The Man of Spider!

By Ashley Mekin, Raha BagherNiakan, and Aubrey Hunt

Born in Queens, New York, Peter Parker lived with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May after being orphaned as a child when his parents were killed in a plane crash by U.S. government spies. Peter was an academically gifted child who excelled in science and became a high honors student which in turn often made him a social outcast and a target for bullies.

While attending a public science exhibition at the age of 15 years old, he was bitten on the hand by a radioactive spider which had been irradiated by a beam from a particle accelerator used in a demonstration. Peter was walking home from the exhibition when he was nearly hit by a car; yet, he managed to jump out of the way! It was then that he discovered his incredible strength and his ability to cling to walls, much like a spider.

Ever since that night, Peter started noticing a variety of changes to his body and learned that he had acquired super powers. Spider-Man’s super powers consist of the ability to cling to walls, a “spider-sense” that alerts him to danger, perfect balance and equilibrium, and superhuman strength and agility. Though Spider-Man has cool powers, he isn’t necessarily invincible. Punch him and he bleeds, shoot him and he goes down–his victories are hard fought through guile and effort. However, he is stronger and faster than any normal person and has those amazing webs!

But why do we look up to Spider-Man? What is it about him that makes him different from your every-day human (besides his special powers)? Superhero actor Christopher Reeve once stated, “What makes a person a hero is not the power they have, but rather the wisdom and maturity they have to use the power wisely.” Spider-Man has the opportunity to show everyone all of the powers he has; yet, he decides to put himself in the shoes of the “average” human. For Spider-Man, it is not about receiving high status or gratitude.

He works as a reporter and never uses his abilities to get out of unfavorable situations (that do not have to do with evil, of course!) Furthermore, Spider-Man always has his mask on when saving the world, which further emphasizes his humility. It is not who he is under the mask that is important to him, but rather the idea that the mask represents that is bulletproof. Instead of boasting about the heroic acts he performs every day, by leaving his mask on, Spider-Man demonstrates that what is important is not who saves the world but who is out there doing the best they can do, with what they have, in order to make the world a better place.

Heroes not only do great things, but they also give back by inspiring us and giving us the confidence and motivation to do the same. We are all links in a chain and it is our duty to pay it forward– and that is what will truly change the world.

Many may assume that just because Spider-Man has super powers, he is automatically a hero. However, powers are not what make the hero–the mindset is. What makes someone a hero is how they use their knowledge and natural abilities to improve the world, thus giving others the courage and inspiration to do the same. To be a hero is not just performing one heroic act — it is a journey one chooses to explore. Imagine a world where every human chose to nurture their inner hero.

To quote Christopher Reeves, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Spider-Man began as an ordinary man. He fought crime even when he had no powers. He made the decision to help those in need, knowing that he would receive nothing in return. He proves his courage every day and he never gives up, even when his opponent is much more powerful than himself. Like Bob Riley said, “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the hero within us is revealed.” We all have a hero inside of us– sometimes, we just need a boost of confidence or someone to help us unleash it, to whisper in our ear and say “Go for it. You can do it. You will prevail.”

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Ashley Mekin, Raha BagherNiakan, and Aubrey Hunt are undergraduate students at the University of Richmond. They wrote this essay as part of their course requirement while enrolled in Dr. Scott Allison’s Social Psychology class.

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Emma Watson: Wizard and Hero

By Carolyn Flannery, Nora Tocheny, & Briana Robinson

British actress and model Emma Watson was born on April 15, 1990. She became a household name when, at the age of nine, she was cast as the strong, charismatic Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movie series. Watson auditioned for the part as Hermione because her friends did and because it would “be a laugh”. Although she didn’t take the audition seriously, her drama teacher and casting agents saw great potential in her.

She starred in eight Harry Potter movies, and has gone on to attract prominent roles in other movies and television shows. Her acting career has earned her many awards, such as the Young Artist Award, two Otto Awards, Child Performance of the Year Award, and many more.

Even though Emma Watson had many cinematic successes, becoming a world famous actress did not steer Emma Watson away from continuing her education. In 2009, Watson attended the prestigious Brown University while continuing her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise. She took a year off from her education to act in several movies, but eventually received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature.

Not only is Emma Watson known as an accomplished actress, she was also named a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women and has traveled to Bangladesh, Zambia, and Uruguay to advocate for human rights. In her September 20 speech for the United Nations, she launched the new HeforShe campaign that aims to bring men into the fight for gender equality. This speech earned her a standing ovation and began a national conversation about gender and feminism.

The HeforShe campaign advocates for gender equality as a human rights issue involving both sexes, a message Watson clearly expressed in her speech. Watson proclaims that feminism has become synonymous with “man-hating”, a negative stigma that has thwarted the advancement of gender equality. As a self-declared feminist, Watson explains how both women and men are targets of gender bias, and she urges both men and women to work together to modify today’s social norms. Emma Watson focuses her message to men and women of all ages.  She spoke out for human equality, motivating everyone to take a stand for what they believe in by saying, “If not you, who? If not now, when?”

