How can Heroic Leadership Make a Difference for the World’s Refugees
Michelle Werning, February 12, 2016
Countries around the globe are dealing with the refugee crisis and, like most countries, Germany has a process in place to help them – from the time they arrive, until their status has either been approved and they are allowed to stay, or not, and they are returned to their home countries. The influx over the past year has pushed all of these processes to the breaking point – some regions in Germany are handling it better than others. I wouldn’t say that no one saw this coming – one politician said over a year ago that it was just the tip of the iceberg. Another politician said “After years of exploiting the African continent, we should not be surprised when the suffering knocks on our door.” I agree with this last statement. The foreign policy of most major countries for far too long has been focused around what can be taken from these countries without giving anything back. Poverty, war, unrest are the result – what kind of situations motivate a person to travel such distances under the most grueling of circumstances, risking their own lives and that of their families?
In the short term, heroic leadership involves communities coming together to take care of those in need. The situation is difficult at the moment. There are so many people, primarily men, from a culture that is vastly different from our own. The rhetoric is the same as any other crisis in history where people from another culture flee war and famine. There are those who see only fellow human beings in need, those who see the downfall of society as we know it, and everything in between.
The fact is, people are here and they need our help. It doesn’t matter if you believe they are all criminals, or if you believe they are only here to live off social services, it doesn’t matter if you believe they are here to work, and it doesn’t matter if they are only here for a short time. They are here and they need to eat, they need shelter from the cold, and they need contact with others.
Our small town has taken in around 35 refugees. They come from Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Some are Christian, most are Muslim. I volunteered to teach German – I wanted to do something to help, but more importantly I wanted to confront my own fear. News reports are full of frightening stories, but deep down, my logical mind knows that most people, regardless of where they are from, are good and only want to live in peace.
My experience up until now has only confirmed what my rational mind knows. The men and women who live in our village shake my hand when we meet, they try to tell me their stories, they share pictures of their families. Their children go to school with our children. I can feel, under the surface that they are sad about being away from their families and traumatized by the things they have endured in their home countries and along the way to this country. There is also a steadfast determination by most to learn the language – some travel into the city (often enduring dirty looks and snide comments) to take extra classes that are being offered for free. I see the success that comes from people interacting on a personal level. Underneath the skin color, the culture, and the religion, we are all human beings who need compassion, empathy, friendship, and a purpose. The refugees I have met want to work and take care of their families.
They would prefer to go back home. I speak from personal experience when I say that resettling in a foreign country is not easy – and I am indistinguishable from any other German. No one knows that I’m not German until I start talking, and because I’m from a western country, I am accepted unconditionally. The same cannot be said for the refugees. The events in Cologne on New Year’s Eve have made their stay here even more difficult. All cannot be judged by the actions of a few. Those few must also be held accountable. But what happened in Cologne, where large groups of refugees are packed together with little contact with the local population, only confirmed what I already guessed – the best way to deal with the current situation is to bring small groups of refugees into small neighborhoods where they can learn the language and the culture. This contact is also important for us. I may not have all the answers – but I do know that sharing stories and learning about each other is the only way to eliminate prejudice. Being kind is the only way to change hearts and minds and build relationships.
At the global level, heroic leadership looks a lot different. The refugee crisis, poverty, and war stem from a lack of heroism at a global level by those looking to profit and a society that is comfortable turning a blind eye. There is corruption in most of the developing nations, corruption that is fed by a global system of exploitation. There are large industries looking to profit from war by selling weapons, industries looking to profit by providing goods to countries cheaper than the citizens of these countries can provide their own goods – at the head of all of this are trade agreements backed by governments that are unfair and designed to take as much as possible but give nothing back.
Doing the profitable thing instead of the right thing.
This flood of refugees is also a problem of our own making, a product of laziness in not knowing (or caring) where our products come from and under what conditions they are produced, of not knowing what our governments do behind closed doors when negotiating trade agreements or waging war, of not holding our companies accountable for what they are doing in other countries.
We too are guilty of doing the profitable thing instead of the right thing.
‘What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.’ Jane Goodall
So what is to be done? What can each and every one of US do every day? YOU and I can choose to do the right thing instead of the profitable thing. We can make the right thing profitable, but only if we choose to. I implore you to ask yourself a hard question every time you make a purchase. “Did a person, animal, or the environment suffer so I could buy this? Where will this go when I’m done with it? Is the company paying fair wages and responsibly sourcing its products? What is my government doing at home and abroad?” YOU and I can make a choice to consume less and make our purchases fair and humane. Are there good solutions out there? You bet! Find them, support them with your money for the things you need, volunteer your time for things that matter to you! Most importantly, demand heroism from those in charge and from those who provide our goods and services. A better world is the knock-on effect of letting companies and governments know that you will no longer support a profit only system. There are no refugees fleeing peaceful countries where there are good jobs, a social safety net, and safe streets.
Heroic leadership means taking care of those in need in the short term and making good choices every day for a better world in the long term.
About the author:
Michelle Werning 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.
From Greece with Love: A Researcher’s Journey into the Refugee Crisis
Hanne Viken, November 26, 2015
I remember the day I challenged myself with the thought:
– Is it really possible to study heroism without being a hero myself? Can I be a heroism researcher choosing not to be a hero myself?
The scary answer was of course – No.
It was this troubling question I had asked myself that made it impossible to look back. If I didn’t do more for humanity, I would feel like a joke preaching about heroism. I actually felt I had no other choice, if I am about to believe in myself as a researcher. It’s not enough to read and write about it –I need to live it.
This was a thought that I didn’t really like. It was uncomfortable for mainly two reasons:
- Being a hero often means stepping out of your comfort zone, knowingly risking something. Meaning if it is not uncomfortable, you are not trying hard enough.
- I personally have problems with the term “hero”. I am Norwegian, and Norwegians live by the rule: “Don’t believe you are anything special: Fit in, don’t stand out”.
