“The opposite of a hero is not a villain; it’s a bystander. Every community in the world, big or small, can use more heroes.”
Dr Philip Zimbardo, TedX presentation – Renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo examines the basic principles of Everyday Heroism. In doing so he investigates practical ways in which average people can enter into extraordinary good through small actions, and a little bit of courage.
In 2006 psychologists Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo proposed a daring idea – the “banality of heroism”. This seminal and cogent paper was the catalyst for the conceptualisation of the heroic state as attainable by and accessible to anyone. This infiltration of heroism into the ordinary only 9 years ago has since provided the fuel for a new generation of intellectuals and activists. The significant momentum building in the dissemination of heroism in our times over the past decade has taken a life of its own beyond the research community and into various arenas, such as businesses, schools and social media.
With the rise of the “New Heroism” (Zimbardo & Ellsberg, 2013) there is a new player in town, knocking on the door of the status quo and shaking the foundations of convention with its narrative of hope, change and justice. This is the rhetoric of contemporary heroism which is, at its very core, radically and inexorably political in nature. The renewed interest being witnessed in a campaign to raise awareness and knowledge of heroism into numerous facets of society – from education, to health, business, science, philosophy, psychology, the arts, religion/spirituality, health/medicine, politics, education, psychology, sports, media/social media, digital/cyberspace, humanitarians, youth/students and so forth – reflects a truly global phenomenon and international movement. A growing number of people from all walks of life are working towards actively promoting heroism, raising the heroic consciousness in the everyday and its fostering in the community with the start-up of heroic projects and NFPs – this is a distinction between the widespread manifestations of the phenomenon of heroism in the community, media and so forth, and heroism as an organised self-conscious social movement.
With the launch of the San Francisco based Heroic Imagination Project in 2010, renowned psychologist Dr Philip Zimbardo has spearheaded the dissemination of heroism research and the promotion of the idea that everyday individuals can be “heroes-in-training” (Clay, 2014). The vast majority of the focus of this momentum is concentrating on arming educators and students with the tools to foster heroism in school settings, in order to combat bullying and bystanderism. Other foci centre on promoting courage in the workplace, and developing a deep understanding of the barriers and facilitators of everyday heroism for the development of effective teaching strategies at the local, and eventually, national and international level. Projects such as the Hero Construction Company led by Matt Langdon work closely with the Heroic Imagination Project, joined in their mission to ‘build’ heroes in schools and local communities. A number of other like-minded projects such as School Heroes Unite, Cyberhero League, and The MY HERO Project reflect the deeply pro-social character of the heroism movement in its mission to build sustainable and resilient communities, and caring and aware human beings and societies. This activist side is what makes the heroism movement a truly grassroots phenomenon – heroism activists are on the ground actively spreading the campaign of heroic well-being, often voluntarily and in their own time, out of a deep sense of compassion for their fellow human beings and, at times, frustration with global injustices and unsustainable practices.
What makes this movement particularly powerful is the participation of intellectuals to the cause of heroism education and dissemination, as well as the creative sharing of ideas, both online and offline. The movement is strengthened and informed by the innovative and wide-ranging rapidly emerging research, with some actors carrying dual research and activist roles. In 2013, the first multi-disciplinary international conference on heroism, The Hero Round Table, was held in Flint, Michigan, which has been dubbed “Hero Town USA” since the conference’s inception (Langdon, 2014). On 21 January 2015, “representatives from Hero Town USA” gathered at “Lapeer High School to train about 40 LINKs Mentors on handling social situations” (LapeerCS, 2015). The Hero Round Table is a unique annual gathering of experts, inspirational speakers, heroism movement and community leaders, and passionate everyday people desiring to make a positive change in themselves and their surroundings. The conference is aimed at inspiring and mobilising action through heroism education to help participants transform their communities.
Despite its infancy, the heroism movement is already proving a potent force of collective action, in an age that increasingly demands creative solutions for both new and persistent social issues that are standing in the way of lasting progress and sustainable human and planetary futures.