Emma Watson embodies the qualities of a hero through her strong dedication to achieving her goals and advocating for worthy causes. She is an incredibly successful actress, and has many more achievements that are central in her everyday life. Her acting has brought her worldwide fame, and she uses her fame in a positive way to actively support humanitarian efforts. For example, she supports UNICEF on her official fan page and asks her fans to donate.

Watson also is involved with smaller charities, such as Blue Peter’s Mission Nutrition, and Wild Trout Trust. She has collaborated with Peopletree, a fair trade ecologically friendly fashion company that establishes production facilities in developing countries to provide community members with economic support through employment opportunities. Emma Watson has had a positive and enduring influence on society and has advanced numerous humanitarian causes, making her a role model and modern day hero.

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Carolyn Flannery, Nora Tocheny, & Briana Robinson are undergraduate students at the University of Richmond. They wrote this essay as part of their course requirement while enrolled in Dr. Scott Allison’s Social Psychology class.

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Our 6th Book — The Handbook of Heroism and Heroic Leadership

Over the past two decades, psychological research on optimal human functioning has been burgeoning. Scholars have shown a new (or renewed) interest in topics such as morality, cooperation, altruism, wisdom, meaning, purpose, resilience, hope, flow, human growth, courage, empathy, spirituality, health, public service, self-control, emotional intelligence, and character strengths. The past decade especially has witnessed a surge in research on two types of exceptional individuals who best exemplify these positive qualities: heroes and heroic leaders. The Handbook of Heroism and Heroic Leadership represents the first effort to gather scholarship on heroism into one definitive reference volume.

The three editors of this Handbook represent a nice blend of expertise on heroism and leadership. All three are noted scholars who have published widely on these topics. Scott Allison and George Goethals have authored and edited books such as Heroes, Heroic Leadership, and Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership, Conceptions of Leadership. Goethals has written books on U.S. Presidents and has also edited the Encyclopedia of Leadership, The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership, and Theories of Group Behavior. Roderick Kramer has authored or edited a dozen books including Psychology of Leadership, Power and Influence in Organizations, Conceptions of Leadership, and Restoring Trust in Organizations and Leaders.

The Handbook of Heroism and Heroic Leadership is multidisciplinary in its focus, with contributing authors representing academic backgrounds as diverse as public policy and law, sociology, management, organizational behavior, religion, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, positive psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology. Much of the research on heroism to date has operated like the Indian parable of the blind men exploring the elephant, each with a limited view of the entire picture. Our Handbook promises to remedy this piecemeal approach by providing a much-needed consolidation and synthesis for scholars of heroism and heroic leadership.

The Handbook of  Heroism and Heroic Leadership will contain chapters from dozens of scholars who are internationally renowned experts on topics such as morality, ethics, cooperation, altruism, wisdom, meaning, purpose, resilience, human development, whistleblowing, courage, flow, empathy, self-control, emotional intelligence, and leadership. The volume is divided into three sections:

1) Origins of Heroism — examines the formation, causes, or antecedents of heroism.
2) Types of Heroism — examines qualitatively different categories of heroism.
3) Processes of Heroism — examines the functions, processes, and consequences of heroism.

The Handbook of  Heroism and Heroic Leadership will be the definitive resource for students and scholars interested in the psychology of humanity’s greatest individuals. The editors for the volume are Scott Allison at the University of Richmond, George Goethals at the University of Richmond, and Rod Kramer at Stanford University. The Handbook is scheduled for release in the spring of 2016.

Our 5th Book — The Better Angels of Our Nature: Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

– Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

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Lincoln’s iconic phrase, “the better angels of our nature,” revealed his belief that the noblest qualities of humanity would heal a divided nation. Our book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership, is about the expression of these noble qualities and how leaders such as Lincoln make that expression possible.

To many, spirituality and leadership appear to be unrelated phenomena. We suggest that they are twin processes. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines spirit as “the force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power.” Leadership is said to be the force within a group that is said to give it life, energy, and power. Combining the two terms, we can say that spiritual leadership refers to the process by which a person or persons within a group give it life-affirming aims and provide members with the energy and power to fulfill those aims. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership contains chapters written by leading scholars at the University of Richmond. The book is multidisciplinary in its focus and combines historical explorations of spiritual leadership with an examination of contemporary issues.

The three editors of this volume represent a nice blend of expertise on leadership and spirituality. Scott Allison and George Goethals are social psychologists who have co-authored numerous articles and books on heroes, heroic leadership, and related questions. Craig Kocher is the University of Richmond’s Chaplain, the Jessie Ball duPont Chair of the Chaplaincy, and a lecturer in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. Dr. Kocher is the spiritual leader of the university and has published numerous essays, sermons, and columns on a wide range of spiritual topics.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership will appeal to audiences interested in both leadership and spirituality. Leadership scholars have only recently begun to address spiritual issues, making this volume timely in filling a void in the literature. This book can be adopted in undergraduate and graduate courses on leadership, servant leadership, transformational leadership, heroic leadership, spiritual leadership, ethics, values, morality, religion, philosophy, existential psychology, positive psychology, and human growth.

