A hero is someone who shows a virtue that we admire. Superman, Spider-Man and their ilk aren’t heroes because they leap tall buildings, sling webs, or wear cool costumes, it’s because they stop people from committing injustice. They show courage, compassion, determination, faith, sacrifice, and a sense of service and purpose. They are us as we wish we could be or would be; they are guiding lights that illuminate the path of righteousness. If our heroes fail along the path, they must rise up and continue, or they are no longer heroes.
References to heroes and heroism are scattered like precious jewels throughout the writings of Shoghi Effendi; in naming the earliest era of the Bahá’í Faith the Heroic Age, he called on us to reflect on the heroic sacrifices of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and their early followers who blazed trails through the wilderness of error, trails that we now tread as we follow their lead towards the light of Divine guidance. But Shoghi Effendi warned us—especially the Western believers—of the severe trials that would await along this path. Established as it was upon centuries-old traditions of materialism, exploitation and injustice, Western society would continue to fall deeper and deeper into a well of corruption and decay that would sap the moral strength of so many of its citizens, and plunge them into a state of lethargy and apathy.
“We, today, face that test,” said Dr. Peter Khan in a 1995 address on the subject of tests, “the test of overcoming apathy and lethargy. The test that those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world.” As society around us falters under the crushing weight of materialism and the frenetic struggle for existence that it engenders, he argues, we must commit ourselves to work for a different life, a different existence, based on principles that uplift the human spirit. We must take on the qualities of the empowered, distinguishing ourselves as being willing to work for this new way of living.
“We are people committed to the creation of a new society. We are summoned to heroism. We are summoned to sacrifice. We are summoned to idealism and to altruism. We are people creating a new society, a new civilization. We are people who love and are concerned about generations yet unborn and we are prepared to dedicate our lives that those generations to come, in decades and centuries into the future, may have a better life; may have a life of peace and unity and harmony and the possibility for the full development of their potential.”
It’s become something of a cliché that “not all heroes wear capes”. But, indeed, few heroes do. You don’t need a cape to care about the world and to strive to make it a better place for people to live. You just need to try and to persevere, and before you know it, you’ll have insured ultimate and complete victory.