Oh well, I decided to take a big step outside, as I ordered a trip to Lesvos, Greece. The world needs me. Millions of people are fleeing their homes and there is more than enough work to be done for anyone who is considering becoming a hero.
I am telling you: I stepped far out of my comfort zone. The days before departure, I couldn’t sleep or eat, as I was afraid of what I might see. Would I manage to meet these people, comfort some of them, knowing I couldn’t save any of them? Knowing that the child I would be warming probably would start freezing as soon as I left to feed and comfort another child? Is it meaningless? Would I be better off staying home? Donate money?
I was terrified. Would I be able to look the world in the eye, knowing there was too little I could do to change it?
So what is heroism anyway? Is it heroic of me to go on an aid-charter to Greece and getting to know the world as it is? Is it heroic not to? Is “effective altruism” the way to go in order to save lives? Should I donate money to The Malaria Foundation instead? Does heroism have anything to do with the situation I put myself in?
I argue that I learned a lot about heroism the week I spent in Lesvos.
The first thing I learned was:
Proximity matters. As I got close to the humans entering the island, the more empathy and love I felt for them. And I still do now, from my home in Norway. So in terms of the “effective altruism” question: Yes, it is more effective to donate money to Bill and Melinda Gates, whom I admire greatly. However, I suspect that by just donating money to humanitarian organizations, you may lose something I believe is important in a heroic life: being close to others by sharing both fear and gratitude.
Then I asked myself another uncomfortable question:
Could it be that this closeness to others suffering was basically a kind of exotic experience to me? Could it be that this was just a cheap adrenalin-heroic-charter-experience? I knew in all the horror I saw, that I was safe. I had food and shelter, and my baby boys were home in their warm bed – safe. How could I know which one was real?
And I found that the most interesting question to ask in this matter was:
– Who are we here for?
I remember when I thought, “Now, it is real”. I was on the shore of Lesvos looking at hundreds of cold people with no guarantees for the future whatsoever. Immigrants are risking their lives to get away from Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The journey from Turkey to Greece is extremely dangerous. The boats are nearly floating – plenty of motor problems, leaking boats made of rubber, too many people. Desperate people. Rain. Wind. Confusion and desperation. 150,000 people reached the shore of Lesvos in October. Imagine that.
The question “Who are we here for?” occurred to me as I watched volunteers operating at the beaches. Some volunteers seem to forget who they are here for – pumped full of adrenalin. They are the ones “playing heroes”. The poor immigrants and refugees are traumatized; they have just come out of the boat. They are trying to comprehend that they are alive. That their children actually live.
And a few, very few of the volunteers are shouting and grabbing their children further into the shore to rescue them. The parents panic – of course. They forget who they are here for. They see themselves as rescuers and heroes as they report home in newspapers and Facebook smiling in pictures with traumatized children in their hands. I figured that their intentions are good, but in the way they behave, they are here for themselves – forgetting about the actual needs of the victims.
One the other hand, some volunteers of course are here for others, and forget about themselves. They work all day and night, forgetting to eat and sleep. They are disturbed that they can’t save them all. Many of us had a breakdown as we experienced the hopeless situation we were in. Despair. These volunteers forgot that they are also here for themselves.
As I concluded Alisha Keys has concluded before me: We are here for all of us.
I understood this as a baby was about to freeze to death. A doctor with tears in his eyes asked me very gently to “please save this baby”. I walked with her away from the chaos at the beach towards the car while I was singing her lullabies. I didn’t know if she would die in my arms or not. The only thing I felt was love.
And I realized that the reason we are here is exactly what Alicia Keys sings about: “We are here for all of us”.
When I came back, a woman with baby-twins and no man, 9 months pregnant – was about to give birth. I helped her out of the boat into shore and laid her on a broken boat. Naturally she could not walk. Luckily, she is now in hospital.
And I really, I mean really don’t feel like a hero. I truly feel honoured. And I feel lucky to understand that there is no “they”, there is only “us”.
While I worked there, I experienced a collective love. In Eftalou, we kiss all day long. Everyone loves – even the refugees. Here is relief.
And over the sea from Greece, in Turkey – people are treated like animals. I hear horrible stories.
Over there they don’t know that we are here for all of us – and I truly feel sorry for them.
So going back to my problem about trying to be a hero in my own life. I have a problem with this because:
- To be a hero is uncomfortable; and
- Being a hero means you have to stand out from the crowd.
When I came back from Lesvos, I said: I will never be the same person again. I believe it was because of the lessons I learnt about stepping outside of my comfort zone and standing out.
It hurts to grow – remember the growing pain at night as a kid? It hurts. I believe this is what happens when you are stretching your own ability to make a difference. It is certainly scary to dare to ask yourself uncomfortable questions, to get to your own true intentions on why you are choosing to live the way you do – and if you could live differently, if you actually did what you preach, as I did as a heroism researcher.
As for the other problem, I finally freed myself from the fear of standing out. Because I found that it is not for the sake of the ego, it is for the sake of all of us, for humanity.
And I chose to believe that living a heroic life is a matter of daring to ask yourself uncomfortable questions about your true intentions – to dare to stand out, speak up and make a difference for the sake of all of us.
About the author:
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.
A Psychotherapist’s Hero’s Journey
Jaime Grace, October 14, 2015
“Dad, will you tell me a story?” asked the kid with eager eyes being tucked in bed.
My father had a tremendous patience and love to offer, in the form of long and cozy bedtime stories. I used to hear them before slipped away into dreamland. Stories of heroes, suspense, drama and mystery in far away lands with deeds of great valour.
Those stories made a long lasting impression on my young mind and imagination, and opened the door to unsuspected future possibilities and adventures. As time went on and I grew up, and those stories slipped into sweet childhood memories (also helped me to fill the gap of my father’s early departure from this life).
May The Force Be With You
Time went on. I was in my teenager years when something struck me hard and deep: I saw the first Star Wars movie. My young teenager mind could not explain but I could feel it. I left the cinema with wide open eyes, shining awe and adventure.
