All posts by Scott Allison

scotttallison@zoho.com'

About Scott Allison

Scott Allison has authored numerous books, including 'Heroes' and 'Heroic Leadership'. He is Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond where he has published extensively on heroism and leadership. His other books include Reel Heroes, Conceptions of Leadership, Frontiers in Spiritual Leadership, and the Handbook of Heroism. His work has appeared in USA Today, National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate Magazine, MSNBC, CBS, Psychology Today, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has received Richmond's Distinguished Educator Award and the Virginia Council of Higher Education's Outstanding Faculty Award.

To Be a Hero, or Not To Be? On the Pursuit of the Heroic Life

Heroes blog OE 3By Olivia Efthimiou

Much attention is now being paid to the heights humans can achieve and the best of human nature. This is indeed a welcome and much-needed change, and heroism is in many ways leading the fold in this new wave of thinking. The hero is overwhelmingly seen as a symbol of triumph, overcoming the odds against him or her for some victorious end result. They defeat evil and order is restored in the world.

But reality is not as clear-cut. The burden and scars the hero can be left with as a result of what they have learnt and the trials they have undergone may leave them dispirited, calling for even greater amounts of courage to deal with the outcome of the journey. At other times there is no clear triumph as the journey might mean having to live with lifelong pain, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, injuries or brain damage.

Psychologists Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo (2006, p. 31) speak of the “subtleties” of heroism that have been lost. The common conception of heroism, which is more of an exaggerated, overemphasised ideal, is juxtaposed against ‘ordinary’ reality. An ordinary wo/man who as a result of a single noble act or acts of bravery (usually in sequence) rises to the status of hero or superhuman, sealed into this realm therein. As Franco and Zimbardo (2006) suggest we are all, under the right conditions, capable of both evil (as demonstrated in the Stanford Prison experiment) and heroism. Arguably it is most accurate to describe the life of a human as a combination of both, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Daily acts of reaching outside our comfort zone can be regarded as heroic – we are creatures of habit and comfort. But we are also curious creatures, with an innate thirst for imagining the impossible. An act of doing something that feels uncomfortable, however small, taps into this inborn adventurous spirit, bringing us closer to our innate heroic nature. It is these small subtleties that are indeed becoming lost in all the celebratory fan fare of ‘superheroes’ and celebrity culture. True heroism is likely Heroes blog OE 1to be a quiet, subtle thing, like a whisper in the dark that you can barely sense. But it is there. So let us begin to celebrate the small, the subtle, the unseen. For it is there that our true treasure lies.

Introducing the concept of the “banality of heroism” proposed by Franco and Zimbardo (2006) almost a decade ago, by no means denigrates the centrality of heroism in day to day life. If anything it escalates it, paving the way for a system where everyone is a hero. Acknowledging the value of heroism means acknowledging the value of journey and story, both our own and of others. We must begin to respect story as science, as episteme (from its Ancient Greek derivation), or as deep knowing – and knowledge as a journey itself – and dispel one-dimensional views of individuals, groups and the cosmos, recognising them for the rich tapestries that they are.

I believe that this type of science can provide answers to the enduring presence of heroism, which is arguably one of the few constants of not only the history of humans, but the universe itself. I believe we will also constantly fail to fully comprehend heroism’s function if we continue to look at it as a ‘higher’ ‘superior’ state of humanity (and indeed by not looking outside humanity), but rather as something innate and firmly embedded within life and physiology itself. I believe that rather than thinking of heroism as something ‘out there’, a magical quality associated with a ‘mythical’ past that left us, it has always been there. We just need to open our eyes to it in new ways. In describing this work as merely an initial attempt, Franco and Zimbardo (2006, p. 33) themselves emphasise that “at best, it allows us to propose a few speculations that warrant further investigation”.

