Education: the root of heroism.

“Education” may not be the first word that comes to mind if you are asked what causes heroism, but it’s an interesting idea. Today many people believe “heroes” are musicians, entertainers, athletes, or actors. However, a “hero,” in the true sense of the word, is one who steps out of the ordinary with courage, resolution, and selflessness. And Our Lord revealed through His teachings and example the ultimate essence of heroism, so those who are educated in Christian principles become singularly capable of heroic courage.

Vicktor E. Frankl offers a compelling argument for education as the basis of heroism. Frankl survived three years in a Nazi concentration camp and he writes of his experiences in A Man’s Search for Meaning. Education, he writes, teaches one that heroism is not a spur of the moment action but a choice. “The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability repressed.”

He offers an interesting observation: though the “sensitive people” who were “used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), … the damage done to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat … to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.” These victims “seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature.” Essentially, those with the education were able to endure horrendous hardships because they had something to believe in and to live for. Their minds were stronger.

Whittaker Chambers, an avid Communist for thirteen years, converted to Christianity in 1938 after extensive research and reading. He was then faced with the difficult decision of either staying quiet about his knowledge of Communist spies (including Alger Hiss in the US Senate) or testifying in court and having to brave severe persecution and the possibility of assassination.

He took the heroic path: he testified. His reason was to bring to the surface the evils of Communism for the sake of millions of people. He asserted, “My failure to do so, any attempt to evade that necessity, would be a betrayal that would measure nothing less than the destruction of my own soul.” He saw himself as being created specifically for the purpose of testifying for the sake of Christianity against Communism; and he preferred suffering and sacrifice in this life than even worse suffering in the next.

By following Our Lord’s example, men and woman have stepped out of ordinary and mediocre life for others. The worth of education is illuminated in that it forms one’s character and conscience and creates a state of readiness when a moment arrives which calls for true heroism. Education provides a platform of reflection and time to make pre-emptive decisions—time that many occasions of heroism can not afford as they are moments of crisis.

Without education (especially education based on supernatural values), there might be no heroes. Why is it necessary for me to step out of the ordinary, out of my way, to risk death or to sacrifice for another? We live in a time of self-absorption. How can you help me? How can you contribute to my happiness? But then I learn of and believe in an eternal life that rewards self-sacrifice, and I am given a choice: I can choose myself or another. “No greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.”

Photo: St. Michael the Archangel, by Guido Reni.