It was impossible to go to sleep or stop the mental storm of ideas that overlapped each other. The force was really with me.
― Ordinary World ―
Again time went on, I finished high school and went to university to study: psychology. When I got out of uni, my entrepreneur spirit kicked in, and after a couple of brief short jobs, I started my own consulting business of psychological assessments, profiling, recruiting and training for local and big multinational companies.
Life was good. Business grew and expanded to an office in Madrid and another in Lisbon with perspectives of further expansion to Africa or Brazil. At the time I could be considered prosperous with a beautiful girlfriend, nice apartment, a jeep, holidays abroad, appearance on radio and business magazines.
― Call to Adventure ―
Suddenly destiny struck. Success was no longer the driving force of my life. I was feeling uneasy, empty inside, like having a hole in my chest. My guiding direction was lost and the meaning with it. Very uncomfortable times.
My interests shifted from business to psychotherapy. It was like going back to the roots of my psychology course and I began to explore a more in depth, a more intimate and profound branch of psychology.
During this period I had a Kundalini Rising episode, characterised by boundless energy and insomnia. There was some bodily changes: higher temperature than normal, and a vibrating feeling all over my body. I could also feel fluxes of energy rising on my back, thorough my spine into my head. Gladly it was short lived and I could resume normal functioning.
The Therapy Call
At this moment in my life, I could not avoid the prospect of attending therapy (even my girlfriend was mentioning it) but nothing would do the trick. As a psychologist I was not eager to go with any other mainstream psychotherapist. I was too cocky but at the same time there was some truth in it. Most of the psychotherapists I found at the time where coming from a Behaviour Psychotherapy background, which I know is not the best approach in cases of existential or spiritual emergence. On the other hand the pure humanistic psychology ones lacked the spiritual dimension that I needed and wanted to embrace. What I sought would do the trick was a Jungian analyst, but there was none around. After a more thorough search, I finally found one, 135 km away, which result impractical for my needs. I surrendered then to the Transpersonal therapists that I could find in my town. The experiences varied, some ill prepared for the job, some too dogmatic in their spiritual agenda and some lacking the humanistic connection, relying too much on the techniques.
I reach to the conclusion, if I can not find one, I am going to learn what I need, and so I did: a year post graduation in Regression Therapy, in Lisbon, a year of Psychosynthesis, in East London Uni, and another year of Gestalt therapy in Lisbon again. During these years I met quite good therapists and learned a lot of what I was looking for and needed.
Some other courses would follow at Findhorn Foundation and others at the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.
The Wounded Therapist
I knew that my inner process was not over yet, but at least I was aware of it. I was still licking the old wounds, processing them, but having much difficulty with forgiveness, which was several times suggested by transpersonal therapists ignoring the fact that that doesn’t work for me. Only years later I made peace, touching ground with acceptance, and in a way forgiving myself.
The wound was still there and I learned from it. I became more in line with my heart, empathic and understanding. The wound made me more humane. This reminds me of Jung’s quote about being a psychotherapist and being wounded:
Wounded Healer is a term created by psychologist Carl Jung. The idea states that an [analyst] is compelled to treat patients because the analyst himself is “wounded”. The idea may have Greek mythology origins. Research has shown that 73.9% of counselors and psychotherapists have experienced one or more wounding experiences leading to their career choice. [from Wikipedia]
It was no longer possible for me to embrace wholeheartedly the role of being the boss of my own company. I wanted to move and give expression to the need of doing therapy and being a psychotherapist. This led me to the process of selling my consultancy business and embark in being a full time therapist, but there was something still missing.
― Finding the Mentor ―
I continued to read a lot of Jung’s work and be fascinated by it. Along came Joseph Campbell with “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, the hero archetypes, and the knowledge of all the contemporary books and movies: Matrix, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, and others.
One day I was researching for a paper when I found an article called “Hero’s Journey: Ritualising the Mystery” by Paul Rebillot, part of a book written by Christina & Stanislav Grof. Rebillot’s article blew my mind. He had the audacity and courage to translate Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey into a psychological personal journey of transformation and awakening, that could be done by anyone. What Rebillot had done was creating an experiential therapy framework, in the format of a workshop, much akin to the rites of passage but to be run in today’s contemporary society. This was the psychological equivalent to the fission of the atom. I felt so excited and exhilarated while some part inside me was shouting continuously “I want to learn this!”
Just by coincidence or should I say synchronicity, Rebillot was coming to Europe, to run a two week workshop, in less than two months. I emailed him but all the places were full. I was sad but I had not lost hope. A couple of days afterwards a person dropped out and I could book my place in the workshop (another synchronicity?).
I did the two weeks workshop and I was marvelled by it, although it was difficult to explain to others, friends even, the sort of experience I went through. Difficult because our western society, has lost the connection to the cultural heritage and the transformational psychology of rites of passage. The Hero’s Journey experience I had, was mystical and also grounded, not run by a priest nor a shaman but by an experienced psychotherapist with inclination to Gestalt, Jung’s Deep Psychology and the work of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell. We were talking the same language, the language of transformative experience.
― Crossing The Threshold ―
After a year and half, after I attended the Hero’s Journey with Rebillot, I found the courage to run my own Hero’s Journey workshop with the support and help of close friends. After the workshop the feedback surpassed my expectations but even more, was what happened to the lives of the participants: one left his steady job and started his own company, another accepted a job offer on the other side of the Atlantic, another went to Italy. Their lives were never the same, and the most interesting thing was going to happen to me.
One day I was watching TV (I used to watch TV then) and a documentary about Arthur C. Clark’s life was on. It showed his normal day to day: scuba diving in the morning (which I love doing) and writing books in the afternoon on his veranda overlooking the Indic Ocean. Clark was telling how his story happened. One day he went on holidays to Sri Lanka fell in love with the place, went back to England and sold everything and moved totally to Sri Lanka. It was obvious to me that Clark had found his place in life. I mean a real physical connection to place that would support and inspire his work. Realising this was like taking a huge punch in the stomach from life, which was asking me: “and you Jaime, have you found your place?” This question was haunting me day and night and I had to come up with an answer. It was unavoidable.