Behind every crisis, there is a hero. Behind every life that shatters, there is the opportunity to put it back together. Heroism is a gift bestowed to all of us, which, if left unrealised, becomes a curse and the root of our Pandora’s box. Sometimes the cost is simply too high – so why be heroic? Because as the fictional character of Peter Parker says in the end of Spider-Man 3, “Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. … It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we could always choose to do what’s right.” And most of the time it is not about good or bad choices, but choices that were simply not good enough. Those are the ones that make the most impact in a world where heroism is banal.

– – – – – – –

Note: This is a short version of the essay “The problem of heroism” appearing in the online commentary forum Heroism Today.

References

Franco, Z. E., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2006). The banality of heroism. Greater Good, 3, 30-35.

Olivia Efthimiou is a transdisciplinary researcher at Murdoch University, Perth and Associate Researcher at the Australian National Academy of Screen and Sound Research Centre. She is the website creator and administrator of Heroism Science – Promoting the Transdisciplinary Study of Heroism in the 21st Century and lead Editor of International Advances in Heroism Science.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Grinch: A Villain Makes a Hero’s Journey

tumblr_lwoa32M1pW1qcyr71By Suzanne Lucero

Around this time of year a person might find his or her thoughts turning to a well-known literary character whose ultimate redemption holds hope for even the most hard-hearted of individuals.

I am speaking, of course, of the Grinch.

In the first sentence of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (by Dr. Seuss), we are introduced to the villain of the piece.

Every Who

Down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot …

But the Grinch,

Who lived just north of Who-ville,

Did NOT.

That’s terrible, we think. Who doesn’t like Christmas? A few sentences later, though, we are given the probable reason for the Grinch’s dislike. His heart, you see, is two sizes too small. Suddenly, the Grinch is a tiny bit sympathetic, and we sort-of understand when he declares,

“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now!

“I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!

… But, HOW?”’

This is the inciting incident. The Grinch thinks Christmas means noisy toys and feasting and singing, so how does he stop all this from happening? The Grinch comes up with a plan, a “great, grinchy trick,” and puts it into action. In other words, his journey begins.

He begins by making a Santa Clause hat and coat. (He foregoes the snowy-white beard, though. Maybe it itches.) Then he decides grinch+with+doghe needs a reindeer to complete his St. Nick impersonation. For this he enlists his tiny dog, Max. The Grinch ties a horn on top of Max’s head, thereby changing the dog from a mere pet to a minion: Max will be aiding the Grinch by pulling his sled.

The plan starts well. The Grinch has Max pull the sled into Who-ville and proceeds to steal everything from the first house he sees. The only obstacle that presents itself to the Grinch comes in the shape of a child who has woken up to get a glass of water. When she asks why he is taking the Christmas tree, he placates her with a lie and sends her back to bed. The Grinch continues to ransack the village until all the presents, all the decorations, and all the food for the feast is packed into bags, loaded precariously on the sled, and pulled:

Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpet,

He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it.

(You’ve really got to be feeling sorry for Max at this point.)

The Grinch gloats. He’s won! Christmas can’t come, now. Everything is gone and the Whos will all be crying. He pauses to savor his victory and puts his hand to his ear to listen.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow…

But the sound wasn’t sad!

Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn’t be so!

But it WAS merry! VERY!

In the hero’s journey, there comes a point where he or she must “enter the cave.” This is the ultimate low point in the story. The hero is alone, either physically or emotionally. Everything he or she has been working for is crumbling and the antagonist has triumphed; the hero is, actually or metaphorically, dead.

This is the Grinch’s cave. This is where he realizes he’s failed.

 He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming.

IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same.

But How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a hero’s journey, not a morality tale. For all villains, unless they are true psychopaths (which is a medical condition), the cave offers a final chance to redeem themselves. When their defenses have been beaten and they are no longer fighting but only trying to understand why they failed, their hearts can be touched with a little thing called grace.

