Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Americans Say What Makes a Hero National Survey Serves as a Snapshot of Current Values

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Americans Say What Makes a Hero National Survey Serves as a Snapshot of Current Values

Article excerpt

When Robert Pamplin Jr., a businessman and philanthropist in Portland, Ore., began asking people how they would define a hero, he expected answers that were, well, heroic. Possible responses, he thought, might include "a person who puts his life on the line and displays some kind of courage" or "somebody who falls on a grenade and saves his buddies."

Instead, Dr. Pamplin explains, "People thought for a few minutes and said, 'Being honest, being trustworthy - that's what makes a hero.' "

Those definitions, emphasizing values rather than valor, so intrigued Pamplin that he commissioned a national survey on heroism and ethics. Researchers polled 950 adults and teenagers, with sometimes surprising results.

The findings, published in "American Heroes: Their Lives, Their Values, Their Beliefs" (Master Media, $18.95), offer what Pamplin calls a "snapshot of American values."

The most important quality in a hero, according to 83 percent of respondents, is honesty, followed by compassion and high moral standards. Most also believe that being a hero entails having a spiritual life. Fame and being physically gifted rank at the bottom - an indication, he says, that people distinguish between true heroes and celebrities with a good press agent.

Other encouraging findings on ethics came in response to hypothetical situations involving honesty. When asked, "If you found a wallet in the street with $5,000 in it, would you turn it in?" 86 percent of adults and three-quarters of teenagers said they would.

Yet significant differences emerged between adults and teenagers. On another hypothetical question - "If you banged someone's car in a parking lot but no one saw you, would you turn yourself in?"- 85 percent of adults said yes, compared with 71 percent of teenagers.

Teens are also more likely to think lying is acceptable under certain circumstances. And while 87 percent of adults feel spirituality is important, only 73 percent of teenagers do.

Pamplin adds, "We asked, 'If you could cheat on a school test, you knew you wouldn't get caught, you'd get a better grade, and this would further your climb to success, would you do it?' Forty percent of teenagers said they would."

He finds that number troubling. "Eighty percent of teenagers say, 'Yes, to be a hero, one must be honest. Yet to be comfortable in life and to be successful in the things I want, materialism, I'm willing to sacrifice my chance to be a hero.' It's kind of like Faust - 'I'm wiling to sell my soul for a price. My price is, to buy a shiny new car, a glorious big house, a wallet full of money.'

"That's sad," Pamplin continues. "Even though they know what's right and they recognize it, and their adulation is offered to that person they consider to be the true hero, they themselves are willing to sacrifice it. …

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