but they are readily overcome with resentments.

They are either not satisfied with the work arrangements or engagements, leading to contrived labor strikes that in most cases accused their employers of “unfair labor practices.” Belonging to the hired class myself, it is safe to give my peers the benefit of the doubt. But I wonder though if we deserve so much even as to leave our families and work abroad. Over time, we still return back to a country or a family in its tattered state, feeling all the more shortchanged by our insatiable pursuits for the “almighty” cash. 

Battling a situation where she might be misunderstood, the lady said that she speaks for both native Filipinos and Chinese Filipinos who meant well. I was almost tempted to speak out a voice that says indeed, both Filipino races can truly be heroes to one another if they only see to the upholding of values and personality traits that makes their lives productive and meaningful in this land, once known as the “pearl of the orient.” That was just what the lady finally said. “Business and employees and government can help the 

nation back to its respectable footings, if they can understand, work and sacrifice together to bring about a prosperous nation of hard working, disciplined and dedicated citizens.

Everybody loves stories of men and women who overcome enormous odds to succeed in life or make other people’s lives better, or make the nation safer, or richer, or economically secure. We need guys who stick with us through thick and thin and throw the Hail Mary pass even if it is the last burst of his or her strength. We like to see the long shot pay off. 

That is why I write this column too in admiration of our provincial coordinators at the CHARM-2 Project – all women! They leave home and family any day of the week. They hike slippery trails to the project’s coverage areas, mostly distant and marginalized communities in the interior of our mountains. Lately, our coordinator in Kalinga Province, nursing a limp and some health problems was exposed to the perils of a tribal conflict and a military skirmish all in one week. 

On occasions, these ladies, when fatigue catches up with them and yet their efforts seem so inadequate compared to their work’s expectations, wonder if their efforts is all worth it. I like to believe that committed and hard working men and women will always see the results of their success. Some do and many don't. And this is okay? It is sad, but the answer is yes. I wish I can do better for my heroes and all I got are some words from a Christian writer. It is not enough and I just want to pass it on for all its worth, whatsoever. 

“Moses didn't get to enter the Promised Land. David didn't get to build the temple. Even Jesus didn't deliver the kind of success people expected. He wasn't a political messiah, and he did not pastor a megachurch in Jerusalem.”

The writer goes on to show that more recent heroes have the same problems. “Abraham Lincoln did not live to see his country fully unified. Ann Frank did not survive Nazi Germany, but her journal is certainly the work of a hero…Martin Luther King, Jr., did not see the final result of his efforts.  True heroes and great leaders have faith that their work matters—whether they see their goals realized or not.”

Heroes! Every generation need their enduring faith, selfless gifts and inspiring charms. 

It is a woeful generation that direly lacks heroes. No matter how we intellectualize what the word means, Mother Theresa’s work with the poor still charms and warms the heart. Like her, our heroes’ greatness of soul; their blood, sweat and tears, nourished mankind throughout the generations and lead the charge towards civilization.