The book will be released in the Fall of 2015.

Our 4th Book — Conceptions of Leadership: Enduring Ideas and Emerging Insights

Our fourth book on heroism and leadership will be soon be available.  Entitled Conceptions of Leadership, this new volume gathers together the latest work by distinguished leadership scholars in social psychology and related disciplines to explore classic conceptions of leadership.

The book reviews topics such as interpersonal influence, charisma, personality, and power, as well as recent perspectives on those enduring concerns. It includes contemporary departures from traditional approaches to leadership in considering gender, trust, narratives, and the complex relationships between leaders and followers. Together the chapters provide a wide-ranging and coherent account of how human beings get along and the ways they engage and work together to accomplish their goals.

Conceptions of Leadership is edited by George Goethals, Scott Allison, Rod Kramer, and David Messick. Here is an excerpt, taken from David Messick’s opening chapter:

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“In the spring of 1999, two of this book’s editors, Kramer and I, met for lunch at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago. Kramer was on the faculty of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and I was on the faculty of the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. One of the topics that we talked about during lunch was the shift in emphasis in both business schools away from cooperation, trust, communication, coordination, and the like, to the related but distinct topic of leadership. Kramer and I were social psychologists and knew that the topic of leadership had been an important theme in some of the earliest research on group processes. However, as social psychology experienced an infatuation with the “cognitive” revolution in psychology, the topic of leadership shrank into obscurity. By the turn of the millennium, though, there were some new ways of thinking about leadership that had not been introduced to the business school environment. Why not, we thought, have a conference and invite some of social psychology’s most creative innovators to a conference to discuss these new approaches to leadership and then publish a book based on the talks? The conference was held in August of 2000 at the Kellogg School of Management, and the book based on this conference, The Psychology of Leadership, was published in 2005. Two of the creative innovators who were invited to the conference and who wrote chapters for the book are the other two editors of the current book, Allison and Goethals.

“Now, a decade, more or less, later, and there has been a virtual tsunami of books and articles about leadership. When the issue of updating the earlier book was first raised, Kramer and I wondered what the point of a revision would be. We then became aware of the creative work by Allison and Goethals and realized that there was indeed a body of research that had not been described in their earlier book. So Kramer and I discussed the idea of a revision with Allison and Goethals, and we all agreed that such a project was worth exploring. After much discussion and the exchange of scads of ideas, the current book was agreed upon by all of us, who, we should note, are all associated with the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I was a faculty member, Allison and Kramer were graduate students, and Goethals was a visiting scholar.

“The familiarity of us four editors with each other is a blessing but also a shortcoming. We are all male, white, North American university professors. These facts surely limit our views of what constitutes good leader- ship and who qualifies to be thought of as a leader. Famous people from around the world, people like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, are all well known and admired. But there are many others who would be unrecognized by most Americans. Take, for instance, Lee Kuan Yew (familiarly known in Asia as LKY). LKY was the first prime minister of Singapore and one of the most famous and admired political leaders in Asia. When one of us (DM) taught in Hong Kong to a broad mix of Asian executives, LKY was one of the most popular figures executives wrote about to illustrate excellence in leadership. Consider also Molly Melching, about whom a book has appeared (Molloy, 2013). She is a volunteer in a not-for-profit organization in Senegal who spends time in rural villages where the practice of female genital cutting is a well-established cultural tradition. She has begun the process of gradually eliminating this barbaric practice from hundreds of villages in Senegal but remains relatively obscure in the United States. Finally, think of Simon Bolivar. His name is recognized by a fraction of US scholars, but he is famous throughout Latin America for having led the South American people in a rebellion against Spanish domination. Indeed he has one nation named after him (Bolivia) and is widely known as el Libertador throughout Central and South America. He is to Latin America what George Washington is to the United States.

“Inescapably then, we editors are constrained by our backgrounds in our selection of “core” issues about leadership, and we are constrained in ways that will often be invisible to us. For instance, we are all social psychologists and have read much of the same literature on leadership. But that literature is different from that which a political scientist or a journalist or a military historian will have read. Their books on core concepts would be different from ours—not better, necessarily, nor worse, just different. The way we define leadership is likely to differ from the way people whose backgrounds and experiences are different from ours define leadership. This fact is true about professional experiences and it is equally true about political and social differences. Most citizens of the United States, for instance, would not consider Fidel Castro to be a hero and a leader, but most Cubans would. Most North Koreans think their leaders have almost godlike qualities and most Americans think these leaders are monomaniacal lunatics. What is implied by these differences is that leadership, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder. If history is written by winners, one will either be viewed as a hero or a terrorist depending on who wins….”

Conceptions of Leadership will be available in January of 2015.

How I Came To Study Heroes

By Scott T. Allison

The famed comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Campbell was profoundly wise. He knew that the hero’s journey was the grand blueprint for each human being’s path in life. Our journeys are wild and unpredictable to us despite the pattern of the journey being plainly evident in every novel that we read and in every movie that we see. My own personal journey fits the Campbellian path and led me to the study of heroism.

