Do-It-Yourself Heroes

In tough times, the virtues that inspire us are old-fashioned, unglamorous and hiding in plain sight

Ken McKay / Reuters

Scottish singer Susan Boyle.

Human beings have always created the heroes we need, from Hercules and Sherlock Holmes--whose supernatural gifts let them conquer mighty foes--to Underdog and the Ugly Duckling--whose transformations were themselves acts of heroism. Right now, when the headlines clang with catastrophe and confusion, it's natural that we'd be at it again, searching for heroes to suit the times.

First there was Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, walking the length of his sinking plane to be sure every last passenger was safely off. Then came Captain Richard Phillips, battling pirates in angry seas. And finally there's Susan Boyle, the unemployed church lady whose dying...

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