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Through John Galt, novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand discussed the "hero in your soul" in her famous book Atlas Shrugged: "Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours." Dictionary definitions of the word hero usually refer to mythical or legendary figures with great strength or ability, or someone admired for his noble qualities (e.g., courage) and achievements of good. But what is the "good?" What are the extraordinary achievements and virtues that make someone a hero, and how does scale play into the definition? Can someone be considered a hero just based on his actions, regardless of the results achieved? Does there have to be a struggle or personal cost for an action to be heroic? Who are your heroes? Can someone consciously choose to be a hero? Can heroism be taught?


Can modern science help us to create heroes? That's the lofty question behind the Heroic Imagination Project, a new nonprofit started by Phil Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford University. The goal of the project is simple: to put decades of experimental research to use in training the next generation of exemplary Americans, churning out good guys with the same efficiency that gangs and terrorist groups produce bad guys. At first glance, this seems like a slightly absurd endeavor. Heroism, after all, isn't supposed to be a teachable trait. We assume that people like Gandhi or Rosa Parks or the 9/11 hero Todd Beamer have some intangible quality that the rest of us lack. When we get scared and selfish, these brave souls find a way to act, to speak out, to help others in need. That's why they're heroes.

Mr. Zimbardo rejects this view. "We've been saddled for too long with this mystical view of heroism," he says. "We assume heroes are demigods. But they're not. A hero is just an ordinary person who does something extraordinary. I believe we can use science to teach people how to do that."

...The first lessons focus on human frailties, those hard-wired flaws that allow evil to flourish... After being "fortified against the dark side," the student heroes are trained to be more empathetic. Most of these lessons revolve around perception, on becoming more attentive to the feelings of others...

The next phase of instruction has a grandiose title: "Internalizing the Heroic Imagination." The students begin studying the behavior of other heroes, past and present...

The last step of hero training is the most important. The students begin rehearsing their heroism in the real world, translating the classroom lessons into positive changes. (No cape required.) The students start with baby steps, as they are instructed to do one thing every day that makes someone else feel better...

"One of the problems with our culture is that we've replaced heroes with celebrities," Mr. Zimbardo says. "We worship people who haven't done anything. It's time to get back to focusing on what matters, because we need real heroes more than ever."

Are Heroes Born, or Can They Be Made?


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Dec 15, 2010 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=405

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