Kids love their heroes, at least the fictional kind. It’s been many a decade since I was a child, but I had heroes back then such as Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America, Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, and plenty of others. I’m sure today there are kids who love many of the same characters, probably along with other figures who wouldn’t be as familiar to me.

But back in the days before I became a teenager, I don’t recall having any heroes from real life. Okay, maybe my dad. But I don’t remember really looking up to political figures or even rock stars or movie stars or sports stars. I remember being aware of such individuals. President Ford comes to mind, as does football legend Rosey Grier, country singer Johnny Cash, and movie star Burt Reynolds. I remember these people, but I didn’t think of them as heroes. Maybe they weren’t, in your opinion, but I’m sure someone somewhere has considered all those people heroes to some extent or other.

It wasn’t really until I became a teen in the 1980s that I started thinking of real people as heroic. I didn’t consciously come to these conclusions, but looking back on it years later, that’s what was happening in my mind. I suppose it started with mixing fictional heroes with their real-world counterparts. I’m thinking of Clint Eastwood here. His work in the Western genre drew me in as a teen, and my liking for his characters soon gave way to liking him as a real person, not that I’ve ever personally known the man or had anything to do with him. I’ve never even met Clint Eastwood, and I’ve read a couple of his biographies to know he was no angel, though I wouldn’t say he was or is a terrible human being. We all have our weaknesses and our faults, after all.

As I grew older and became more aware of the world and its nuances, I held other people up to the standards of the heroic. Very few of them were political figures. A number of them were actors. Some were writers. A few were sports figures. A few others were musicians. I always tried to keep in mind that these people were humans and had the failings of humans, so while I sometimes thought of them as heroic in one light or another, I never expected them to be perfect at all times.

It’s been a long while since I was a kid or a teen, but I have to guess that young people today go through similar strains of thought as myself when I was younger. Personally I don’t see too many individuals today worthy of the moniker “hero,” but I suppose there are a few. And I’m sure my dad and my grandparents felt much the same about my generation and our so-called heroic figures.

Anyway, kids will have their heroes. If they don’t see any, then they will seek them out. A child might not think of it in those terms, but that’s pretty much what happens. Young people are drawn to heroes, and often they don’t even know why. No small part of it is simply the cool factor. They want to look and act like the characters they read about or see on a screen, characters who often come off with a funny quip while doing daring deeds, saving the day and taking down bad guys. It was much the same in my day.

But deeper down, young people want to do the right thing and they love seeing characters who show them how to do the right thing. Heroes can inspire children, can motivate them to do the heroic themselves. Heroes display the qualities we cherish and admire, while exemplifying values we hold close to our chest. Heroes overcome challenges and stand up for the little guy. Heroes make the world better.

Children are drawn to this. They want a better world, a fair world, a painless world. It might not be realistic, and maybe it never has been, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reaching for. As individuals we might not be able to change the world, but we can definitely change a small corner of it. And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us made better our corners of the world, we could make the whole world better.

If not for ourselves, for our children.