Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and backgrounds. Some, like the Buddha, are born into luxury but abandon it all for the pursuit of truth. Others, raised as paupers, later attain wealth and fame that ultimately spring from their vision quests. Heroes hail from all over the globe, from New Guinea to New England. Because of such variation, it's not always easy to know when you're in the presence of one.
But there are a few clues, as heroes share some common characteristics. The hero's story often consists of a grueling journey in which the protagonist faces and passes many tests, in the process transforming himself and the world around him. More fundamentally, however, a hero is someone who makes a great sacrifice in order to attain higher goals.
Only Julian Assange can know the true measure of what he's surrendered for the sake of standing up to power and unleashing (via WikiLeaks) the torrent of torrid details of malfeasance by government agents around the world. Still, even a casual observer can see that sacrifice has long been Assange's companion. His biography reveals that the native Australian long ago gave up any chance of having a "normal" life (which might not have appealed to him, anyway). He's lived for decades without money or a home. An existence spent deflecting the ire of nation-states enraged by WikiLeaks disclosures has forced him to leave behind family members, as he's been pursued by the powerful around the globe; and such a life has most likely caused him to jettison other personal relationships. Initially deemed a wunderkind by the "insider" crowd, he's now been deserted by the mainstream media and others who instead opted to toe the line and kowtow to the powerful. At times, forced into a prison cell, spending time in solitary confinement, or confined to house arrest, he's lost his freedom. Public abandonment by his native land -- whose politicos appear to have thrown him to the wolves dwelling in Washington, DC -- means that, in effect, he's lost his country. He's even lost his haircolor. Yet in the process he's gained the status and stature of hero to many thousands, perhaps millions, of people throughout the world.
An often-overlooked aspect of heroes is the role that they tend to play in inspiring heroism in others. Like Assange, I am a journalist. Like Assange, I have provoked the hostility of certain government officials who understand that my work threatens to reveal secrets they'd rather keep hidden. Like Assange, I've given up creature comforts and all semblance of normality in the pursuit of truth, beauty, and essential change. And, like Assange, I imagine, I deal daily with the seeming absurdity of putting my life on the line for the sake of word and sound.
As I labor away in officially-enforced semi-obscurity, I've spent many days without food or any hope of clean clothes, lacking almost every amenity that most of my fellow U.S. citizens would consider "basic needs"; days of suffocating solitude; days when my body and spirit both feel so brutalized that the simple act of walking becomes a challenge. Yet now, during such moments, I often think of Julian Assange, who in the process of embodying heroism, has persevered despite seemingly insurmountable adversity, attained success against all odds, and sidestepped trap after trap set by his detractors. And that offers me a lifeline.
I'm not sure the world is ready yet for a female hero. But still I keep trying. Knowing that Julian Assange is alive in this world helps give me the faith and strength to continue. So for that I thank him.