Studying heroes was not on my to-do list as a young assistant professor.  Years ago I was interested not in great people, but in the types of situations that give rise to cooperative behavior in groups. I published a number of studies that examined the conditions under which people placed their group’s welfare ahead of their own individual welfare (e.g., Allison & Messick, 1985, 1990; Samuelson & Allison, 1994). Not surprisingly, these conditions were hard to find, as people tend to show self-serving biases in their distributions of resources and in their self-assessments of their morals and abilities. I was struck by the ways in which subtle variations in the environment could lead people down the path of either selfishness or selflessness (Allison, McQueen, & Schaerfl, 1992).  It wasn’t quite heroism research but my research did focus on the factors that tend to make people behave badly – or well – in group settings.

Then in 1991, I found myself teaching a “great books” humanities course to first-year students at the University of Richmond. The course was multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural in its emphasis, and it required students to read such books as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Plato’s Symposium, Darwin’s Origin of Species, the Analycts of Confucius, Naguib Mahfouz’s Fountain and Tomb, Orhan Pamuk’s The White Castle, and many other great texts from around the globe. What most caught my attention were the two epic stories on the course syllabus: The Epic of Sundiata told by the Malinke people of Africa, and the epic novel Monkey (also known as Journey to the West) written by Wu Cheng’en during China’s Ming dynasty.

These two epic adventures were composed at different points of time in human history, and in different parts of the world, and yet they bore a striking resemblance to the two great western epic stories I had read in high school and in college, namely, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  The Epic of Sundiata tells the story of the hero Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali Empire.  Born an ugly hunchback, Sundiata was prophesized to become a great ruler of the Mali people.  The existing king felt threatened by this prophecy and thus banished Sundiata from the kingdom, but years later Sundiata returned to defeat the king and establish the great empire.  In Monkey, a brave young pilgrim named Tripitaka must travel to strange faraway places to retrieve sacred information needed to enlighten the entire Chinese people.  Tremendous courage, wisdom, and virtue are needed by Tripitaka to accomplish this objective.

People’s fascination with old dead legendary figures caught my attention.  Nearly every psychological theory I had encountered was centered on people’s fascination with living people, not dead people, and so I sensed an opportunity to study how human beings perceive and evaluate the dead.  This led my colleagues and I to write articles on the death positivity bias – the tendency of people to evaluate the dead more favorably than the living (Allison, Eylon, Beggan, & Bachelder, 2009).  It also led to our discovery of the frozen in time effect – people’s tendency to resist changing their evaluations of the dead even when new information surfaces that challenges that evaluation (Eylon & Allison, 2005).

Then, plain old good luck came my way. In 2005, my dear friend and colleague, George Goethals, who had toiled for decades at Siberia-like Williams College in Massachusetts, decided to move south and join me on the faculty at the University of Richmond. Goethals came with an expertise in leadership and an impeccable scholarly record. He and I had collaborated in Santa Barbara back in the mid-1980s while I was a graduate student at the University of California. At that time, Goethals was visiting Santa Barbara while on leave from Williams, and he, David Messick, and I embarked on a collaborative project that, on the surface, would seem to have no connection to heroism at all. We set our sights on understanding self-serving biases in social judgments.

Yet somehow, there was indeed an indirect connection to heroism, although we weren’t consciously aware of it at the time.  Looking back at our 1980s collaborative work in Santa Barbara, I should have realized that some day Goethals and I would surely write about heroes.  The first paper we published together, along with David Messick, was inspired by one of our heroes, the boxer Muhammad Ali.  We were always fascinated by Ali’s influence and leadership outside the ring, particularly his role in making race relations change in the United States.  Ali was always his own man.  He insisted on being called Muhammad Ali rather than what he referred to as his slave name, Cassius Clay.  At first the media refused to go along.  But as we know from his long boxing career, Ali never quit.  Eventually sports writers and broadcasters recognized that he was right to insist that they call him what he wanted to be called.  He led the way for many, many more African Americans to use names that reflected their pride in their racial identity.  There was no doubt that he was the first, and that he led the way.

As George Goethals and I tried to identify the qualities that made Ali an effective leader to a largely hostile white establishment, we focused on his wit and his obvious linguistic intelligence.  We remembered that when Ali was once asked whether he had deliberately faked a low score on the US Army mental test, so that he could avoid the draft, he mischievously quipped, “I never said I was the smartest, just the greatest” (McNamara, 2009).  That self-characterization led us to research some of the limits on people’s self-serving biases.  The result was our Social Cognition paper,  “On being better but not smarter than other people: The Muhammad Ali effect” (Allison, Messick & Goethals, 1989).

At that point neither of us had turned to studying heroism or leadership or the connections between them.  But we were inching closer in that direction.  I joined the faculty at Richmond in 1987 and continued to conduct work focusing on pro-social behavior in groups, examining the conditions under which people place their group’s well-being ahead of their own individual interests.  Goethals, meanwhile, returned to Williams and was publishing some great work on group goals, social judgment processes, and eventually leadership.