Then the Grinch though of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

That was the elixir the Grinch found in his cave, the piece of him that was missing. He realized that material things don’t bring happiness. Simply being together with those we love is reason enough to sing.

the_grinch_cut_the_first_roast_beast_by_rhetoric_of_sushi-d4jyzdfAnd what happened then …?

Well … in Who-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart

Grew three sizes that day.

With this new understanding and (we hope) love in his heart, the Grinch completes his hero’s journey by returning everything he has taken from the Whos and sharing in their celebratory feast.

Merry Christmas everyone.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Suzanne Lucero is a wife, mother, and pre-published author who knows a little about a lot of things and is constantly learning more. She is passionate about writing and is determined to publish her novel-in-progress within 5 years.

 

 

Powerful Hero Archetypes in Game of Thrones

By Scott T. Allison

Since the advent of language, human beings have been magnetically drawn to tales of inspiring heroes. The powerful allure of heroism is wired into us, and science appears to support that claim. Hero stories fascinate us because we are all potential heroes, and we’re called to follow the same heroic journey as the protagonists in the stories we love.

Game of Thrones, one of the most highly acclaimed series in television history, owes much of its success to its effective portrayal of heroes. There are at least five deep hero archetypes that Game of Thrones uses to create alluring heroes. These archetypes are: (1) the underdog hero, (2) the hero’s secret royal heritage, (3) the hero’s redemption, (4) the heroic transformation, and (5) the hero’s mentor.

1. The Underdog Hero. There are over a half-dozen characters in the series that win our hearts because of their ability to overcome their underdog status. Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf whom everyone seems to underestimate. He uses his wit, intelligence, and wisdom to survive and thrive in Game of Thrones’ harsh world. Jon Snow is the bastard child of Ned Stark, a status that relegates him to third-class citizenship, yet his overall goodness and courage allow him to climb the social ladder.

Two legitimate Stark children, Sansa and Arya, are diminished and underestimated due to the lowly status of women in Westeros, yet their resilience and cunning enable them to overcome evil. Samwell Tarly is at first a lovable coward whom everyone dismisses but he evolves into a brave and stalwart member of the night’s watch. Daenerys Targaryen is, at the outset of Game of Thrones, mere breeding stock for the Dothrakis yet she emerges as the most powerful ruler of the seven kingdoms.

2. The Hero’s Secret Royal Heritage. In many classic fairy tales, the hero is oblivious to their true special identity, which is often that of a king, queen, prince, or princess. Jon Snow suffers the status of an outcast, and unbeknownst to everyone he is actually the true heir to the iron throne.

As mentioned, Daenerys at first is nothing more than a sex slave while her true identity is Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Protector of the Realm, Queen of Meereen, Yunkai and Astapor, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt Breaker of Chains, Lady of Dragonstone, and more.

Bran Stark has been reduced to a crippled boy but soon discovers his true identity as the three-eyed raven who can see the past, present, and future. It should be noted that the “third eye” is considered a sign of deep enlightenment in Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures. Bran grows from nothingness into omniscience.

3. The Redeemed Hero. Stories of redemption abound in Game of Thrones. One notable redeemed hero is Theon Greyjoy, an arrogant jerk who develops severe PTSD after enduring lengthy mental and physical torture at the hands of Ramsey Bolton. Humbled almost beyond repair, Greyjoy slowly regains his confidence and appears to be climbing to the status of a leader as the series enters its final season.

Jaime Lannister’s redemption looked next to impossible after he shoved young Bran Stark to his seeming doom in the series’ first episode. Seemingly irredeemable, Jaime has proven himself to be one of the more loyal and honorable Lannisters. In fact, he could be the only person willing and able to stop his evil sister Cersei. The Hound, who was once a vicious killer, is another character who appears to be slowly carving out a redemptive heroic path for himself.

4. Heroic Transformation. During their journeys, heroes undergo significant mental, moral, emotional, spiritual, and physical transformations. The two Stark sisters, Arya and Sansa, each undergo transformative arcs. Sansa grows in confidence and wisdom, whereas Arya grows into a fierce and daring swordsperson. Jon Snow, too, evolves from a mere guardian of the wall into a wise king of the north. Bran, of course, undergoes a striking spiritual transformation.

