On Heroism


The Hero Project

Phil Zimbardo is an interesting guy.

He’s undoubtedly best known for the Stanford prison experiment, which taught us a harsh lesson about our internal darkness, but his current research focuses on quite the opposite: teaching heroism.

Zimbardo and I have a mutual friend, Matt Langdon, who is also hard at work on the project of building heroes with his Hero Construction Company. Thanks to Langdon, I learned that Zimbardo is planning a book project on heroism. I’ll be interested to see what he writes, even though I’m hoping to have my own book out the door relatively soon. Indeed, my sense is that his project would likely provide grist for the book I have in mind to follow the one I’m wrapping up now. That one is likely to combine political theory with psychology, ZImbardo’s strong suit, and so I’m hopeful that he’ll have his book out within the next few years so that I can cite his findings.

In the meantime, this short piece by Jonah Lehrer (HT: Bizhan Faripour) might provide some insight into where Zimbardo is headed. It describes his Heroic Imagination Project, which focuses on putting “decades of experimental research to use in training the next generation of exemplary Americans.”

Read the whole (excellent) piece at Ari’s blog (it’s long and unfair to reblog as a block quote).

I know someone who has been called a hero. She went to the police to report a child abuser and ended up deported back to her home country because she was an illegal immigrant. The deportation resulted in a miscarriage (she was pregnant at a time and the days spent in the detention center almost with no food were too much for her body). The child abuser was convicted and spent many years in jail. He was abusing the daughter of an acquaintance of this woman.

I know for a fact she never thought of her behavior as “heroic”, even though she put herself in harms way to do the right thing. So maybe heroism is what we do when we don’t even realize we are being heroes. Just when we do the right thing in spite of ourselves, because it is the right thing to do.

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