I have never encountered or heard of a culture that did not praise heroism. I have also never encountered a culture that did not tell heroic (and possibly exaggerated) tales of people long dead, or even people who never existed, as people need heroism in their lives more often than it occurs naturally. Humans seem to have an inherent need for heroes, whether it’s to inspire us, humble us, or make us feel that a hero might save us if we’re in trouble.
A recent example is the British Airways Boeing 777 crash landing with 100% survival rate. The cabin crew has been rightfully celebrated for their heroism, as usually happens in these cases. It’s always in our best interests to do what we can to prevent a problem like this from recurring, but the unfortunate side-effect of this is that it limits the opportunities for heroism. This is better for survival, but what effect does it have on our clear need to celebrate heroes? What would happen if humans no longer needed to be heroic because the need for it had long ago been eliminated? Would we turn more to stories of heroes, or would relatively minor acts of skill and bravery take the place of what we celebrate as heroism today? Even today, people who do nothing more than win at a game are celebrated as heroes, so perhaps this process has already begun.
Which is the better story? 1) The family dog started barking and woke up the adults of the family, who then realized that their garage had caught fire and was spreading to the rest of the house. They were able to grab the kids and call 911 from outside. The fire department gave the dog an honorary fire fighter medal. 2) The family smoke detectors went off and woke up the entire family, who then realized that their garage had caught fire and was spreading to the rest of the house. They were able to grab the kids and call 911 from outside. 3) The family fire suppressant system triggered and left voicemail that someone should figure out what caught fire in the garage.
Strangely, not all cultures take logical steps to look at heroic deeds as examples of causes they need to address. There are many examples, but I worked in an environment where heroism was culturally more important than the elimination of the problems that required heroic solutions. Working long hours was more valued than being efficient; making yourself available on call 24/7 was more valued than documenting what you knew; performing a slow manual process was more valued than automating it and letting it take care of itself. There were heroes everywhere in that company, and they were beloved. Any steps that would have eliminated their chances to be heroes were dismissed for various reasons.
If you asked someone if they wanted to eliminate heroism, they’d probably balk at the very notion, but if you asked someone if they wanted to eliminate emergencies, they’d probably embrace the idea. These reactions are at odds with each other. Still, it seems that heroism is important enough to us that it will probably stay with us in some form, even if it transforms itself in a way that would look trivial to most of us today.