Tiny Wisdom: Choose to Be a Hero

“A hero is a man who does what he can.” -Romain Rolland

Two weeks ago, a group of brave bystanders in Utah banded together to lift a burning car and save a man trapped beneath it.

In 2009, a passenger on Northwest Flight 253 leapt onto a burning man to prevent him from detonating an explosive device on Christmas Day.

Four years ago, a 50-year old man threw himself onto the subway tracks in Manhattan, just as a train was arriving, to save a man who had fallen after having a seizure.

These men and women all had one thing in common: they were ordinary people, just like you and me, and they decided in an instant to do something heroic.

According to renowned psychologist Dr. Phil Zimbardo, famous for his Stanford prison experiment, we can all be heroes—and it doesn’t require us to put our lives at risk.

Dr. Zimbardo has dedicated his career to studying the darker side of human nature to understand what causes some people to act kindly and others to act cruelly. His research has revealed that we all have the potential for good and bad, and it’s largely influenced by our situations.

So what exactly makes a hero? Simply put, a hero is someone who chooses not to watch and wait in the face of a crisis.

A hero puts compassion into action by helping someone in need—whether it’s a friend or a stranger.

A hero decides to speak out against injustice, instead of assuming someone else will do it.

A hero supports the causes that matter to him or her, without expecting reward.

It’s easy to feel powerless when it comes to righting the biggest wrongs in our world. But stronger than our fear that we can’t make a difference is our instinct to try.

Today I commit to doing what I can—being there for those who need me, standing up for what I believe in, and choosing not to ignore my instincts when I feel that something isn’t right.

How will you be a hero?

Photo by merick.fightBoredom

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • If there are many heroic people, our world would have been a better place.

  • Angelicavsierra

    I love that you wrote about this. I my self have been trying to figure put how to be hero from day to day. Yesterday I shared with my department at school Dr. Zimbardo’s link to HIP! In addition my school is hosting and introduction to his hero project on Saturday. I am really hoping that my peers will pick up on this and reconsider their day to day routines and perhaps acquire the tools to become heroes whenever they can.

  • Anonymous

    I have some years of experience trying to help people notice when they are being heroes. I hope nobody minds when I share this experience and knowledge and add to this wonderful article (some points will repeat because the article is very accurate):

    Being a hero is more common and more frequent than we realize. It can also become a trap.The least self-acknowledged hero, that I have spent more than a decade trying to honour either online, through community building, writing or in private conversation: is someone who stops feeling like a victim, lets go, participates willingly in their own change, and becomes the new person the catalytic pain was meant to motivate. This does not mean sucking it up. This means facing it, allowing yourself to feel it, to scream and cry when you have to, and then reach a point of peace. People who use their pain to transform themselves into deeper people, are heroes. Those who do this so slowly that nobody notices are still heroes in the making, and deserve respect. I wish people could see this heroism in themselves more easily, and part of my conscious choice to be a hero is to help people see themselves better.If you want to experience your heroism, realize that the potential is already there and you just have to live authentically. When you hurt, hurt, and then let this move you forward. Heroes don’t need to save the day. They just need to persist and give themselves the gift of feeling the tenacity of life coursing through them. Quickly or slowly, it’s the same process. If you stew or jump, heroism is at play. Start in your heart and appreciate what you’ve been through for what it has done, and will yet do, to propel you forward into depth and awareness. Or, you can be totally selfless and rescue a life, or listen to a friend’s lament, or make a batch of the favourite cookies of someone who survived a car accident, or have a drink and be with them to talk about the event. Whatever. Honour them in some way that shows that you know them, which will help them get grounded on a higher level again.In short, acknowledging that you are life, not a life, is heroism.

    Heroism is full of traps:

    1-Your growth made you a hero. When it comes to slower heroism, you have to get permission to help someone because if you save someone from their difficulty, you will be denying them their growth opportunity. Receiving help can be seen as skipping steps, devaluing experience, or moving too quickly. Those you help can get angry with you for this, feel smothered, or that you’re overly meddlesome. 

    2-The emotional pay-off of being a hero to others is addictive. It feels so great that you risk believing that the quickest and best way to feel great is through being a hero to others. If subtly setup as a pay-off instead of a gift, a person can do charity all day long for years and despite looking great on the outside, is not going to end up giving the greatest value. Pay-off heroism parading as charity  corrupts the genuinity of good intentions. You’ll work harder and harder only to realize that people are responding less and less, and will want you around less and less; feeling that you are taking more than you’re giving.

    If you’ve been in enough relationships, you will have seen this dynamic at play in romantic situations that led to a breakup. It’s very, very common to give to our partners so much that we feel super-great being such a devoted partner, and then become completely confused when it only chases the other person away. We’re left confused and our head spinning. It’s such a seductive thing to do; to be great to someone, feeling great/responsible/loving as a result, doing more and all without realizing that we’ve shifted the giving to a taking.

    3-As an extreme of #2, watch the ego. You can begin to feel overly important when experiencing heroism too frequently. This is a trap religions often fall into. To counter this, reach for humility and hold dear greater spiritual truths that: Nobody NEEDS you in particular to save them. Someone else might help as life shifts people, places and things into position or they might save themselves. If you believe in God, then you can recognize that God is omnipresent for all, already. Difficult situations are often gifts to wake people up and it’s best not to prevent them from having that awakening. You were not denied yours, so be considerate. Be very clear on all this so that you don’t live a life of excessive perceived need that without you, the world and it’s people will never become more. Excessive self-rewarding and growth inhibiting heroism is called martyrdom and it’s less constructive than our society has romanticized it to be.

    You will rise to the occasion when needed, so don’t worry about it:

    The world is always made better with you in it, if you act heroically or not. Find the balance by being of the heart in crisis, and of the heart and mind when events are moving more slowly. When in doubt, don’t worry about it because the life-instinct will kick in when it really, truly, honestly, needs to. It knows more than you and is a fundamental part of you way below your ability to think. You don’t have to control it, understand it nor know it. 🙂 It will spring forth without a thought as many parents will confirm, “I just jumped into the lake without thinking to save my son”.

  • Anonymous

    Our world is teeming with heroes. The state of the world is from a lack of awareness of this fact, so we undervalue ourselves, and each other.

    On the other hand, excessive heroism can lead to the most violent of acts perceived as a self-defence or defence of others.

    Yep, heroes everywhere, but not all are constructive.

  • Christine

    This is a great article. I have been feeling this need to make a change in my life that I launched a non-profit named Walk4Good to help people remember to practice kindness and pay-it-forward.

  • Kamihimes

    This is spot on….thank you!!

  • Wow Ariella! I have found all of what you wrote to be true. There is a strong emotional payoff for “rescuing” other people, but sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is acknowledge that other people don’t need to be “rescued”–the merely need supportive friends who enable them to rescue themselves. Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas!

  • That’s great that you shared this with your department! I saw Dr. Zimbardo speak this past weekend and I was blown away. I think what he’s doing through HIP is amazing and so needed.

  • Anonymous

    You’re welcome! I’m always glad to hear that others are wise to these things. Yay! We can all be more effective supporters!

  • Anonymous

    Hero’s make the world a better place!!

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  • So does this make a leader is the person who does all he can and then some?

  • Anonymous

    A leader causes others to lead themselves so that the leader becomes unnecessary. Effectiveness is more important than herculean effort. Being a good leader does not require increasing effort to the point of martyrdom.