Please excuse me… I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning and complaining, but truth be told, you’re never really a hero in your own home. What do I mean by this? I’m sure that many of you can relate. You work so hard every day, you provide for everyone that is attached to you unceasingly, and yet, it never seems to be enough or good enough. Yet without you being present and doing what you do every day, all the wheels will grind to a halt. You do, do, do every day. Day in and day out, you give of yourself. You provide mental, physical, financial and spiritual support. You give guidance and compassion, provide words and deeds to uplift everyone, yet in the end, appreciation and gratitude are in short supply. Often, people who are far away offer words of appreciation and thanks more readily than those who are closest to you or who derive the greatest benefit from your efforts. You are viewed through “heroic” glasses by those who are far away yet taken for granted by those whose appreciation you crave most.

There are times when it seems to you that this is incredibly unfair. And it is. You start to ask yourself the question, “What the hell am I doing? No one appreciates me, everyone takes me for granted.” I don’t even receive a simple, “Thank you, I appreciate you for all you do,” or even, “I’m grateful that you’re just part of my life.” Then you walk around all day kicking yourself in the backside saying, “Never again, never again.” I understand this feeling, but don’t cry; it’s ok. 

The truth of the matter is, even though you may not be lauded as a hero or appreciated the way you feel you should be, these other individuals that are connected to you need you because you ARE a true hero. You are the only one that is capable of holding your team, family, corporate entity, or whatever it be, together. You have to understand that “you’re the man,” as they say, and no one else can replace you. 

Everybody has different gifts. Everyone has different attributes and different callings, and if you’ve been called to the service of being a teacher, a mentor, a guide of any sort, to any one individual or a group of individuals, you must always remind yourself that at this moment in time, you will not be looked upon as a hero, and you may not be appreciated until much later. Maybe those individuals will never be able to see and comprehend all the things you do for them. That gap of understanding is what separates the ones that lead from the ones that follow. This goes for parents, teachers, mentors and leaders of any sort. The ones that you help are being helped by you because they need what you have to give. 

You’ve been put here, by the universe, to be a crucible, to direct and focus everyone’s energy. I think we do this, not because we are seeking to be commended or applauded, or looked upon as heroes, but rather because it is innate in our nature. Heroic deeds are done by those individuals because that is what needs to be done at that moment in time, not for the reward. If you’re doing it for the accolades, then it’s not truthful; it’s being done for the wrong reason. The true hero is selfless. The real hero doesn’t know that he’s a hero and doesn’t call himself a hero. He’s just doing his daily job, just doing the thing that he does, without looking for glory. The true hero is content with doing his task day in and day out, because that is his nature. 

You don’t have to have a cape or a secret identity to be a hero. Most heroes are unsung. The mom that takes the little kid to his Kung Fu lesson every Tuesday afternoon is a hero. The dad that works the extra job to make sure that his child can go to school and pay for his college tuition loans is a hero. The teacher that stays up late at night grading papers and reviewing essays to make sure their students get a good education is a hero. Just because you haven’t fought in any battles with aliens doesn’t mean you’re not a hero. The common every day hero abounds, is everywhere, and they’re all unsung and unacknowledged. They all require appreciation, but for the most part they don’t receive it. 

Every day, I see the fruit seller across the street from my school in Chinatown, and because we both work long hours every single day, we get to see each other and say good morning. I appreciate this guy because I see him going in and out, up and down from the storeroom from early in the morning to late at night, moving the fruit back and forth, dealing with irate customers and crazy New Yorkers on the street corner, and this guy never ever complains. You see his face; it’s placid and calm. He’s taking everything in stride. You could say, well, that’s his job; that’s how he makes a living. But he has a choice; he doesn’t have to do that and he doesn’t have to have a good attitude about it. He could go and do something else, yet he perseveres. This is another attribute of a true heroic character. He perseveres, rain, snow or heat, and does his duty every day to support his family and his business. To me, this is heroic and I applaud him. He’s perseverant and extremely humble. He does his task with a wonderful humility, which I admire.

I know an individual whose grandmother helped raise 12 of her own children and all her grandchildren. She’s almost ninety years old. That’s not a hero? If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is. For me, heroes abound. Sometimes, we just don’t know how to see them or appreciate them. Just because you don’t have stripes and medals doesn’t mean you’re not a hero in your own home. You may feel that no one appreciates you, but in essence, no one can do without you. 

Look around, really look around at all the people in your neighborhood and see how many heroes you can find. There are heroes on every street corner. I’m looking at the street in Chinatown right now and I see so many heroes, and most of them will never be recognized for their service. Yet this doesn’t stop them. We should have a national Everyday Unrecognized Hero Day. That would be a holiday worth celebrating. I think all of us should take a moment to sing the praises of those unsung heroes in our daily lives that we owe so much to, because if you didn’t have them, you would be lesser for it. Recognize this, and take a moment to reach out to those people and say, “Thank you.”

-Sifu Paul Koh