Why We Need Heroism More Than Ever

In an age of toxic populism, cynicism, and apathy, everyday heroism is an antidote.

Heroism is more than risking one’s life to save someone else in a moment of physical danger. As an aspect of humanity, it encompasses a wide range of behaviors and emotions, as I’ve written before. These include empathy, resilience, bravery, a solution-focused mindset. As a part of mythological tradition, heroism is a metaphorical tool we can use to teach the value of personal development as well as concern for the well-being of others.

Part of my purpose with this series is to help you see the practical application of everyday heroism and the hero’s journey. The point isn’t to seek personal glory and have other people call you a hero. Rather, I want to help promote the heroic mindset, so you can feel more prepared to take on the challenges you face every day. To that end, I want to address why heroism is more relevant than ever to humanity and our modern state of affairs.

The Threat of Toxic Populism

Populism can be defined as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.” In its unadulterated form, it’s a noble pursuit to listen to the will of the people when they—and their interests—are being ignored by leaders.

Today, powerful forces including politicians and massive corporations have definitely earned the ire of the general public. From the Great Recession to the ongoing scourge of systemic racism and beyond, the distrust the average person feels for those in power is largely justified, given the number of negative socio-economic developments over the last few decades.

However, the insidious side of this distrust is when it bleeds into a generalized suspicion toward others. Our cultural cohesion has suffered under the machinations of the powerful as they manipulate our fears for the sake of money and votes. In addition, we’re continually bombarded by the attention-hungry sensationalism of the never-ending news cycle, as well as the disinformation of fringe groups with intolerant ideologies. All of this has infected us with fear and uncertainty. As a result, so many of us are suffering from some level of emotional exhaustion, disenfranchisement, frustration, anger, apathy, and cynicism.

Gang Heroes Versus Global Heroes

Considering the above, it’s no surprise a demagogue like Donald Trump was voted into power in the United States. He took tactics from the fascist playbook and preyed on our vulnerabilities. Trump fostered a toxic form of populism fueled by a negative perception of the state of the world and manufactured threats from “outsiders.”

Like other self-styled “strong man” leaders around the world, Trump has sought to erode trust in the media, circumvent the checks and balances built into our government, and use his position for personal gain while claiming to be “for the people.” Trump has used immigrants, Democrats, and Antifa as scapegoats for the woes of his followers, to divert attention away from the power brokers and systemic structures that are the actual source of their troubles.

Trump and his ilk are similar to gang leaders. They create a narrative with a clearly defined in-group and an “evil” out-group. Those not in the ideological gang exist to provide an enemy to fight eternally. Members of the in-group have identities based on never-ending conflict.

Standing against the ideological gang “heroes” are global heroes, those who stand up for the value and worth of every human being. These are the people who embody a modern, universal approach to heroism that transcends the traditional boundaries of gang, tribe, nation, or other allegiance. The global hero is a humanistic and egalitarian leader. They are fueled by a belief in the best of our nature, and the endless potential of our imagination, ingenuity, and cooperation.

Some global heroes find themselves thrust unexpectedly into the role when circumstances arise. But a growing number of people are discovering the heroic mindset through various programs, conferences, and other sources spreading the word about heroism science.

Heroism Versus Toxic Populism

In stark contrast to toxic populism, heroism offers an inclusive ideological foundation for overcoming the uncertainties of the world. By the very nature of its other-centered focus, heroism stands in opposition to intolerant ideologies. It is inherently about positivity toward other human beings. Heroism highlights our ability to choose a path of optimism and collaboration. It is founded on hope for a better future, whereas toxic populism is based on unthinking fear of the different and unknown. While heroism is about trusting in people, toxic populist ideologies depend on the demonization of others.

Though Donald Trump has been voted out of office, he leaves behind a dark legacy of intolerance. Here in the US, and in too many other countries, people are suffering under the ignorance and irrationality of toxic populism. The heroic mindset has great potential to serve as a positive ideological alternative.

A version of this post appeared on The Good Men Project.

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Photo credit: Pexels

Author: Anthony Simeone

I'm a writer, speaker, and an advocate for everyday heroism. I have over two decades of experience in the practical application of literature, philosophy, psychology, and other disciplines. The culmination of my work is the Live the Hero program, a life philosophy that promotes personal development combined with service to others. Live the Hero combines the wisdom found in the arts and humanities with the latest discoveries related to research in heroism science and positive psychology. You can learn more at livethehero.com.

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