What Makes a Hero?


“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality.” -Dante

“We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

slice-of-life_individualIf you know me, you know there was a day not too long ago (November 8, 2016) that shook me to the core. That day shattered my perception of America as a land of hope and compassion and upended my sense of reality.  I had to confront some hard truths…we are not as kind and inclusive as I thought we were and truth is not as important to people as I envisioned. I felt actual grief at the death of this perception.

In the days, weeks, and months since I have not felt better. The shock is subsiding, but the horror and dismay continues. I have come to believe this statement might actually be true

I am stunned at where we find ourselves in this world now.  I couldn’t begin to address each fear/concern in this post, they are just too numerous and frightening. But where there is fear, there is hope.  Where there is evil, there are always heroes. One of best assurances of this came to me from author Tracey Baptiste. She posted a video days after the election in which she reminded me…

“In every story there is a moment when everything has gone wrong and the protagonist feels totally broken, completely devastated and feel like there is absolutely nothing they can do. They can’t physically or emotionally or mentally muster up the strength to do whatever the next thing is that they have to do.  There is no hope. There is no way. There is no path. But in every story, as we all know, this is the moment when heroes are made.”

And I am sure it was no coincidence that she was wearing a Gryffindor shirt in the video!

There are great heroes in literature (Harry Potter, Atticus Finch, Celie, Matilda) in movies (Luke Skywalker, Mr. Smith, John Doe, Forrest Gump) and in history (Mahatma Gandhi, Abe Lincoln, Oskar Schindler, MLK) who rose to greatness in response to evil and oppression.

Philip Zimbardo is a contemporary social psychologist and founder of the Heroic Imagination Project who believes that there are two kinds of heroes: 1. Impulsive Reactive Hero (who make a split second courageous decision) and 2. Proactive hero (who reflects, gets information, and has to get other people on her side to right an injustice).

We’d like to think we’d have the courage to be an Impulsive Reactive Hero if faced with a terrible circumstance, but we can all be proactive heroes who refuse to look away from wrongs that are being perpetrated and plan a course of action to address it. We are faced with challenges or situations everyday in which we need to decide if we want to get involved. We don’t know if what we choose to do will even make a difference.

When asked what makes a hero, a young Senator Obama once said, “We never know how our actions are going to ripple over time. But each of us can take some responsibility for making sure that we are pushing a little bit in the direction of justice, and in the direction of equality, and in the direction of tolerance. When we do that we may surprise ourselves with the amount of influence we actually have just by standing up or speaking out.”

Most of us cannot quit our jobs and abandon our families to focus on fighting for social justice, but we can create or embrace opportunities to make a difference in the lives of someone we don’t even know. It may cost us some time and energy. It may subject us to ridicule by others. It may feel uncomfortable at times.

“Heroism is about one thing. It’s about a concern for other people in need, a concern to develop, to defend a moral cause knowing there is a personal cost or risk. And you do it without expectation of reward.” –Philip Zimbardo

If you follow me on social media you will notice that I refuse to be a bystander at this time in our history. I don’t necessarily consider that heroic, but I will stand up, speak out and get involved. That will be my ripple effect.

See Philip Zimbardo’s TED Talk “Heroes” here. I strongly encourage you to watch this and ask yourself, “What will my ripple effect be?”



3 thoughts on “What Makes a Hero?

  1. Thanks for the pointer to Zimbardo. I can definitely make use of that talk, for myself and my students, as we consider this idea of proactive heroes. And I appreciate this glimpse of Tracey Baptiste and her patient insight. I just finished and enjoyed her novel _Jumbies_.

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