When was the last time you thought about what it means to be a hero? Have you ever really considered the behaviors and actions we judge to be “heroic”?
Many of us take for granted that we know heroism when we see it. On a surface level, many of us would call someone a hero if they put themselves at physical risk to help others in a crisis situation. While that is one aspect of heroism, there is more to the phenomenon than a momentary selfless act to aid another human being in trouble.
Can we “train” people to clearly identify the need for heroism and consciously access the biological and psychological mechanisms that will allow them to take appropriate action? Can we expand the definition of what it means to be heroic, and use this lauded aspect of human behavior to improve ourselves and the lives of others on a daily basis?
I’ve been considering these and other questions regarding heroism for decades. My study of this topic began with games of Dungeons & Dragons I played as a kid, and then the reading of books like Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, who created the concept of the monomyth in the 20th century. I pursued heroic tales in ancient literature and modern-day comic books, and found myself in awe as the stories of epic deeds echoed each other across millennia. I looked for the roots of heroic behavior in the great works of philosophy, and saw connections between concepts like stoicism and pragmatism.
As time went on, I moved beyond mythology and philosophy, and began exploring what science had to say about heroism’s biological and behavioral roots. My journey turned to psychology and sociology, and then to relatively new fields such as positive psychology and, eventually, to the emerging concept of heroism science. I’ve had opportunities to discuss heroism with researchers who are delving deep into rigorous empirical study, with the goal of helping humanity to harness the power of heroism in our daily lives.
What ultimately solidified the importance of heroism were my own personal struggles. Like every human being, I’ve experienced setbacks and obstacles, some so devastating I felt like there was no point to life. In the heroic myth, however, I found strength—a way to build my resolve—and a path to purpose. So I redoubled my efforts to explore this phenomenon.
This pursuit led me to create a blog called Live The Hero, which also became something I consider a “life philosophy.” Live The Hero is the distillation of my years of searching, study, and personal application of heroic mythology and science. I hope the concepts and techniques I outline in this series will help others find ways to use the heroism mindset as a framework to overcome challenges, help others, and contribute to the improvement of the world as a whole. If the heroic mindset can help me—a regular guy and average human being—then, maybe my experiences and ideas can help others.
Ultimately, I’m a layman. I consider myself an aggregator of ideas, an enthusiast, and an advocate. People often use the line “I stand on the shoulders of giants.” This is very true in my case. I freely admit that what I have gathered here in this series is based on the creative legacy of the human race as a whole. I’ve researched and drawn information from many sources. Perhaps all I’m offering is my own interpretation of heroism. If so, so be it. In the end, if all I do is help continue the conversation on this topic, I’ve done my job.
I believe I’ve found something vital and life-affirming in the heroic, and I don’t believe this behavior is something that is only momentary and ephemeral. I believe we were meant to consciously use heroic behavior on a regular basis, in ways big and small, to help develop ourselves and serve others.
With the series that begins with this post, I hope to add my voice to the growing chorus of philosophers, scientists, thinkers, and doers who are adding new depth and dimension to heroism.
You, reading this article, are now one of us. You’ve stepped into this collective journey of exploration. You’ve already heard the call to adventure. Will you join us?
I look forward to meeting you on the path!
A version of this post appeared on The Good Men Project.
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