Everyday Heroes

Phillip Zimbardo and Zeno Franco have really produced something exciting with that paper on the banality of heroism. It’s a presentation of ideas that they plan to study further, and frankly, I can’t wait to see more. Hopefully a lot of the ideas are familiar to those who have been reading this blog for a while.

The basic premise is that we are all potentially heroes and that the status of hero is not reserved to a special few. This is important in combating the tendency for inaction in people. When people think heroes are rare and more likely to be wearing tights, it is much easier to fall into “the trap of inaction”. This trap is why people are told to yell, “Fire!” instead of “Help!” if they are attacked. The fear of fire is much more powerful than the call to action – or call to adventure.

This paper describes the core of heroism as a “commitment to a noble purpose” and accepting any consequences attached to that purpose. They further expand by describing four requirements for the heroic ideal.

  1. There must be a quest
  2. There must be sacrifice or risk
  3. It can be passive or active
  4. It can be a short or long period of time

Finally, the authors describe how important it is for people to have heroes as examples and to practice heroism every day. They call it a “personal habit of heroism”. When you think about being a hero every day, you’re more likely to step up when the circumstance calls for it.


3 Responses to Everyday Heroes

  1. Erik March 28, 2007 at 9:37 pm #

    “When you think about being a hero every day, you’re more likely to step up when the circumstance calls for it.”

    I think this is helps greatly in so many aspects, I recently took a first aid cpr class with the Red Cross. When we were finished we were asked to fill out a survey in which we were asked if we would feel comfortable helping a victim with our training. While the Red Cross is obviously looking for a answer based on skills I took this as more of a personal question. In an emergency would I be able to step forward and help, it’s something I think about everyday now and I know that I have to be prepared for this summer.

    The idea of being a hero also falls in this catogory, when a child needs me to be a hero this summer will I be ready for that? The statment at the end of the post makes me realize that I will only be ready if I start to prepare myself now. While on paper my journey this summer starts may 1st, it really has already started.

  2. Kit March 29, 2007 at 11:11 am #

    This article is fantastic and clearly thought out. Especially on the difference between altruism and heroism i.e. that altruism is method of assistance, that does not necessarily involve huge sacrifice.

    But I do think one area in particular does pose some debate. Franco and Zimbardo assert that our society is dumbing down heroism, through the use of sports stars, scientists, celebrities etc, that they are not truly heroic, that they do not posses the attributes of courage and fortitude. They talk about “persistence,physical strength, the Good Samaritan…”I feel this is a slightly harsh description, whilst the it may be true for some, it quite clearly not the case for others. Lance Armstrong springs to mind, someone who did demonstrate both courage and fortitude through his cancer and 5 consecutive Tour de France wins.

    I think it is important to note(as the authors do recognize) that we are entering a different age, one of great technology. And with that, the modification of a hero is not necessarily a bad thing. The new generation are quite possibly more ‘selfish’ than previous generations as a result of what is laid before them. Many daily interactions that were difficult in previous generations are now easily facilitated through greater levels of technology and a decrease in the cost of time saving equipment and methods, e.g cell phones, cars, the internet etc…Therefore it our responsibility to cater towards this different generation, so as they can take care of the resulting generations. I am not advocating that we ignore the true meaning of a hero, but it is difficult to convey this to a generation that have had many things come easily too them. Therefore using certain sports starts, scientists etc as models for heroes may be acceptable.

    On a slightly different note, if anyone has not heard of the Milgram experiments highlighted in this article,they are very interesting and I think demonstrate perfectly the ‘bystander effect.’These experiments were recently portrayed on a TV show by the ‘Illusionist’Derren Brown, called “The Heist.” He takes a group of middle management business managers through a number of tests, to see who can be more easily manipulated into performing an armed robbery. Something they clearly would not normally have considered doing. The show is about an hour and very revealing, especially the section with the re-created Milgram experiments.


  1. A Speech in China: A Consideration of Heroic Action in the Context of Culture « The Hero Workshop - September 24, 2007

    […] The paper was based on the “Banality of Heroism” article in Greater Good magazine that I talked about earlier in the year.  The focus has moved to heroism in the modern world and the future, especially in relation to […]