Olivia Efthimiou, 28 March 2015
Clay, R. (2014). Everyday Heroes. Monitor on Psychology, 45(1). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/everyday-heroes.aspx
Efthimiou, O. (In preparation). The Hero Organism – Consilience in Theory and Praxis. PhD Thesis. School of Arts, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.
Franco, Z., & Zimbardo, P. (2006). The Banality of Heroism, Greater Good, 3(2), 30-35.
Langdon, M. (2014). Flint To Be “Hero Town, USA”. The Hero Round Table, blog post. Retrieved from http://www.heroroundtable.com/flint-to-be-hero-town-usa/
LAPEERCS. (2015). ‘First of its kind in Michigan’: LHS students receive leadership training from Hero Town USA. One Lapeer, blog post. Retrieved from http://lcsblog.com/2015/01/21/first-of-its-kind-in-michigan-lhs-students-receive-leadership-training-from-hero-town-usa/
Zimbardo, P., & Ellsberg, D. (2013). Psychology and the New Heroism. DVD. Retrieved from http://www.thepromiseofgrouppsychotherapy.com/psychologyandthenewheroism.html
Below are some of the leading heroism educators and promoters:
Beginning with my earliest experiences as a college freshman and fraternity man, I have been in search of a better way. After joining Theta Chi Fraternity (Alpha Upsilon/University of Nebraska-Lincoln ’01), the chapter closed for financial reasons at the end of my first semester. Committed to continuing my fraternity experience, I became a member of a second fraternity. During my junior year, I challenged the chapter’s culture of hazing, after which I was forced to move out in the middle of the night. Three Theta Chi men showed up to move me out and willingly extended a Helping Hand, demonstrating the power of fraternal values in action. (You can find my story here.) I left the experience consumed by the idea that there must be a better way, a way to create and deliver a challenging, but meaningful and positive experience to people, providing them with the capacities, knowledge, and skills to be authentic, empowered, and values-driven in their personal and professional lives.
In graduate school, I conducted and published an original research study on perceptions of hazing, and received national recognition for my work, which led to my role as President of the Board of Directors for the non-profit organization HazingPrevention.Org. As a result of my role with the organization, I was asked to create and deliver two presentations at the Theta Chi 2010 National Convention and School of Fraternity Practices. The second presentation, “Building Heroes,” indelibly changed my life and led to the creation of The Power Button Coaching & Training LLC. As a professional, I spent seven-plus years as the Program Director for the Office for Fraternity & Sorority Life at the University of Minnesota, where I advised and mentored student leaders, developed educational and leadership development programs, and served as a liaison for the fraternity and sorority community to the campus and Minneapolis-Saint Paul communities. In 2007, I was honored to be named an Anti-Hazing Hero by HazingPrevention.Org, and in 2010, I was honored to be named one of two Outstanding Greek Life Professionals by the Fraternity Information & Programming Group (FIPG).
Currently, I am an Academic Advisor for the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) and an Academic & Career Coach for the Center for Academic Planning & Exploration (CAPE) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. In addition, I have served as adjunct faculty for the CBS Dean’s Scholars Leadership Program, the CBS First Year Experience Program, the Leadership Minor, and the Office of Undergraduate Education.
Shawn Furey is a Hero Trainer and Situation Optimization Strategist. He created an online hero training and hero support program which functions as a kind of behavior guidance system for people who might not have learned growing up that we are all born to be heroic, that heroes are situation technicians, and that situations can be optimized for life success. Shawn also applies his passion for heroism in his full-time work as a Behavioral Health Technician at a ‘Supermax’ prison where he facilitates psychoeducational groups and therapeutic activities with men who have been convicted of a violent crime and have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. He has a B.A. in Psychology with a double minor in Sociology and Philosophy and is completing a M.S. in Educational Psychology.
For more information visit Shawn’s personal website; blog about different types of change agents; YouTube channel; Twitter page; Shawn Fureys’ Hero Training School; Shawn Fureys’ Hero Support Network; Expert Panel answers for Hanne Vikens’ Masters Thesis; The ‘Create Your Life’ Handbook.
