Heroes or just downright unfortunate?
The description heroes has been applied liberally over the last few days to describe the Chilean miners. Every time I’ve heard this I’ve winced a little bit, in a very similar way to the way I feel when I hear disabled people referred to as heroic.
The miners have been through an ordeal that they would never have wished for. It will undoubtedly bring them fame and probably fortune. The best thing to have arisen from the episode is the spotlight that has now been focused on the dreadful conditions in many of the world’s mines.
But heroic? No, I don’t think so. Heroism requires a degree of choice. Those men didn’t choose to get trapped underground. It’s exactly the same thing for disabled people. No one actively wakes up one day and chooses to be disabled.
More correctly, in the face of adversity, such behaviour is stoical. Getting on with things, indifferent to troubles or pain is worthy of our admiration. Calling someone heroic, whether it be a miner or a disabled person, is in danger of conjuring up a distorted, often falsely angelic, picture.