When Goethals was coaxed to join the faculty at Richmond in 2004, he and I renewed our collaboration, this time focusing on the underdog effect – the tendency of people to root for disadvantaged entities in competition.  This research was borne out of our earlier interest in such diverse heroes such as Muhammad Ali, Sundiata, and Odysseus, all of whom somehow overcame the most terrible adversity to achieve greatness.  Goethals and I embarked on a research program exploring people’s love for underdogs (Kim et al., 2008), and this research evolved slowly into work examining triumphant underdogs who became exemplary leaders and heroes.  Our interest in underdogs, Goethals’ exceptional scholarship on U.S. Presidents, and my own research on people’s reverence for the dead (Allison et al., 2009), all eventually led to the books and articles on heroes that Goethals and I have written today (Allison & Goethals, 2008, 2011, 2013, in press; Goethals & Allison, 2012).

Our first book on heroes, Heroes: What They Do & Why We Need Them (Allison & Goethals, 2011) addressed the psychology of constructing heroes in our minds as well as the path that great heroes take when they perform their heroic work. Although scholarship on leadership, particularly Howard Gardner’s (1997) Leading Minds, was always important in the way we thought about heroes, our general exploration of the psychology of heroism diverted us from focusing on the connections between leadership and heroism.  Those connections were explored more fully in our review article in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Goethals & Allison, 2012), where Goethals and I proposed a conceptual framework for understanding heroism in terms of the influence that heroes exert.  Heroes, we argued, vary in their depth of influence, their breadth of influence, their duration of influence, and the timing of their influence.

But there was clearly much more to consider.  This became increasingly clear in 2010 when we started to blog about heroes.  Within four years we have written more than 150 hero analyses, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the blog.  Exactly 100 of our hero profiles were included in our book on Heroic Leadership (Allison & Goethals, 2013).  Profiling so many great individuals made it increasingly clear that all of our heroes were also leaders.  They might not fit traditional leader schemas, or people’s implicit theories of leadership, but they were clearly leaders in the sense that Gardner defined it in 1997.  Either directly or indirectly, through face-to-face contact or through their accomplishments, products and performances, heroes influence and lead significant numbers of other people.

While I will leave it to others to assess the significance of my body of work on heroes, I do wish to share two observations about the history of my ongoing research on heroism.  These reflections speak more to the path I have taken in my work than they do to any destination I have reached.  My first observation is that I have benefited from researching the concept of heroism from multiple paradigmatic angles and methodological perspectives.  For over thirty years I’ve looked at selfless behavior using case studies, interviews, surveys, experimentation, dispositional analysis, and contextual approaches. Philosopher William James once wrote that science is best served when scientists not only remain open to fresh perspectives, but actively seek them out. James believed that a single perspective offers but a mere, limited slice of the world (James, 1909/1977).  Adopting multiple scientific perspectives expands what one can observe and thus can learn about a phenomenon (James, 1899/1983b).  I have found this idea to be certainly true in my study of heroism.

My second observation relates to the Joseph Campbell quote that began this essay.  We may think that we can plan how our careers will unfold, but in reality outside forces are always at work that have a far more powerful effect on our professional lives than anything we could ever imagine.  What exactly are these “outside forces”?  They are the influential people, resources, circumstances, luck, and zeitgeist which are forever lurking and shifting around us.  For me, these factors included David Messick’s willingness to serve as my advisor in graduate school, George Goethals’ decision to choose Santa Barbara as the location for his leave in 1985, my choice to work at a small liberal arts school like Richmond which offered that “great books” course, Richmond’s school of leadership offering a position to Goethals in 2004, and many, many more happy chance events.

The serendipitous events that shape our lives are inescapable.  During my career, I have been swept and swayed by these influences and have tried not to fight them but to embrace them.  These ever-present and ever-changing forces underscore the truism that nothing we can plan in life is ever as special as the unintended route we ultimately take.  Dan Gilbert, the eminent social psychologist at Harvard University, was once asked, “What’s the key to success?”  His immediate reply:  “Get lucky.  Accidentally find yourself at the right place at the right time.”  The idea here is that while we’d like to think we are the architects of our own destiny, we are more the product of forces beyond our control than we would like to think.   Gilbert later went on to explain this idea more fully in his best-selling book entitled, appropriately enough, Stumbling on Happiness (Gilbert, 2007).

“Serendipity,” wrote scientist Pek van Andel, “is the art of discovering an unsought finding.”  Many unsought events had to come together for George Goethals and me to embark on our exploration of heroes.  The beautiful orchestration of unpursued circumstances led to the books and articles on heroism that we published (Allison & Goethals, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2015; Goethals & Allison, 2012, 2015; Goethals, Allison, Kramer, & Messick, 2015).  The wondrous thing about serendipity is that it has our best interests in mind, as long as we trust it.  We need only remain open to receiving, and capitalizing on, the unexpected gifts and opportunities that sly happenstance throws our way.