Ellie graduated with her BA in French and International Relations in 2014. She has collected a series of experiences in other countries, on the road out west, in founding a non-profit to teach kids heroism, in mindfulness practices, and in working in the entrepreneurial space that have lead her to realize that there are no destinations in life, only an entire beautiful voyage. She is 23 and is passionately curious about how apply the theories of heroism to solve tangible issues of social justice that plague our world and have proved unsolvable for even the most powerful people and countries. She strongly believes that not only do the applications of heroism explain how we can all work to make the world a better place, living a heroic life can provide the ultimate raison d’étre, the obtainment of self-actualization, for all individuals. Many have discovered this truth, yet access to this knowledge and the means of practicing this lifestyle is limited by class, race, geographic location, previous experiences, and upbringing. Ellie wishes to expand access to this knowledge from the experienced, the educated, and the academics to the “ordinary” person in order to explain the meaning of life, and provide purpose for people to become everyday heroes. In this way she hopes that society as a whole can be elevated.
Matt Langdon is the founder of The Hero Construction Company, a non-profit dedicated to heroism promotion and education in schools. It is an innovative program that helps combat bullying, anti-social behaviour and foster moral responsibility, greater academic and social engagement, and overall well-being in school communities. Matt is also the organiser of the annual Hero Round Table, the world’s leading community and research conference on heroism. Matt co-hosts The Hero Report with Dr Ari Kohen, a monthly online YouTube discussion forum featuring interviews with heroism researchers and activists, and commentaries on hero culture and heroism in current affairs. Matt is the author of The Hero Handbook. You can follow Matt on Twitter and The Hero Round Table – Education on Facebook.
Hanne Viken is a Norwegian heroism researcher and promoter. Her recently completed Masters thesis “Experts’ view on how to foster everyday heroism: A delphi study” was an innovative survey of leading psychological research and emerging conceptions of heroism. Using the Delphi Method and open interviews, Hanne captured and collated the perspectives of leading heroism science researchers, contemporary heroes, and heroism activists, producing a mind-map that identified key action areas for future research and promotion of heroism to the broader community. Hanne is extremely passionate and dedicated to spreading and teaching everyday heroism, and developing methods that are appropriate for the Norwegian cultural context in particular.
“We need everyday heroes not just for the sake of the other, but for the sake of the quality of our own lives. My passion is to spread the idea that small acts of good in your daily life make you happier. You will grow to be happier, braver and more confident by adding some courage into your daily act of good. You do that by breaking out of your comfort zone for the sake of another. I promise that your world will open up to new and wonderful places you didn’t know existed when you push yourself to dare a bit more, give a bit more. Your world becomes magic. I promise. No bogus – this is science.” Hanne Viken
Michelle is a heroism promoter and educator based in Germany. Michelle’s background is in Communication Science. She has taught English language, Business Communication and Business Ethics for the Legal Department at the Christian-Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany. Michelle’s journey as a heroism educator started in 2009. Since then, she has been translating heroism education material from English into German for application in primary schools. Her workshop material covers three components: The first is MindSet – helping children and educators learn that they have the ability to change and grow, by helping educators and parents learn to talk to children in a way that promotes learning and embracing challenges. The second component is Mindfulness; this includes attitude (perspective taking, optimism, appreciation exercises) and taking mindful action (expressing gratitude, performing acts of kindness, volunteering). The next component is training (first-aid, self-defense). The last component is Hero Training – what is a bystander, what factors keep us from helping, how do we go against our instincts and do what’s right? Michelle is a firm believer that children who learn this material know how their brains work, and that helping others is good for them personally, those they are helping, and their communities, and so forth – the more training they have, the more prepared and confident they will feel when they are confronted with a problem.
Philip George Zimbardo Ph.D., is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox and the The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project. Further information on Dr Zimbardo’s extensive career is available in his Wikipedia page and personal website.