Theon Greyjoy transforms twice, first from an arrogant lord into an emotionally destroyed cipher, and then from that cipher into a newly empowered lord. Daenerys owes her remarkable transformation to an unnamed servant to Drogo, a woman who teaches the future Queen how to empower herself in her marriage. This act of mentorship sends Daenerys on her heroic journey.

5. The Hero’s Mentor. In classic hero mythology, heroes receive assistance for someone older, wiser, or unusual in some respect. Daenerys has had several mentors giving her advice over the years, the two most prominent being Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister. Jon Snow was mentored by Ned Stark, Davos Seaworth, and Maester Aemon. Snow himself has served as a mentor to Samwell and to Theon.

There have been plenty of dark mentors, too — people who appear to mean well but are intent on steering the hero down a dark path. Sansa Stark’s dark mentor is Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish, who manipulates her into making several bad decisions. King Tommen’s dark mentor is the High Sparrow who steers Tommen toward betraying his wife and his mother. Some mentors are a mix of good and bad, as when Arya Stark is trained by the assassin Jaquen H’ghar, the mysterious man of many faces who teaches Arya important skills yet almost destroys her in the process.

– – – – – – – –

Game of Thrones has won 39 Emmy Awards for a reason – the series has crafted highly memorable characters who have undergone dramatic heroic arcs. We’ve reviewed five ways that Game of Thrones has used powerful hero archetypes in portraying extraordinary heroism. We look forward to the series’ eighth and final season when all these hero journeys reach their natural completion.

Heroism and Wellbeing in the 21st Century

Offering a holistic take on an emerging field, this edited volume examines how heroism manifests, is appropriated, and is constructed in a broad range of settings and from a variety of disciplines and perspectives.

Highlighting some of the most pressing issues in today’s world—including genocide, unethical business practices, bystanderism, whistleblowing, and the global refugee crisis this book applies a critical psychological perspective in synthesizing the social construction of heroism and wellbeing.

The lead editor, Olivia Efthimiou, is a rising star in the field of heroism science. Also editing this volume are Scott T. Allison and Zeno Franco.

This book will be released in March of 2018.

Here is the Table of Contents:

 

Chapter Author Chapter Title
Foreword Julie-Ann Pooley Foreword
Introduction Olivia Efthimiou

Scott T. Allison

Zeno E. Franco

Heroism and Wellbeing in The 21st Century: Recognising and Reconciling With Our Personal Heroic Imperative
Preface 1 Michelle Werning Becoming an Everyday Hero
Preface 2 Hanne Viken Fear and Love: The Heart of Heroism and a Life Well Lived
I.               Historical Contexts
1 Graham Seal Transforming Through Ambivalence: Failure, Deviance and Contradiction in Heroism
2 Sarah Booth

Luciano Pavez

Rethinking Hero Status in Colonial Western Australia: A Step Towards Reconciliation
3 Margaret Warburton Rebuilding Lives: Heroism and Gender in The Great War Community of an Australian Soldier
II.             Teaching and Fostering Heroism
4 Joanna Pascoe The Heroic Learner: Engaging and Inspiring Students Through the Art of Heroism
5 Clive Williams The Hero’s Journey: A Mudmap to Wellbeing
6 Chris Comerford Personal Heroism Through Fact and Fiction: Safeguarding Truth and Freedom in the Utopia of Star Trek and the Whistleblowing of Edward Snowden
III.           Contemporary Professional Practices
7 Layla Al-Hameed Fake Heroism as a Mechanism for Mafia Offer: A critical realism perspective on the abuse of heroism
8 Nick James