After long mental scrutiny Australia appeared as an interesting option but I have never been to Australia. Would this be a wild goose chase that I was convincing myself into? While talking to some friends about this idea, I knew that a couple of friends of mine were guesting another couple from Sydney, Australia, in less than a month (it was the first time they were visiting them). Cutting a long story short, I meet them and after two months, I was in Australia for a two week holiday, a kind of scouting tour, to know if the place was the right place for me to start a new life. The most incredible thing was about to happen. Something that I couldn’t predict. On the exact day when I arrived to Sydney, Arthur C. Clark passed away. Wow! Looking back, I started all this process of finding a new place, when I first saw Arthur C. Clarke’s tv documentary, and I witness his death on tv the precise day that I arrive in Australia. What were the odds of this?
Went back to Portugal and sold every thing. While preparing to move to Australia, another idea began to form. Instead of going directly to Australia, I could do a gap year and embrace the opportunity of visiting all the places I always wanted to go and never had the chance, a kind of Personal Bucket List. This gap year turned into almost two years, and took me to: Egypt, India, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, East Timor, Hong Kong, Japan, US, Belize, Guatemala, Brazil, Turkey, and finally Australia where I stayed for 4 years.
More things would happen in Australia.
— To be continued —
2001: A space odyssey. Clarke A.C. Rosetta Books, (2012).
Spiritual emergency: When personal transformation becomes a crisis. Grof S., Grof C.JP Tarcher, (1989).
The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (1949) Campbell J. Princeton, NY (1972).
A Theoretical Model of Change Agent Development: The Twelve Habits of the Hero
Shawn Furey, August 30, 2015
Heroism is a managerial style – it’s how some people manage the events that affect their daily lives. If you want to manage your daily life circumstances for positive life outcomes then you ought to develop a heroic life management style.
Often heroic acts, displayed in the media, are portrayed as if they were once-in-a-lifetime occurrences performed by people who would rather not be publically associated with the label ‘hero.’ Sadly, this immediate distancing of the heroic act from the everyday world coupled with the avoidance of the hero designation by someone who acted heroically in public seems to send a de-valuing message about heroism. Specifically, to me it seems like it sends people the message that it’s not socially acceptable to publically acknowledge ones’ own power to intervene live in the moment for the sake of altering situational conditions.
Often, I think, when we receive de-valuing messages about heroic behavior it can have the effect of leading us to believe that there isn’t really much to heroism after all – that we’re just as likely as that person on TV to act heroically in that same situation if we wanted to do it. Yet, many, if not most of these same heroic acts, are also described by the media as having been performed by people who had some past training that seems to have contributed in some unknown way to the persons’ capability and willingness to act heroically. For example, individuals who perform a heroic deed often turn out to have previously been in the military or in law enforcement or fire-fighting. So which is it? Is heroism some kind of light switch that one can just turn on whenever the situation calls for it if one feels like getting involved? Can anybody really be a hero – without any special knowledge, habits, or skills, or is it something that one needs to train for like an athlete trains for an athletic event? Do you need to practice being heroic over and over again in little subtle ways as preparation for those big events? Furthermore, are the big public acts of heroism really even any more important than the little ones that many people perform every day [at home, at work, at school, etc.]. Perhaps those large-scale acts of heroism that we see on TV are fundamentally similar to those unnoticed small-scale acts of heroism that some people perform everyday – and if there is some underlying structure that is shared by both big and small acts of heroism then maybe we can figure out what that underlying structure is and teach people about it. If we did that then perhaps we’d be increasing the capacity of all of those ‘Average-Joe-Heroes’ out there in the world to act heroically when the situation calls for a hero and one happens to be nearby.
The question still remains though: why do some people, people like policemen, soldiers, and fire-fighters seem to have an edge on everybody else when it comes to the likelihood that they’ll act heroically in challenging situations?
Well, to answer that question, think about this; heroic people are like athletic people in that they have spent a great deal of time exercising their hero muscles – building themselves up into the kind of person who is likely to perform well at tasks associated with alleviating suffering and promoting flourishing life. So, while the exercises that athletes repeatedly engage in build muscle, the exercises policemen, soldiers, and fire-fighters repeatedly engage in build ‘change agency.’ ‘Agency’ is defined as the ability to initiate and sustain a course of action and ‘change’ means that something new or different is happening. So if you put them both together you get ‘change agency;’ the ability to initiate and sustain a new or different way of doing things.
After thinking about all of that it might be easier for you now to picture a police officer intervening live in the moment to protect a woman from an abusive partner [facilitating safety] or a soldier defending his or her country from invasion [facilitating continued freedom] or a fire-fighter intervening live in the moment to save the home and belongings of a working-class family [facilitating continued access to resources]. In each example, we can see that those policing, soldiering, and fire-fighting activities were opportunities to practice alleviating suffering and promoting flourishing life. So, let’s break it down even further and ask ourselves what kinds of habits we’d need to develop if we wanted to increase our own capacity to initiate and sustain a positive change in our own daily life circumstances – so that we could be more like those heroic policemen, soldiers, and fire-fighters and facilitate basic human mental health need-satisfaction for ourselves and others – needs like safety, freedom, and access to resources.
Well, the first thing we’d want to do is discover that we were born with the power and permission to change things. If you think about the universal law of cause and effect you’ll remember that things change because one thing interacts with another thing. Additionally, you were born with an imagination, a thoughtful mind, a free will, and a physical body – all of which enables you to come up with ideas, to create plans, and to consciously choose to act on those plans in the physical world – to create real change if you want. In other words, the first habit for the hero to develop is ‘an internal locus of response-ability.’ When people are unable or unwilling to develop this habit – when they get stuck on this issue, we could say that they ‘have a victim-mentality.’
