You probably don’t think about it much, but the importance of sacrifice in your daily lives is that you do it. Sometimes you sacrifice knowingly and willingly and with love. You may give it up unwillingly with lots of pain. And somehow you are drawn to it— in the stories you read–and in real life.
Sacrifice In Fiction
(Warning Star Wars and Hunger Games spoilers in the rest of this section—skip to the next section if you haven’t seen/read these two stories.)
I’m editing the rough draft of my WIP and have been thinking about sacrifice a lot. I learned and believe that for a story to resonate with the reader, the protagonist must make a sacrifice.
Obi Wan Kenobi sacrificed himself so that Luke and the others could escape in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
In the Hunger Games Catching Fire, Mags sacrifices herself so Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick can survive.
The larger and the more personal the sacrifice—the stronger the emotional response of the reader/viewer. At least that’s true for the stories that draw my strongest emotional response. So, I’ve been trying to understand sacrifice better. Turns out, sacrifice doesn’t just happen in fiction.
What is Sacrifice
We’re not talking about the act of offering to a deity something precious like the killing of a victim on an altar. (see Merriam-Webster for all the definitions of this word.)
We are talking about the act of giving up something of value now for something more valuable. Particularly since we’re talking about personal, daily life, real-life sacrifices.
The Types of Sacrifices
We often make minor sacrifices without thinking about it. Last candy bar—sure, I’ll give you half. Need a lift home? I’ll be happy to.
Then there are middling sacrifices, like those of loving parents. They sacrifice their time, things they want, to provide for their children. Couples sacrifice for one another, too. Individuals may sacrifice for their job. I loved that NYC apartment, but the job took me to Chicago.
And there are larger sacrifices, too. You give up a job to follow a loved one who’s gotten a dream job offer. Or you take care of an aging parent or a sick loved one. And there are some who make the ultimate sacrifice.
Through sacrifice we often find success. You ace the final because you gave up fun and games to study. Or you get the dream job because you give up your personal life to do extra work and earned that job. And in the ultimate forms, you give up your life for the safety or security of those you care about.
Sometimes in real life, the loss feels too great. When you make one small sacrifice after another it can feel as if you’ve chipped away everything that was yours.
But the good guys don’t always win in real life. You don’t always get the A or the job or save the ones you love. And that can make the cost of even small acts overwhelming. Bitterness or resentment can follow. Especially if you forget why you made the sacrifice in the first place.
What Makes Sacrifice Heroic
A heroic sacrifice is made for the greater good and comes at a great personal cost. Great personal loss can mean loss of life, loss of love, loss of connection. But Greater Good can be more difficult to define. There is a universal greater good—like a soldier sacrificing himself to save his or her buddies. Greater good as a parent caring for your children—the next generation. And as an adult child, the greater good could mean caring for your aging parent.
The Importance of Sacrifice
You’ve made sacrifices. More often than you think. And as I’ve studied sacrifice, I’ve had a thought. Perhaps the importance of sacrifice, large or small, is that it’s for something outside of yourself–a sacrifice of caring, of love. And if it’s done out of love, genuine love, it’s always for the greater good. Love is the ultimate greater good, isn’t it?