This morning I woke up to news that there had been a fire in the apartment building three doors down. It was quite a fire; the top half of the building is gone and the bottom half won’t ever be lived in again. No-one was killed in the fire, but 15 families have no homes and have lost much of their possessions.
The first person I talked to imagined herself in the fire and thought about how horrible it would be for her family to die. I think she was more upset at the thought of her loved ones dying than her, which is not abnormal I’d say.
The second person I talked to was still pale from thinking about how horrible it would have been to be in the fire. He spoke of people jumping from the third floor balconies.
My thoughts were around what I would have done had I heard the alleged explosion and woken up at 3:30. I pictured myself getting dressed quickly and running over there with a blanket to help anyone who needed it. I could imagine myself pushing through flames to make sure people were out of their apartments. In fact, I went back to sleep after hearing about the fire and had a dream in which I was rescuing people from a fire – wondering why there weren’t any fire escapes.
As I was occupying my mind with those thoughts all morning, it struck me that this was Heroic Imagination. And that it’s something I’ve done my whole life. As a lonely teenager I spent many hours lying in bed creating scenes in which I was the hero, saving some damsel in distress. There were rescues from gun seiges, terrorists, fires, floods. I always managed to find the right way out, with my crush safely in tow. She naturally fell in love with me after that, but all of the situations were in the real world around me. Even more recently, I can’t tell you how often I thought about camp being overrun by terrorists leaving me to use my knowledge of the buildings and grounds to save everyone.
I’ve been talking about Heroic Imagination for some time now. When Phil Zimbardo explained it to me, it made immediate sense, but only as a theory. Today, I seemed to catch myself in the act of it. And it seems I’ve been doing it for a long time. But now I wonder who else does that sort of thing? Clearly the people I spoke to this morning were focusing on a different angle, which is vitally important to them.
So, my question is, do you think the way I do? Did you love watching The Poseidon Adventure as a kid, mapping out the way you’d rescue the passengers? What are your thoughts when you see a disaster happening?