The second habit of the hero is engagement – heroes choose to get involved in day-to-day social realities – especially when social group structures and power dynamics threaten the groups’ability to meet basic human mental health needs [like, safety, freedom, and access to resources]. When people get stuck on this issue, and choose not to engage with day-to-day social realities we could say that they are ‘bystanders.’
The third habit of the hero is ‘sociocentric thinking’ – they think of themselves and all other human beings as being part of a universal social group and they see all members of the group as equally valuable. Additionally, heroes are able to see that the social behaviors of all group members co-construct social ecosystems or the social places where people live, work, learn, and play.Heroes act intentionally to create and sustain healthy social ecosystems. When people get stuck at this stage and seem to act habitually out of selfishness, it could be because they are being egocentric – or only thinking of personal gain instead of basic human mental health need-satisfaction. If you saw somebody ‘going along to get along’ or doing the bidding of a villainous other in order to advance financial profit or social status you might be looking at a ‘henchman.’
The fourth habit of the hero is collaboration. Heroes strive daily, moment-by-moment, to facilitate win-win outcomes for self and others. Heroes are comfortable with vulnerability – they are willing to give others a chance to screw them over because heroes know that a good rapport with others is a pre-requisite to meeting their basic human mental health needs. When people get stuck on this issue and habitually try to coerce the compliance of others with threats of punishment we could say that they are ‘villains.’
The fifth habit of the hero is self-esteem. Up to this point you’ve been introduced to habits that have to do with creating positive change. Self-Esteem, on the other hand, is a habit that serves a protective function for the hero. When villainous or sabotaging others attempt to mistreat or harm the hero psychologically, emotionally, or socially the heros’ high self-esteem acts as a shield against the external pressure to give up on ones’ own efforts to create positive change in the social environment. When someone not only lacks self-esteem but actually hates themselves for one reason or another they may seek out punishment. Obviously, this would act as an obstacle to need-satisfaction and goal-attainment. When people are stuck in this area we might refer to them as an ‘anti-hero’ because while they have a good heart they nonetheless resent the heros’ efforts to create positive change and may even collude with villainous others at times.
The sixth habit of the hero is limit-setting. Heroes set limits with villainous others when they attempt to coerce the compliance of others with punishment or threats of punishment. When people are stuck in this area we could say that they are in ‘the minion role’ because they acquiesce to the villain and allow him or her to direct their will toward ill-ends in order to avoid punishment and the threat of punishment.
The Devils’ Advocate
The seventh habit of the hero is a ‘commitment to holding others accountable to standards.’ If a heroic person observes another person being held accountable to a standard that supports basic human mental health need-satisfaction and personal goal-attainment [in a way that is socially-appropriate] that hero will not interfere with the accountability process. Conversely, ‘the rescuer’ will run interference on the heros’ attempt to hold villainous and sabotaging others accountable for volitional violations of pro-social social norms.
The eighth habit of the hero is self-efficacy. Heroes believe in their ability to rise to the challenge – to meet opposition head on and to live to tell about it. When people are stuck in this area they exhibit doubt in their competence to complete tasks associated with Human Ecosystem Engineering and Recovery Operations. We could describe people like this as ‘sidekicks’ because while they know that they have personal power and use it all of the time in ways that are collaborative they tend to look to heroic others to lead them into socially-appropriate confrontations with villainous and sabotaging others.
The ninth habit of the hero is support. Heroes are not threatened by the success of others. Heroes support the efforts of people who are trying to excel – at life. When people doubt themselves and then sabotage more competent others in order to “level the playing field” we could refer to them as a ‘saboteur.’
The tenth habit of the hero is transparency. Heroes present themselves authentically to others – even when doing so might reveal a difference in life management styles or a difference in values. When a person is stuck in this area they might portray themselves as an ally in pursuit of mutual goals in order to obtain information from a hero and then trade it to a villain for approval or personal gain. You could refer to this role or life management style as ‘The Chameleon.’
The eleventh habit of the hero is ‘confrontation’ or assertive problem-solving. Heroes establish and enforce adherence to a standard of behavior that supports basic human mental health need-satisfaction and personal goal-attainment. When a person is stuck in this area they’ll display a pattern of refusing to establish or enforce a code of conduct that supports psychological well-being and flourishing life. You could call this role or life management style ‘The Politician’ because they care more about social approval than they do about basic human mental health need-satisfaction.
The Has Been
The twelfth habit of the hero can best be described as ‘an internal locus of motivation.’ Heroes motivate themselves forward toward basic human mental health need-satisfaction and personal goal-attainment even when all the other character types might be trying to persuade them to give up and just accept a languishing or shriveling life [experience] in the toxic and dysfunctional social ecosystems within which they may live, work, learn, and play. When people get stuck at this stage of change agent development they tend to present as someone who ‘used to be’ heroic – as someone that has given up on their own goals and dreams.
So, in conclusion, if ones’ goal is to increase the probability that the average person will choose to engage in acts of heroism in their own daily life then it might be a good idea to promote the development of the twelve character traits or habits of thinking and action described in this model of change agent development. When a learner is able to demonstrate proficiency in these twelve areas it is likely that they will also dramatically improve their performance on tasks associated with Human Ecosystem Engineering and Recovery Operations (H.E.R.O). Ultimately, the value in obtaining this kind of hero training is that through the development of a heroic life management style and the application thereof to the tasks associated with H.E.R.O one may sustain a quality of life for oneself and others that is not available to human beings who remain stuck in adolescent ways of thinking and behaviour.
Stages of C.A. Development Related to H.E.R.O.
