Thoughts of a Hero


Recently people have been asking my about heroic situations. In particular, what makes someone act as a ‘hero’ in a heroic situation?

I’ve always thought the answer lay in some inherent qualities of heroes, for whom courage and action are ever-present in the mind and ready to make themselves useful at any moment. This was until today, when an encounter with a mother and her lost child (along with a good dose of meta-thinking), gave me the right answer to the question posed above — a hero is just someone for whom the mental decision-making roulette falls on “act” as opposed to “ignore” more often than not.

Here is what happened:

I was downstairs in the lobby of my office building, having come back from eating lunch (hot dog, Diet Coke® and two Tylenol® Cold Multi-Symptom). As the doors to my elevator began to close, I noticed a little girl, alone dressed in pink, crying in a corner of the lobby. At that moment I would have had enough time to stick my arm through the elevator door and stop it, walk to the girl and escort her to a guard. In the heat of the moment, I chose to let the doors close, mostly due to laziness and telling myself she would be ok since the lobby was full of security people.

I get to my floor, the elevator doors open, and I’m immediately confronted by a distraught mother (also dressed in pink) and an entourage of helpers. “Have you seen a little girl?” she asks. “I saw a little girl, alone, crying and dressed in pink” I reply. Her face lights up and she rushes past me into the elevator, saying “That’s my daughter!” I step out and start talking to her entourage – she seems to have just met them. They tell me the little girl stepped into an elevator and went down on her own. We talk about 9 seconds, and right then an elevator across the hall opens, and inside is the little girl, still alone and crying her eyes out. One of the men I was speaking to lunges to hold the door open so we can wait for the mother, but it closes before he can properly get to it. If I had acted quickly enough, I probably could have gotten there before him (he looked about 70) and held the door open. But I didn’t, I just assumed everything would be ok, that he would get the door in time.

This shows that, at least for now, my roulette isn’t set up for heroic acts. Like anyone else, I’d love to think that I would jump into incoming traffic or spread myself taught over a manhole, but empirically it looks like I would just think that, as Sweetbox told us, everything is gonna be alright. Hopefully I can change that, and next time I’m confronted with a situation like the one above, I’ll act as if my roulette had landed on “be a hero”, if only for the sake of writing about it later. I’ll be a hero next time.

The Emmy award nominated NBC show “Heroes”, which follows the lives of several seemingly ordinary people who suddenly seem to have superpowers, makes the wrong assumptions about what it means to be heroic.

For the show, its hero main characters are imbued with a passive quality which makes them heroic – whether it is the ability to fly, teleport, copy/paste the time/space continuum, or never get hurt. In the real world, very few of us, if not none of us at all, have any of those abilities, so the closest parallel we can find is the incorrect assumption I held in the beginning of this essay that heroes are people who possess an inherent quality which reveals itself in a stressful situation, but which is always present.

This quality, much like the quality of NBC show which everyone seems to love, is inexistent. The following diagram explains the only difference in the minds of heroes and non-heroes (I believe this can change at any time during a person’s, whether through conscious or unconscious processes):



One Response to “Thoughts of a Hero”

  1. Matt Langdon Says:

    I think you’re exactly right in your theory that there’s an internal roulette wheel for heroic deeds. I write about heroes and heroism and have been trying to work out just what heroism is for a while. As you say, I think those sections on the wheel can change size over time with conscious thought and practice and perhaps unconsciously.

    I haven’t watched Heroes, but I plan to when it finally comes out on DVD. My hope is that the superhuman powers are complemented by normal human heroic decision making. That is the point after all.

    Good post.

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