Our definition of hero is someone who is charged and loaded with various attributes and characteristics. It is often equally based on looks and physical and / or mental skills. Traditionally, we expect a hero to be brave and unafraid of difficult challenges and life-threatening obstacles.
The extraordinary features of the context and the risks involved would render the hero more valuable and more refined. For example, a person who saves a cat from a tree is not on par with one who jumps into a streaming river to save a struggling child.
In the second case, the hero has put his or her own life in danger to save the child. Apart from the risk and danger factor, the case also stands out because cats on trees is a less extraordinary event. The ordinary is generally not regarded as that interesting. The person who in dramatic fashion saves or rescues somebody is more easily conceived as a hero than someone who spends his time and energy to make ends meet for his family, for instance.
There is a simple reason for that perception: Time. The extraordinary happens at a specific instance and makes the snapshot-act unique. The fact that the event happened once and all of a sudden gives it its necessary momentum and significance. If the child were to fall into the river every week, and the hero would save her each time, the whole heroic act would be reduced to a simple duty or task. People would eventually lose interest and stop hailing the hero.
As such, the strains and efforts produced by the everyday working individual is not apparent at first glance. Once these persons have reached old age, we might think of them as heroes in retrospect, that is, after judging all the accomplishments and contributions, something like a "life achievement award" if you will.
But also because many people are struggling in the same or similar manner the situation loses its uniqueness and its heroic appeal and potential. This is a dangerous fallacy though. The hero who saves somebody on one occasion has definitely done a good deal, but he or she cannot rest on their laurels.
It is rather more heroic to fight against the ordinary tasks and duties. Accomplishing one's work in an efficient manner despite its difficulties and looming boredom and triviality, providing food and shelter to one's family, being a loyal and trustworthy person, these are all characteristics of the unsung hero.
Life is a harder and more drawn-out struggle than the streaming river. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard points out that simply because of its triviality, everyday life is a much more contentious battle. It requires stamina and persistence, devotion, and dedication. These are not the usual flashy attributes of a celebrated hero. But they are heroes in their own right, much more so because they do not demand attention or recognition for their deeds.