Francina Cantatore

Lawyers as Heroes: Fostering Holistic Wellbeing by Developing Heroic Virtues in Law Students
9 Deborah M. Netolicky The Visible-Invisible School Leader: Redefining Heroism and Offering Alternate Metaphors for Educational Leadership
IV.           Crisis, Displacement and Recovery
10 Stephanie Fagin-Jones Paradoxical Heroism: Heroic Altruism and Well-Being During and After the Holocaust
11 Amma Buckley

Craig Turley

Heroic Feat: An Aboriginal Sport Club’s Collective Journey to Healthy Resistance
12 Thomas Voigt

Andrew Day

Susan Balandin

The Unintended Consequences of Heroism or Acts of Bravery on Civilians
13 Ellie Jacques The Adversity Antidote: How Heroism Education is Being Employed to Navigate Hardship and Achieve Wellbeing in Flint Michigan
Conclusion Olivia Efthimiou

Scott T. Allison

Zeno E. Franco

Definition, Synthesis and Applications: Propositions for Future Research in the Study and Practice of Heroic Wellbeing

 

Harry Potter: The Perfect Fictional Hero

20160210_nerdistnews_harrypottercursedchild_1x1By Annie Ryan

It may seem obvious that Harry Potter is a hero. After all, he does save the world from the evil that is Lord Voldemort. But what kind of hero is he? According to Goethals and Allison’s (2012) taxonomy of heroism, Harry fits best in the traditional hero category, in which the hero completes the the class hero’s journey as described by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Throughout the series’ cumulative 4100 pages, Harry follows the major stages of the hero’s journey: departure, initiation, and return. When we first meet Harry, he is an obedient, insecure, and lonely boy who lives in a closet. He has no friends and no one who cares about him, and he accepts that this is his life. Fortuitously, Harry is plucked out of this mundane life, never to return again. In this new world, he is famous, adored, and is expected to do great things.

In his initiation stage, a second taxonomic system can be included in defining Harry Potter as a hero. Harry belongs in the category of underdog, an important hero-type in Franco, Blau, & Zimbardo’s (2011) taxonomy of heroism. He is in a world where everyone exceeds him in knowledge and experience. At Hogwarts, almost all the students grew up with wizards, and have had exposure to magic. Harry is an underdog on the traditional hero’s journey.

This underdog theme persists throughout the various books: he is the only first-year Quidditch player, is more sensitive to the dementors that are brought into Hogwarts than the other students, and is the only under-age 635890934224265787884431994_new-harry-potter-story-halloweenstudent in the Triwizard Tournament. Most importantly, his archenemy, Lord Voldemort, is a brilliant wizard with powerful wizards as his allies. Harry is an amateur wizard, and his allies are amateur wizards for the majority of obstacles he faces.

Inspiring underdogs often emerge as leaders. Harry has had various labels assigned to him, including “The Boy Who Lived”, “The Chosen One”, “Undesirable Number One”, and “a lying show-off”. There’s no denying that Harry embraces his role in the war against Voldemort, and he begins to become a leader. He heads the rebel organization Dumbledore’s Army, is Quidditch Captain, and is ultimately commander-in-chief of the Battle of Hogwarts, which results in the defeat of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. His influence is so strong that people continued to fight and die for him even after they thought he was dead.

His death suggests that Harry fits into a second category in Franco et al.’s taxonomic structure of heroes, the martyr. In one of the final chapters of the books, Harry sacrifices his own life in order to defeat Lord Voldemort and save the world. But even before his ultimate sacrifice, Harry risks his life to help others. Harry completes dangerous tasks to stop Lord Voldermort from reaching the Sorcerer’s Stone, enters the Chamber of Secrets to save Ginny Weasley’s life, and almost drowns saving Gabrielle Delacour. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry breaks into the Ministry of Magic, Gringotts, and Hogwarts under the risk of capture and subsequent death in order to destroy the Horcruxes and thus Lord Voldemort.

