Passionate teachers are undoubtedly some of the world’s greatest heroes. They devote their time and effort to bringing out the heroism of their students, imparting the wisdom they have gained through lived experience.
Dan O’Rourke is a special kind of teacher. Growing up in harsh conditions, he has a great understanding of the trials and tribulations that all people face. And he teaches his students to be impartial, to argue with respect to the other side.
Note: In this story, you’ll hear Dan speak extensively on rhetoric. For reference, rhetoric is the study of the technique and rules for using language effectively to please or persuade.
Dan didn’t have an idyllic childhood. When he was only four years old, his parents suffered a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver. His father unfortunately didn’t survive, and his mother was left permanently disabled. Growing up, he saw her learn to walk again and talk again, all while raising seven children. It is clear why he considers her his hero.
Given his mother’s disability and the absence of his father, his family descended into poverty. Subsequently, a passion began to brew inside of Dan. He desperately wanted out of his current situation, and he saw academia as the exit. In high school, he excelled academically, and as a result, he was admitted to Villanova College, a prestigious Catholic university. It was here that he fell in love with English literature.
“[English] helped me realize these deeper human truths about recognizing beauty, overcoming adversity, and being attentive to the positives,” he tells us.
Dan on the Power of Words
Dan’s main focus in teaching is the power of argument.
“We need to understand argument as a way to learn. Many of us misunderstand argument as something that needs to be won. We don’t argue to win. We argue to learn. I don’t know everything, so I want to open up my knowledge with a proposition, and I want to rub it up against someone else’s proposition that they have learned through their experience,” he says.
Dan has respect for people’s differing experiences, even if those experiences have led others to believe things that are not in alignment with his own beliefs. In fact, he’s constantly modifying his own beliefs in accordance with new knowledge. According to him, there is always something that can be learned from other people.
“We should always be heroic enough to try to hone our beliefs and learn more,” he says.
The Difference Between Argument and Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the counterpart to argument. Where argument focuses on rationality, rhetoric focuses on emotion. Dan sees the value in mastering rhetoric, though he advises against overusing it, as oftentimes we allow emotion to trump reason.
“Oftentimes, emotional reasoning can lead us away from the truth. We can become blind to the other side due to our human emotions,” he explains.
However, without a grasp of rhetoric, argument often falls flat, as it does not appeal to our innermost emotions. This is why argument and rhetoric must be in alignment to successfully sway our “opponents.”
“The purpose of argument is to arrive at the truth. The purpose of rhetoric is to persuade. Hopefully those can be in alignment,” Dan says.
What It Means to Be a Hero
Dan clearly has plenty of wisdom to share, so we decided to ask him what is, in his opinion, the definition of a hero. He responded thoughtfully, “To be a hero is to be able to set goals and have the courage to strive to achieve those goals.” He adds that heroes don’t give up in the face of adversity, relating this point to his mother.
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“I had to watch my mother suffer every day, physically, psychologically, emotionally,” he says. “It was learning to walk again, learning to talk again. It was just inspiring for me to witness.”
Somehow, despite her disability, Dan’s mother was able to raise seven children on her own. And while they didn’t have a perfect childhood, Dan is appreciative of everything she sacrificed for him and his siblings.
“My mom was certainly a hero of mine,” he says.
Anyone Can Be a Hero
One of Dan’s favorite books is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a protagonist who does not conform to the typical hero archetypes. This is reflective of the Your Everyday Heroes philosophy: even the smallest person can be a hero. Dan echoes our sentiment, saying, “All of us have the capability of being everyday heroes to inspire others and to relieve others from their suffering.”
The world is certainly full of suffering, but this doesn’t make humanity a lost cause. By taking small, heroic actions every day we can make the world incrementally better and better. It could be something as simple as showing kindness, or something as grandiose as devoting our lives to teaching.
As Dan says, “Everybody suffers so dearly, and everybody’s looking for encouragement and inspiration.”
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