References

Allison, S. T., Eylon, D., Beggan, J.K., & Bachelder, J. (2009).  The demise of leadership: Positivity and negativity in evaluations of dead leaders.  The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 115-129.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2008). Deifying the dead and downtrodden:  Sympathetic figures as inspirational leaders. In C.L. Hoyt, G. R. Goethals, & D. R. Forsyth (Eds.), Leadership at the crossroads: Psychology and leadership. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2011).  Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2013).  Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals.  New York: Routledge.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2015). “Now he belongs to the ages”: The heroic leadership dynamic and deep narratives of greatness. In Goethals, G. R., Allison, S. T., Kramer, R., & Messick, D. (Eds.), Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2015). Hero worship: The elevation of the human spirit. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour.

Allison, S. T., & Messick, D. M.  (1985).  Effects of experience on performance in a replenishable resource trap.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 943-948.

Allison, S. T., & Messick, D. M.  (1990).  Social decision heuristics and the use of shared resources.  Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 3, 195-204.

Allison, S. T., McQueen, L. R., & Schaerfl, L. M.  (1992).  Social decision making processes and the equal partitionment of shared resources.  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28, 23-42.

Allison, S. T., Messick, D. M., & Goethals, G. R.  (1989).  On being better but not smarter than others:  The Muhammad Ali effect.  Social Cognition, 7, 275-296.

Eylon, D., & Allison, S. T. (2005).  The frozen in time effect in evaluations of the dead.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1708-1717.

Gardner, H. (1997). Leading minds — An anatomy of leadership.  Harper & Collins, London.

Gilbert, D. (2007). Stumbling on happiness. New York: Vintage.

Goethals, G. R. & Allison, S. T. (2012).  Making heroes:  The construction of courage, competence and virtue.  Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 183-235.

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2015). Kings and charisma, Lincoln and leadership: An evolutionary perspective. In Goethals, G. R., Allison, S. T., Kramer, R., & Messick, D. (Eds.), Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Goethals, G. R., Allison, S. T., Kramer, R., & Messick, D. (Eds.) (2015). Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Goethals, G. R., Messick, D. M., & Allison, S. T.  (1991).  The uniqueness bias:  Studies of constructive social comparison.  In J. Suls & B. Wills (Eds.), Social Comparison: Contemporary theory and research (pp. 149-176).  New York:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

James, W. (1977). A pluralistic universe. In F. H. Burkahradt, F. Bowers, & I. K. Skrupskelis (Eds.), The works of William James. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1909)

James, W. (1983b). What makes a life significant? In F. H. Burkahradt, F. Bowers, & I. K. Skrupskelis (Eds.), The works of William James: Talks to teachers on psychology and to students on some of life’s ideals (pp. 150–167). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1899)

Kim, J., Allison, S. T., Eylon, D., Goethals, G., Markus, M., McGuire, H., & Hindle, S. (2008). Rooting for (and then Abandoning) the Underdog.  Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 2550-2573.

Mackie, D. M., Allison, S. T., Worth, L. T., & Asuncion, A. G. (1992). The impact of outcome biases on counter-stereotypic inferences about groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18, 44-51.

McNamara, M. (2009).  Muhammad Ali’s new fight: Literacy. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-2207050.html on June 15, 2012.

Samuelson, C. D., & Allison, S. T.  (1994).  Cognitive factors affecting the use of social decision heuristics when sharing resources.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 58, 1-27.

 

Pedro Albizu Campos: Hero of the Puerto Rican People

By Miguel Rosario, Caitlin Selinger, and Kylie Steadman

Pedro Albizu Campos was the consummate hero. In 1921 he became the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard Law School while mastering many different languages — English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and Greek. After earning his Harvard law degree, he returned to Puerto Rico and opened a one-man law office where he accepted food, water, and clothing as payment for his legal services from people who could not afford a lawyer.

Pedro Albizu Campos was a man who was more concerned with the progress of the Puerto Rican people than with his own personal gain. As president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party (PNP), he was determined to lead Puerto Rico in its political battle against the United States for the island’s independence. It was during his time as president of the PNP that Puerto Rico would rally the most support it had ever seen towards its fight for political autonomy.

As befitting a hero, Albizu Campos was able to overcome considerable adversity. During his time in the United States, like many other people of color, he had to overcome blatant racism. After World War I broke out, Campos volunteered for the U.S. military and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the army reserves. Upon completing his training Campos was assigned to the 375th Regiment, the unit reserved strictly for blacks—an act that was in accordance with the US military policies of the time due to racial segregation. Pedro Albizu Campos would eventually be honorably discharged in 1919 with the rank of First Lieutenant.

Campos graduated from Harvard Law School with the highest grade-point average in his entire law class, earning him the right to give the valedictorian speech at his graduation ceremony. Many people at Harvard did not appreciate having a mulatto Puerto Rican as valedictorian, so one of his professors delayed two of his final exams, thus keeping Campos from graduating on time. He would eventually receive his degree a year later after taking both exams and passing them while in Puerto Rico.

The conflicts that Pedro Albizu Campos experienced with the U.S. were his motivation for leading the PNP in its fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. During his time as president, members of the PNP met U.S. repression with armed resistance. In 1950 Campos was arrested as a political prisoner and was subjected to human radiation experiments leading to his death in 1965. Ironically enough this abuse occurred decades after Campos accused Dr. Cornelius Rhoads (a leading cancer specialists with the Rockefeller Institute) of injecting live cancer cells into Puerto Ricans to see if the cancer could spread. The accusations came from a manuscript Rhoads had written which Campos had published after getting his hands on it.