Goal or Task
Role When Arrested Development Occurs
|01Engineering||Internal Locus of Response-Ability vs External Locus of Response-Ability||Victim-Mentality|
|02Engineering||Engagement vs Non-Engagement||The Bystander|
|03Engineering||Sociocentrism vs Egocentrism||The Henchman|
|04 Engineering||Collaboration vs Coercion||The Villain|
|05Recovery||Self-Esteem vs Self-Loathing||The Anti-Hero|
|06Recovery||Limit-Setting vs Enmeshment||The Minion|
|07 Recovery||Commitment to Standards vs Rescuing From Personal Responsibility||The Devils’ Advocate|
|08Recovery||Self-Efficacy vs Self-Doubt||The Sidekick|
|09Engineering||Support vs Sabotage||The Saboteur|
|10Engineering||Transparency vs Duplicity||The Chameleon|
|11Recovery||Confrontation vs Concealment||The Politician|
|12Recovery||Internal Locus of Motivation vs External Locus of Motivation||The Has Been|
The Victim-Mentality: Eor. Digital Image. HUMANISTEQ: Formerly Gallagher Training. Bill Gallagher & Humanisteq, n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.humanisteq.com.
The Bystander: Bystanders and Bullying. Digital Image. Bullying Bystanders Unite (BBU). Hey U.G.L.Y, n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.heyugly.org.
The Henchman: Beatrix Lestrange. Digital Image. Fanpop. Fanpop. 2006 –2015. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.fanpop.com.
The Villain: Voldemort Battle 3. Digital Image. Harry Potter Wiki. Wikia, n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.harrypotter.wikia.com.
The Anti-Hero: Potions Class. Digital Image. Harry Potter Wiki. n.p. n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015
The Minion: Peter Pettigrew. Digital Image. Harry Potter Everything. n.p. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.harrypottereverything12.weebly.com.
The Devil’s Advocate: Best Movie Cross-Examinations. Digital Image. YouTube. Don Carlo. 4 Feb 2015 Web 29 Aug 2015 www.youtube.com.
The Sidekick: Ron Weasley. Digital Image. Deviant Art. ShutUpDemi. n.d. 29 Aug 2015 www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/420540119.
The Saboteur: Draco Malfoy. Digital Image. SourceFed: A Discovery Network. SourceFed. n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.sourcefed.com.
The Chameleon: Mystique. Digital Image. Fanpop. Fanpop. 2006 – 2015. n. d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.fanpop.com.
The Politician: British Ministry of Magic. Digital Image. Harry Potter Wiki. n.p. n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.harrypotter.wikia.com.
The Has Been: Haymitch Abernathy. Digital Image. The Hunger Games Wiki. CC – BY – SA. n.d. Web 29 Aug 2015 www.thehungergames.wikia.com.
About the author:
Shawn Furey is a heroism promoter and educator. He is the owner of the Hero Training School and runs the Hero Support Network. He currently works full-time as a Mental Health Technician at a “Supermax” prison with men who have been convicted of a violent crime and have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
The Problem of Heroism
Olivia Efthimiou, August 21, 2015
When we think about heroism we tend to immediately think about the fanfare – noble knights raising their swords in the fight for freedom and justice, defeating evil sorcerers, Batman and Superman, courageous defenders fighting crime and saving the day, individuals performing extraordinary acts. What’s so wrong about that? Nothing – and everything. Much attention is now being paid to the heights humans can achieve and the best of human nature. This is indeed a welcome and much-needed change, and heroism is in many ways leading the fold in this new wave of thinking.
I have to make clear from the outset that I am a staunch supporter and believer of the value of heroism for humanity – it is my conviction, in fact, that heroism is the evolutionary and genetic basis of all life on this planet, and the universe itself. I have no doubt that one day (and long after I am gone in all likelihood) scientists will discover this heroic basis of life. But this does not mean that I do not recognise the challenges that come with it. This may be an unusual and bold statement but – I believe that approaching the study of heroism with what German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno called “negative dialectics”, or beginning to understand the costs of the pursuit of a heroic life, and indeed the costs of not taking up this pursuit, is the only true pathway to realise the spread of heroism widely. It is in our darkest times that we truly need heroism – and it is in those times that its reality seems most impossible.
So what is the ‘problem’ with heroism? It is most commonly a romanticised or idealised notion. The hero is overwhelmingly seen as a symbol of triumph, overcoming the odds against him or her for some victorious end result. They defeat evil and order is restored in the world. A ‘superhero’ quality. But reality is not as clear-cut. The burden and scars the hero can be left with as a result of what they have learnt and the trials they have undergone may leave them dispirited, calling for even greater amounts of courage to deal with the outcome of the journey. At other times there is no clear triumph as the journey might mean having to live with pain, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, injuries or brain damage. In the case of self-sacrifice and altruism, yes, a noble act was done, but to the cost of the life of the heroic individual, and perhaps for those left behind. Will the fact that a mother or a father gave up their life for a ‘greater good’ make it any easier on a child that is left parentless, while the surviving partner struggles to fend for their family?
Psychologists Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo (2006, p. 31) speak of the “subtleties” of heroism that have been lost. The common conception of heroism, which is more of an exaggerated, overemphasised ideal, is juxtaposed against ‘ordinary’ reality. An ordinary wo/man who as a result of a single noble act or acts of bravery (usually in sequence) rises to the status of hero or superhuman, sealed into this realm therein. But if we speak of the “banality of heroism” as Franco and Zimbardo (2006) do, and if as I propose heroism is innate and in-built into human and non-human organisms as an evolutionary imperative, both realities are in fact merged. They are not separate but live in tandem with each other everyday, constantly ‘speaking’ to each other. Every organism’s life is arguably a composition/equation of intermittent acts of heroism to varying degrees, most often seamlessly blurring into reality, even though it might be the case that some (overwhelmingly the minority) become defined by what is culturally perceived as a great act of heroism. This is particularly applicable to the case of the anti-hero in popular texts, i.e. somebody deemed unlikely to be noble or brave, or perceived as ‘evil’ or ‘immoral’, redeemed by a single noble act (perhaps of self-sacrifice at the end of their life). Again, this produces a ‘black and white’ view of reality, not accounting for its complexity. As Franco and Zimbardo (2006) suggest we are all, under the right conditions, capable of both evil (as demonstrated in the Stanford Prison experiment) and heroism. It is most accurate to describe the life of a human as a combination of both, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Daily acts of reaching outside our comfort zone can be regarded as heroic – we are creatures of habit and comfort. But we are also curious creatures, with an innate thirst for imagining the impossible. An act of doing something that feels uncomfortable, however small, taps into this inborn adventurous spirit, bringing us closer to our innate heroic nature. It is these small subtleties that are indeed becoming lost in all the celebratory fanfare of ‘superheroes’ and celebrity culture. True heroism is likely to be a quiet, subtle thing, like a whisper in the dark that you can barely sense. But it is there. So let us begin to celebrate the small, the subtle, the unseen. For it is there that our true treasure lies. Like the Holy Grail or cup of Christ in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – it is not an obvious flamboyant choice, it is old and worn, and you would just as easily pass it by. But it is real.