One could say that Harry’s return stage begins after he dies. After Lord Voldemort “kills” him, he talks to his mentor, Albus Dumbledore, and finally learns all the information to defeat Lord Voldemort. As with all great heroes, Harry returns to Earth, his transformation complete. He can finally complete his journey, and although he never physically returns to the Muggle world where he started, he is rejoined with everything he loves. After coming back from the dead, Harry is the true heroic leader everyone expected him to be.

References

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (2017). Setting the scene: The rise and coalescence of heroism science. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

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

Franco, Z. E., Blau, K., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2011). Heroism: A conceptual analysis and differentiation between heroic action and altruism. Review of General Psychology, 15(2), 99-113.

Chen Si: The Hero Who Offers Hope to Suicide Attempters

GetFileAttachmentBy Kathryn Lynch

Human connections are a fickle and funny thing. Throughout our lifetimes we may pass by thousands of people without giving a second thought to who they are or where they’re going. Yet one simple interaction can completely alter the course of someone’s life. We only have to pay attention.

Chen Si of Nanjing, China is an ordinary man of simple means. In 2003, he was barely able to make a living selling vegetables in a downtown market. It was then he began his daily walk down the Nanjing Yangtze River bridge, the most popular site for suicides on record. China has more deaths by suicide than any other country in the world, at over 280,000 a year — twice the rate of the United States. The first day in 2003 he saved a man’s life after grabbing him from the railing and tackling him to the ground.

After that event, Si took it upon himself to serve as guardian angel to those who wished to end their lives on the bridge. He built a small house next to the entrance to the bridge, where he has lived alone for the past 11 years. Each year Si saves an estimated 144 people.

Throughout his service, he has seen people with problems of all kinds, but all are plagued by the same inescapable pain and hopelessness. GetFileAttachmentAccording to Si, “I know they are tired of living here. They have had difficulties. They have no one to help them.”

But Chen Si’s heroism goes beyond the physical act of saving one’s life. He provides salvation. He gives hope and direction where there is none. One story he remembers is of a woman whose abusive husband left her and her 3-month old child with nothing. She had no education, no job, and no means of caring for the child. She hoped that her death would require her husband to take care of her baby. After convincing her to leave the bridge with him, Si tracked him down and brought his wife and child with him. After the husband spit in his face, Si responded, “I am her brother now. If you ever hurt her again, I am not going to let you get away with it.” The couple left, and Chen hasn’t heard from them again.

There have been countless others. The billionaire who lost everything. The student who couldn’t handle failure. The dreamer who bet it all and lost in the big city. Si has talked to all of them. And while he cannot alter the circumstances that bring them to that point, he feels it is his responsibility to try and put them on a better path. “I always have to tell them there is nothing I can’t solve,” Chen said. “It’s a lie. Yet I have to keep on telling the lie, to make them think things will get better.”

Chen Si teaches us that those at their lowest point in life, those who are so lost that they feel that they will never find their way again, are in the most need of our help. Many of the people on that bridge did not want Chen Si’s kind words and strong hands to pull them back from the edge — GetFileAttachment-1they pushed him away and yelled in his face, content to accept their fate, and did not believe they were worthy of help and compassion.

It is easy to be a hero where there is a hole to fill, where people actively look for someone to protect and care for them and give their love in return. Chen Si’s true heroism lies in his ability to look for those who do not advertise their struggle. Those who have given up hope that a hero will ever appear. Many of us in a similar situation would wonder how to address such a problem of this magnitude, how to save people who have no desire to be saved.

To Chen Si, there is no choice or considerations to make. “There is a saying in China,” he says, “the prosperity of a nation is everyone’s responsibility. How can we all avoid this responsibility?”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Kathryn Lynch is an undergraduate enrolled in Scott Allison’s Heroes and Villains First-Year Seminar at the University of Richmond. She composed this essay as part of her course requirement. Kathryn and her classmates are contributing authors to the forthcoming book, Heroes of Richmond, Virginia: Four Centuries of Courage, Dignity, and Virtue.