Studying the origins of heroic behavior can help us foster the best traits of humanity.
The term “heroism science” encompasses the personal development aspect of the heroic mindset, as well as the study of the biological and behavioral motivations underlying altruistic risk. This emerging discipline also seeks to encourage the conscious replication of heroic thinking and action. In other words, it explores how we can teach people to cultivate heroic behaviors into everyday life.
Heroism encompasses what could be described as the “best” traits of humanity. It involves the personal aspects of the individual: bravery and courage, self-discipline, confidence, problem-solving skills, and other factors that make someone a capable and high-functioning member of civilization. Indeed, traditional heroism, as expressed through mythology over the ages, has used heroic figures to inspire us to become dynamic and active contributors to society for the simultaneous betterment of ourselves and others.
For millennia, heroism has been the domain of mythology and philosophy. The countless fictional heroic figures we have created serve a dual purpose: to inspire the individual to achieve personal mastery while simultaneously stressing the importance of protecting and uplifting others. These two goals are intertwined for good reason: both aspects of heroism serve to temper and give purpose to the other. Personal development without an eventual altruistic outlet can dovetail easily into self-centeredness. Additionally, focusing solely on altruism can potentially lead to the sacrifice of one’s own well-being, and thereby actually decrease our ability to help others.
Merging Myth and Science
With the rise of heroism science, we are now enhancing our understanding of why we act the way we do when we risk ourselves for the sake of others. We are exploring the phenomenon to corroborate what our ancestors codified through mythology and build upon that wisdom through empirical study.
The number of scholars, researchers, and institutions dedicated to the study of heroic behavior continues to grow. In particular, experts in psychology and other disciplines from across the globe created—and contribute to—the journal of Heroism Science to solicit and collect peer-reviewed research. According to the journal’s website, “heroism science is part of a broader movement that aims to foster holistic well-being, promote heroic awareness and action, civic responsibility and engagement, and build resilient individuals and communities in the face of increasingly complex social landscapes.”
In future articles, I will focus on some of the leading minds in the emerging field of heroism science. There are numerous individuals working to increase our knowledge regarding this fundamental aspect of the human experience. The hope is that we will continue to find methods to teach everyday people the traits of heroism to incorporate into their daily lives. All of us stand to benefit if more of us make conscious use of heroic ideals and behaviors, rather than relying on heroism to arise solely from instinct in response to random and infrequent circumstances. If we can broaden what it means to be heroic and teach a proactive mindset rather than depend on the reactive, it offers us a vital tool to promote justice and well-being for all.
A version of this post appeared on The Good Men Project.
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