And then there is the assumption of this model that once hero status is achieved, that defines one as a ‘moral’ ‘noble’ character for the rest of their lifespan – that the journey is somehow a self-complete and enclosed process. This renders a hero frozen in time, a narrow account of their larger life story leading to the idealisation of the individual and their ascent to god-like status, as per the definition of ‘hero’ – is this realistic? If the lifespan of an organism is a series of hero journeys comprised of sequences of suffering, whether complete or incomplete, hero status is not a fixed state but rather fluid and indeed retractable – there is a fine line between courage and frailty. This view of the banality of both unheroic and heroic acts in everyday life makes for a much more complex view of the role of heroism, always part of a dynamic complex interrelationship between a variety of determinants, making the opportunities for both evolution and regression endless. A significant point to make is that regression, contrary to traditional thought, is in fact conducive to and a determinant of evolution, if we take varying degrees of suffering as indispensable to heroism, and heroism as instrumental to evolution.
Introducing the concept of banality by no means denigrates the centrality of heroism in day to day life. If anything it escalates it, paving the way for a system where everyone is a hero. We need to go way deeper in an analysis of heroism – and we will be forever limited in such an attempt if we are to not look outside of the assumed boundaries of its concept, which has been limited to the humanities for far too long. Acknowledging the value of heroism means acknowledging the value of journey and story, both our own and of others. We must begin to respect story as science, as episteme (from its Ancient Greek derivation), or as deep knowing – and knowledge as a journey itself – and dispel one-dimensional views of individuals, groups and the cosmos, recognising them for the rich tapestries that they are.
I believe that this type of science can provide answers to the enduring presence of heroism, which is arguably one of the few constants of not only the history of humans but the universe itself. I believe we will also constantly fail to fully comprehend heroism’s functions if we continue to look at it as a ‘higher’ ‘superior’ state of humanity (and indeed by not looking outside humanity), but rather as something innate and firmly embedded within life and physiology itself. I believe that rather than thinking of heroism as something ‘out there’, a magical quality associated with a ‘mythical’ past that left us, it has always been there. We just need to open our eyes to it in new ways. In describing this work as merely an initial attempt, Franco and Zimbardo (2006, p. 33) themselves emphasise that “at best, it allows us to propose a few speculations that warrant further investigation [emphasis added]”.
Behind every crisis, there is a hero. Behind every life that shatters, there is the opportunity to put it back together. Behind every problem, lies its solution. The ‘problem’ of heroism, is not a problem per se. Nor is the heroic state untenable. It is a gift bestowed to all of us, which, if left unrealised, becomes a curse and the root of our Pandora’s box. Sometimes the cost is simply too high – so why be heroic? Because as the fictional character of Peter Parker says in the end of Spider-Man 3, “Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we could always choose to do what’s right.” And most of the time it is not about good or bad choices, but choices that were simply not good enough. Those are the ones that make the most impact in a world where heroism is banal.
A fellow heroism science researcher mentioned to me recently that we might need a new word in place of ‘hero’ given its problematic nature. Maybe we do – and that would be an easier path to take, that would appease those who still smirk at what they see as the unrealistic thought of creating everyday heroes. It is the very ‘problem’ of heroism that makes it all the more worthwhile – it is the road less travelled, and that is always a noble effort. Maybe what we need is to follow the hard path of changing those opinions and pre-conceptions of the term ‘hero’. Radically altering those simplistic immediate associations and thought patterns into something deeply complex, innate and intimately interwoven with our bodies, hearts and minds is the hard road ahead. But it will be worth it – more so than we can appreciate with our limited minds. Perhaps the real question is not whether there is validity in a new path and approach to the age-old question of heroism, but rather: how far does the rabbit hole go?
Adorno, T. W. (1973). Negative dialectics (Vol. 1). A&C Black.
Franco, Z. E., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2006). The banality of heroism. Greater Good, 3(2), 30-35.
About the author:
Olivia Efthimiou is a transdisciplinary researcher, website creator and administrator of Heroism Science – Promoting the Transdisciplinary Study of Heroism in the 21st Century and lead Editor of International Advances in Heroism Science.
Every Hero Needs a Team
Matt Langdon, June 19, 2015
Every hero needs a team. From Frodo and Harry Potter to Dorothy and Katniss Everdeen. Every hero needs a team.
I’ve been studying heroes and heroism for nine years and one thing is clear: if you want to make a change in the world, you need help. No-one makes a significant impact without people supporting and encouraging them.
One of my favourite tools for showing people that they can be heroes is Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The hero’s journeys set out a series of steps that every fictional hero takes during their story. It applies to hero stories from all places and all times. The hero begins the story in the mundane world. It’s a place that bores them. They don’t fit. Then they receive a call to adventure and upon accepting, enter a new world where they encounter challenges, meet new people, and learn new skills. Once all of these trials are overcome, the hero returns home to share the lessons learned.
What I’ve left out there is that through all of these challenges, the hero relies on a team. They need someone to show the the way, someone to drag them forward, someone to give much needed advice, and someone to make the journey enjoyable.
And of course, the hero’s journey is not just describing the stories of fictional heroes. It maps onto our own stories and adventures. For every Frodo leaving the Shire, there are hundreds of us stepping out of our comfort zone in search of something greater. For every yellow brick road, there are scores of corporate ladders. For every Hunger Games, there is high school.