It was not until 1994 that the U.S. Department of Energy admitted to conducting these human radiation experiments on Campos and other individuals. Campos thus became the focal point of tension between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, putting his life on the line in the process. The lasting legacy of Pedro Albizu Campos and his fight for his people’s freedom has been compared to that of Patrick Henry, Nat Turner, Chief Crazy Horse, Frederick Douglass, and Nelson Mandela. Albizu’s political and military actions forever transformed Puerto Rico, its people, and its culture.

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Miguel Rosario, Caitlin Selinger, and Kylie Steadman are undergraduate students at the University of Richmond.  They are enrolled in Scott Allison’s Social Psychology course and composed this essay as part of their course requirement

The Invisible Heroes Among Us

dc_firefighter.jpgBy Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Over the past year, we’ve blogged about many important heroes.  We described the globally transforming impact of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  We shared the remarkably inspiring stories of Pat Tillman, Thomas Jefferson, and Mother Teresa.  And we discussed heroes who displayed unusual courage in doing the right thing, people such as Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali, and John F. Kennedy.  Most of these individuals are household names whose faces we recognize and whose heroism is known to much of the world.

Yet, having said all this, they may not be our most important heroes.

Recently, we conducted a study in which participants were asked to estimate the prevalence of six different types of heroes in our society.  The participants were given a sheet of paper listing the six categories of heroes, along with a brief definition of each.  teacher-writing-on-a-9540.jpgTransforming heroes were defined as people who transform the society in which they live. Traditional heroes were described as individuals who show exceptional talent or who perform a single great moral action. Transparent heroes were defined as individuals who do their heroic work behind the scenes, outside the public spotlight. Transitional heroes were described as people whose heroism is unique to a particular developmental stage in our lives. Trending heroes were defined as individuals who are on a trajectory toward becoming heroes.  And transitory heroes were described as people who perform a single nonmoral action that bring them great momentary fame.

The results of our study revealed that people clearly view one of these types of heroes as far more abundant in our society compared to the others.  Which hero is it?  The transparent hero.  Participants estimated that 65% of all heroes are transparent — the invisible individuals among us whose heroic work we often take for granted, yet they perform their heroism quietly and bravely while others bask in the limelight.  No other category of heroes came close to matching this percentage.  Participants judged traditional heroes to comprise 13% of the heroes among us; transitional heroes scored 10%, transforming heroes 7%, trending heroes 3%, and transitory heroes 2%.

Who are these transparent heroes that dominate the heroic landscape?  We’ve found that people have no trouble at all thinking of many examples of these invisible heroes.  They are our parents who made great sacrifices for us.  They soldier.jpgare the teachers who molded our minds, the coaches who taught us discipline and hard work, and healthcare workers, emergency first responders, and military personnel who protect us and save us from calamity.  These heroic individuals are everywhere, quietly going about the business of nurturing us and keeping us safe. They are quite possibly the most under-appreciated members of our society.

And so if you see parents who are raising a child under challenging circumstances, we urge you to show your appreciation to them.  We encourage you to thank your teachers, both past and present.  Take a moment to express gratitude to your former and current coaches and mentors.  The next time you encounter a law enforcement officer, paramedic worker, hospital employee, or firefighter, be sure to let them know how heroic, extraordinary, and appreciated they are.  And most importantly, be sure to shake the hand of the next military serviceman or woman you see.  Their heroism may be unseen to most of society, but their sacrifice makes every good thing in our lives possible.

These invisible heroes may never make it into our school textbooks, garner their own Wikipedia entries, or have their own youtube video that goes viral.  But they are all indispensable members of our society.  These hidden heroes are also our most essential heroes.

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Do you have a hero that you would like us to profile?  Please send your suggestions to Scott T. Allison (sallison@richmond.edu) or to George R. Goethals (ggoethal@richmond.edu).

Sidney Poitier: Quiet Revolutionary

© 2013 Rick Hutchins

The word revolution suggests noise. People will do a lot to draw attention to their cause; yelling and shouting is usually the least of it. But some revolutions happen quietly, peacefully, inevitably. All Sidney Poitier had to do to change the world was to be Sidney Poitier.

His humble beginnings did not in any way suggest greatness. A premature baby born to a poor farming family from the Bahamas, he survived infancy against the odds. His early life in the islands, in Miami and in New York was an anonymous one of farming and odd jobs, primarily washing dishes. He did not learn to read until his late teens. After a stint in the army, he simply went back to washing dishes. While he was able to gain a spot in the American Negro Theater, his early appearances were not applauded.

Then things changed. One successful role on Broadway led to another, which led to a notable role in the film No Way Out, which led to more Hollywood successes. Suddenly this quiet, perseverant man was a star — the first Black actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award, then the first Black actor win the Academy Award for Best Actor.

