As we pause to celebrate National Heroes’ Day, let us spare a thought also for the unsung heroes in our lives.
National Heroes’ Day in Barbados was first celebrated on April 28, 1998, the centenary of the birth of Sir Grantley Adams. Ten persons were named as National Heroes, each for his/her own outstanding accomplishments and contribution to Barbados. Every year since then, we have observed National Heroes’ Day with a public holiday and recognition of these ten people.
We recount their glorious achievements and seek to instill in our society, especially our younger generation, a sense of pride in the struggles of these exceptional Barbadians and what they did to make them worthy of consideration for National Hero status.
Every nation, community or society must have heroes amongst them and must strive to recognize them in some way or the other. While a specific set of standards would have been set in choosing the ten National Heroes of Barbados, a hero is generally defined as a person, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
In recognition of our Heroes, we shouldn’t become preoccupied with the cosmetics of that adoration. It is not enough to boast that statues are erected, places named or roundabouts titled in their recognition. These are merely reinforced reminders of our Heroes; tourist attractions; not much else.
As a society we need to go beyond the cosmetic recognition of our Heroes and seek to imbibe into our psyche and spirit the real struggles of our National Heroes. We need to learn what it was that made them sacrifice all they held dear in order to make Barbados a better place. We must know why we admire and idealize our Heroes, what were their outstanding achievements and noble qualities; and then do our utmost to ensure our younger generation have within themselves a similar commitment and sense of duty and responsibility.
The lament today is that it appears the majority of our society are uninterested, not involved and not feeling empowered that they truly have the ability and capacity to make a difference. Hopelessness and despair seem to be the norm, and a sense of “it doesn’t really matter any more; nothing will change” is prevalent. History, however, has taught us that it is precisely when a society faces such a dilemma that heroes emerge.
The Right Excellent Bussa, one of our National Heroes, fought against the brutal enslavement of his people. He rose up in armed opposition, knowing full well that the odds were heavily stacked against him. He arose at a time when many of his own were resigned to the cruel fate of slavery, not having any hope of ever being free after years of brutal subjugation –– physical and mental.
He gave his life to at least provide a glimmer of hope and a revolution in thinking that no human being should feel they have to live their lives as slaves to another. And similar are the stories of all the other National Heroes.
Struggling against seemingly undefeatable adversaries, including a mindset of accepting fate as given, these Heroes proved that situations could be changed and lives improved, and the proverbial “apple cart” was overturned for the better.
The Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers, our only living National Hero, gained his admiration on the field of cricket, but more important than his masterful strokes with the bat was the fact that he proved that it was humanly possible to move from a humble, simple and unknown area on a tiny speck of land on the globe to become an icon respected, adored and emulated by millions of people in all parts of the world during his time on the field and for years to come. Such are the lessons that we must seek out in our National Heroes. What is it that truly made them heroes?
Today, our younger generation look all over the place for heroes and, sadly, many look in the wrong places, to the wrong persons, for the wrong reasons. They are led into the mistaken belief that heroes are not like our National Heroes; that they are different –– their heroic status not gained by legitimate struggle, but by ill-gotten means.
Their sacrifices are not for making the society better; rather they are for amassing as much material wealth they can in the shortest time possible. The adoration and emulation come from how they achieve such wealth and material prosperity, regardless of the consequences of their actions.
Our society today needs to carefully examine this mindset and we need to replace it with one that ensures that our society as a whole is looking to heroes that provide true guidance and leadership, worthy of emulating and following passionately. And the reality is that every single one of us in our own way can be a hero. The question is what type of hero would we like to be?
Every husband can be a hero to his wife, and wife to her husband; every father and every mother to their child; every child to their parent; every grandparent to their grandchild; every uncle and aunt to their niece and nephew; every sibling to their own.
Our families can be our heroes first and foremost. If we sincerely sacrifice for that in our families, then we start the process of creating a society that will have true heroes evolving.
I know there are already many heroes in our society that haven’t been recognized and who probably are very contented to continue their efforts and struggles without any recognition. These are the true heroes, and their stories must also be told.
Our society desperately needs these true heroes today. The despair can be overturned when a sense of purpose and a culture of struggle against all odds are restored to our national psyche.
On National Heroes’ Day, let us all resolve to recognize the National Heroes and all the other heroes who have truly made a positive impact on our lives. And also resolve to be a hero by doing what is right, just and worthy of emulation and adoration.
Every society needs heroes. And every society has them. The reason we don’t often see them is because we don’t bother to look. There are two kinds of heroes. Heroes who shine in the face of great adversity, who perform an amazing feat in a difficult situation. And heroes who live among us, who do their work unceremoniously, unnoticed by many
of us, but who make a difference in the lives of others. Heroes are selfless people who perform extraordinary acts.
The mark of heroes is not necessarily the result of their action, but what they are willing to do for others and for their chosen cause. Even if they fail, their determination lives on for others to follow. The glory lies not in the achievement, but in the sacrifice.
–– Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia (2004-2014).
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)