Just like the heroes of stories old and new, we are also walking the path with a team in tow. More often than not, we don’t deliberately choose our team. It is comprised of people we’ve picked up along the way and people we happen to spend our days with. What I want to suggest to you today is that you actively choose your team. To help, I’m going to provide a few key roles that the most successful heroes have on their teams. I’ll use examples from my efforts to put on the world’s best conference on heroism, the Hero Round Table.
Two months after I started teaching kids how to be heroes, I came across an article in the Greater Good magazine entitled, “The Banality of Heroism”. I read through those four pages with super speed and then I read them again. These authors had written down what I’d been doing. Every idea I’d had, they’d had too. And then some. At the end of the article, they explained that they had written this down to see if there was interest in further study. So, I googled the first author (who worked at Stanford), found an email address, and sent off a request to be kept abreast of any developments. I got a reply that same day that included the statement, “we need to work together.” I excitedly told my wife about these developments and she said, “The Phil Zimbardo?” I said, “Well, he’s a Phil Zimbardo.” She then explained to me that this guy was a world famous social psychologist.
The first role on our team we need to fill is that of the mentor. Phil Zimbardo became my Gandalf, my Dumbledore. Except with a sharper beard. Here was someone who had been there and done that taking an interest in my fledgling career. The validation that gave me was enormous. After many years of working together, his trust in me allowed me to list him as a keynote in a first year conference that had no business having such an illustrious speaker.
This experience gave me one of the most important lessons of my hero’s journey. Don’t be afraid to ask. The fact that Phil responded to an email with enthusiasm meant I was never scared to reach out to someone again. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had plenty of people ignore my reaching out, but when you don’t ask, you don’t get. In the years following that first success, I met educators working at the cutting edge, researchers around the world, professional athletes and actors, business leaders, and lots of people like me, just plugging away at their dream. It was that lesson that allowed me to even consider running the Hero Round Table. I knew that I’d built relationships with people across the globe who would gladly attend and speak at this conference.
The second role you need to fill is the cheerleader. This person is relentlessly positive. They love what you’re doing and sometimes want it to happen more than you do. You know that after a call with them, you’re going to be brought out of your most pessimistic mood. My cheerleader for the conference was Steve Wolbert. He doesn’t look great in a cheerleader outfit, but he fills all of the other requirements. One day I noticed, for the third time, a local business being lauded for their involvement in the community. I was in desperate need of sponsorship, so I decided to reach out to them. One of the guys helping me run the conference said he knew someone there – someone he’d coached on a kids basketball team. A call was made and all of a sudden I was asked to be at a meeting in an hour. The meeting was with Steve and he already saw the benefit of the event. In fact, he saw it better than I did. From that day he didn’t stop cheering me on, telling everyone he met what a great thing this was going to be, and generally shaking pom poms in every direction. Without my cheerleader, the conference would not have happened.
The third role is the action figure. We all need someone who just gets things done. When everyone else is talking about dreams and ideas and plans, the action figure is doing stuff. This was my friend, Candace Crane. Nine years into my hero work, she’s still not sure what it is that I do or why. That didn’t stop her from stepping in to help with the first conference. While the rest of the team was dreaming, she was planning. “Where’s your budget?” she said. “Budget?” I said. While others were debating colour palettes, she was creating check in processes. While some were panicking over what to do about our lack of batteries, Candace went out and bought some. Without my action figure, the conference would not have happened.
The fourth role is the inspiration. This is the person who makes you want to be a better you. They either act as a role model or a coach – sometimes both. You might be aiming to be more like them, or they might be great at getting you to aim higher. My inspiration came from reaching out again. Christian Long was a teacher in Texas who was doing cool things on the internet with his students. We kept in touch for a few years ad one year he invited me to attend the TEDx conference he was running in Ohio. Christian was not just a teacher, he’s an internationally sought after education consultant. His conference gave me something to aim for. It was filled with amazing speakers (some of whom I poached). It was flawlessly branded and included things like a two-hour lunch break for discussion and a famous DJ for music. It showed me what a conference could be. Without my inspiration, the conference would not have happened.
Every team needs a thinker. This is the brains of the outfit. The thinker solves problems and comes up with genius ideas. I like to think that I am smart enough to come up with every idea, but I know that’s not going to be the case all of the time. Luckily, I had Aaron Romoslawski on hand through the entire journey. He was able to look at the big picture and identify issues and potential problems. Not just that, he provided solutions. Some people are very good at pointing out issues, but not always good at thinking about solutions. Aaron’s analytical mind solved problems for us before anyone else had even noticed we had a problem. Without my thinker, the conference would not have happened.
The friend is the final position to be filled. This is the person who sticks with you through thick and thin. There’s a good chance you are thinking to yourself that you’ve already got this position filled. However, there can be a difference between a friend and a friend on your journey. Many of us have friends who aren’t supportive of our efforts. They may think we’re crazy or they’re just not interested in the topic. Sometimes you might have to look outside of your circle of friends for the friend on your journey. I was lucky enough to have a number of people who repeatedly said, “what can I do for you?” A friend can listen to you vent. They can put an arm around your shoulder and remind you to breathe. They can bring you whiskey before you realise you need it. Without my friends, the conference would not have happened.
Recently, I saw a quote on my social media stream. It said, “You can do anything if you ask the right people to help.” Whether you’re trying to blow up the Death Star, see the wizard, launch a nonprofit, or create change in your community, it can happen if you pick the right team.
I’d like you to write down the names of the people in your team. Beside each role, add a name. It’s likely that you won’t have a name for each role. That’s normal. My challenge to you is to fill those gaps. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. But it will be worth it. And remember my biggest lesson – ask. If you see a potential mentor, ask them questions. If you see the perfect cheerleader for you, ask if you can hang out with them. Take action now so that you have a team ready to accompany you on the journey ahead.
About the author:
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.