But he was more than that. In the tempestuous 1960s, in the midst of the Civil Rights Era, a time of race riots and student protests and a counter-cultural overturning of tradition, a time of clashes between generations and ideologies and bewildered bystanders, a time in which the pent-up anger of centuries came to a head, Sidney Poitier found himself to be a role model. Without any ambition to do so, he touched the lives of millions.

You could hear a pin drop.

This is not to say there was no controversy; nothing and no one is immune to that. There were accusations of tokenism, of appeasement. With his serene manner, his gentle voice — even after all these years still informed by a gentle island lilt — and his general thoughtfulness, this gentleman was deemed by many to be inadequate to the revolution. As the only major Black actor of his time, he was encouraged to take stronger, grittier, more controversial roles — in the parlance of the age, Blacker roles.

Poitier was conflicted. He did not disagree, since, as does any artist, he thrived on challenge. But, in his thoughtful way, he determined that living up to his own expectations as a role model was more important. He did indeed tackle the great racial issues of his time– a man of his character could do no less– but he did it his own way.

In the classic film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, a movie whose theme of the marriage between a Black man and a White woman (miscegenation!) was still unspeakably scandalous to much of the nation, his character quietly said to his father, “You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.”

And that was it. While others accused and attacked, he led by example. While others incited passion, he incited peace. While others were fighting battles, he won the war by teaching us that the entire conflict was based on a lie.

Of course it’s not over, even after all these decades; the troubled times are not behind us. There is still racism and chauvinism, still confusion and chaos, still antisocial throwbacks and self-serving crusaders. Even so, standing serenely above them all is a giant named Sidney Poitier– actor, director, author, diplomat– a role model for those with sincerity in their hearts, a leader for those who will listen.

Sidney Poitier, you see, is not too quiet — the world is simply too loud.

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Rick Hutchins was born in Boston, MA, and is a regular contributor to this blog.  In his quest to live up to the heroic ideal of helping people, he has worked in the health care field for the past twenty-five years, in various capacities. He is also the author of Large In Time, a collection of poetry, The RH Factor, a collection of short stories, and is the creator of Trunkards. Links to galleries of his art, photography and animation can be found on http://www.RJDiogenes.com.

Two of Hutchins’ previous essays on heroes appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals.

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The Heroic Companionship of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

In our Heroes Book, we discuss the remarkable story of Karl Merk, a German farmer who ten years ago lost both his arms in a farming accident.  In July 2008, Merk was the recipient of the first double-arm transplant, conducted in a 15-hour surgery at the Munich University Clinic by a team of 40 doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists.  Today, after three years of intensive physical therapy, Merk has regained significant use of his arms and is acquiring more function every day.

Merk and the medical team that is treating him are an example of companionate heroes — people who are dependent on each other for their heroic qualities to surface.  Usually, but not always, companionate heroes consist of a person who needs considerable help to survive, and another person who has the perfect skill-set to assist him or her.

Perhaps the most famous companionate heroes of the 20th century were Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.  When Keller was 19 months old, she contracted an illness that left her blind and deaf.  She was imprisoned in a dark, silent world, and no one in her family could reach her.  Keller’s parents hired 20-year-old Anne Sullivan to perform the seemingly hopeless task of educating Keller.  Sullivan was the perfect person for the job.  Visually impaired herself, Sullivan was empathetic, patient, resourceful, and persevering.

Sullivan first tried to teach Keller basic language skills by using her finger to spell words on Keller’s hand, but Keller did not understand that each object had a different name.  A breakthrough occurred on April 5, 1887.  Sullivan led Keller to a water pump and splashed water on one of Keller’s hands while spelling the word water on the other hand. Keller later recalled, “We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.”

Sullivan next tackled Keller’s atrocious table manners. Keller had the habit of eating with her hands, grabbing from the plates of everyone at the table, and throwing a temper tantrum if anyone tried to stop her.  Sullivan punished Keller’s tantrums by refusing to “talk” with Helen by spelling words on her hands.  Soon Keller developed impeccable manners and learned how to perform everyday tasks such as getting dressed and brushing her hair.
Thanks to Sullivan, Keller was transformed into a bright, curious, lovely young woman who was destined to make a positive mark on the world. The bond between Keller and Sullivan grew into a beautiful friendship that lasted for 49 years.

Keller was the first deaf and blind person in America to graduate from college, and she later became a prolific author of many books and articles on a variety of social and political topics. Most importantly, Keller became a world-famous advocate for people with disabilities. The 1962 film The Miracle Worker inspired millions of people with its story of Keller’s triumph over disability and Sullivan’s selfless devotion to helping Keller fulfill her vast potential.

“Helen Keller was a fighter,” said Keller’s grandniece, Keller Thompson-Johnson. “She didn’t hide from her problems. She knew that to become a better person and to show other people that they too could overcome their disabilities, she had to be a fighter herself.”  During her lifetime, Helen Keller was consistently ranked near the top of almost every Most Admired list.  In addition, Anne Sullivan deservedly acquired the reputation as a legendary teacher.  Keller and Sullivan are forever linked as heroes who brought out the best in each other.

Below is a rare clip of Anne Sullivan explaining how she taught language skills to Helen Keller.