What Awakens Us? Nature, Love, and Suffering

women eye airbrush painting, clouds sky effect

By Scott T. Allison

One of my favorite topics is how we grow throughout our lifespan to become our best selves, our truest selves. My colleagues and I have written about how human development parallels the metamorphosis that people undergo to become heroes. This parallel suggests that we’re all meant to grow into the hero of our own life journey.

What triggers our personal growth spurts?

The consensus of people from all backgrounds, especially from psychology and spirituality, seems to be that three mechanisms exist that propel us toward self-growth and transformation. These mechanisms are nature, love, and suffering.

These three phenomena don’t operate independently – they are bundled together, interdependent, working in combination to help us blossom into our best selves.

Briefly, here’s how these three processes tend to work:

1. Nature

One important truth about human transformation is that natural processes are in place for it to happen. We don’t have to plan it or engineer it. In fact, if we do try to impose our will on its genesis and direction, we may be worse off.

A child, for example, doesn’t have to do much to grow physically. Nature arranges physical transformation to happen in a sequence of stages. We always have to do our small part, however. By eating right and getting exercise, we can allow natural physical growth to unfold in healthy ways.

The same is true for emotional and spiritual transformation. By nature, these areas of growth are programmed into us. But again, we have to do our part — and “we” means as a community, not in isolation. We need parents and social bonding to nurture us, and we must make choices that cultivate social connections with people who are good for us.

Nature supplies us with the raw materials for our awakening, and it’s up to us to work with nature to reach our fullest potential.

2. Love

Love is central to personal transformation. Some of the most powerful stories in literature and film are tales of a person who is stuck in an immature stage of development. A situation arises in the person’s life that opens their heart to love, and quite suddenly, the person is transformed into their best self.

There are many examples. In the movie Groundhog Day, our hero Phil Connors is a selfish, depressed jerk. But then he finds his colleague Rita, who role-models selflessness, love, and enlightenment. Phil’s love for Rita transforms him into his best self.

Storytelling reminds us that any kind of love can transform us, not just romantic love. The Grinch, for example, steals all the Christmas presents from Whoville, only to discover that all the Whos down in Whoville don’t care about material things. They only care about the Christmas message of love. Once he absorbs this message, the Grinch is transformed into his best self.

3. Suffering

Richard Rohr once observed that suffering awakens us because it makes us more receptive to loving and learning. Suffering is humbling, and we know that humility opens us up to trying new ways of seeing the world.

Every spiritual tradition emphasizes the role of suffering in heroically transforming us. For Buddhists, suffering is the necessary path to enlightenment, as expressed in the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth is that suffering is an inevitable part of life. The Second Truth is that our suffering is caused by selfish desires and attachments. The Third Truth is that we can let go of these selfish pursuits. The Fourth Truth lays out the path for transforming our suffering.

Christianity also regards suffering as the key to heroic transformation. The symbol of Christianity, the cross, is emblematic of the immense suffering experienced by Christ during his crucifixion. Christ’s suffering is culminated by his resurrection, which is the ultimate transformation from mere flesh to the highest possible state of existence. The story of Jesus helps us trust that suffering is the path to becoming our best selves.

I’ve written about how suffering can produce many psychological benefits. Specifically, suffering (1) has redemptive qualities, (2) signifies important developmental milestones, (3) fosters humility, (4) elevates compassion, (5) encourages social union and action, and (6) provides meaning and purpose.

Conclusion

Suffering is an inescapable part of life. People spend their lives avoiding it, yet we do so at our own peril. Carl Jung once noted, “Every psychic advance of man arises from the suffering of the soul.” Yet while some suffering is necessary, let’s remember that some suffering is unnecessary. As Alcoholics Anonymous cautions its members, we should “avoid the deliberate manufacture of misery.” Yet when suffering knocks on our door, we can open it and embrace its gifts.

References

Allison, S. T. (2019). Heroic consciousness. Heroism Science, 4, 1-43.

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., Marrinan, A. R., Parker, O. M., Spyrou, S. P., Stein, M. (2019). The metamorphosis of the hero: Principles, processes, and purpose. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 606.

Allison, S. T., & Setterberg, G. C. (2016). Suffering and sacrifice: Individual and collective benefits, and implications for leadership. In S. T. Allison, C. T. Kocher, & G. R. Goethals (Eds), Frontiers in spiritual leadership: Discovering the better angels of our nature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rohr, R. (2011). Falling upward. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Worthington, E. L, & Allison, S. T. (2018). Heroic humility: What the science of humility can say to people raised on self-focus. Washington. DC: American Psychological Association.

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Statues Controversy Suggests There Are No Heroes, Only Heroic Actions

By Scott T. Allison

In Sweden, there is a fascinating statue of a woman named Danuta Danielsson who became a hero in 1985 when she used her purse to clobber a white Nazi supremacist while he marched in a right-wing rally.

What makes her statue unique among hero statues is that it captures her performing the heroic act of swinging her purse. It’s entirely an action-shot, a big departure from the universal practice of constructing hero statues intended to portray individuals as heroes. Danielsson’s statue isn’t about her as a person; it’s about her one specific act of courage that day.

Heroism, it could be argued, describes an action, not a person.

All around the world, and especially in the United States, statues of slave traders, warriors, and profiteers are toppling to the ground. Once revered as heroes, these statued individuals have been exposed as villainous human rights violators.

With this in mind, Danuta Danielsson’s statue should be one that remains uncontroversial. Her statue portrays a heroic act that can withstand any scrutiny into her character.

What did we know about Danielsson’s character? We know that her mother had survived a concentration camp during World War II. Danielsson knew the horrors of the Nazi menace and took action on that April day in Sweden.

But like all human beings, Danielsson had a dark side. That aspect of her character, however, is irrelevant to her heroic act of clobbering a marching Nazi, an image nicely captured by her statue in vivid heroic detail.

Perhaps there should be no hero statues, only heroic action statues. Many of our tarnished heroes performed untarnished heroic actions. It’s those behaviors that we admire, those courageous, risky, selfless actions that forever made a positive difference for society.

For example, let’s see a statue of Thomas Jefferson composing the Declaration of Independence. Such a statue acknowledges Jefferson’s heroic action without any idolatry of the man, without any of vitriol about whether he’s deserving of the status of “hero”.

Today we see statues of Confederate generals, Christopher Columbus, slave traders, and Spanish conquistadors toppling to the ground. Roads and schools named after these individuals are also being changed. We are reminded that a hero is a social construction, tied to the norms and values of a particular era.

Heroic actions, in contrast, are more likely to transcend human time periods. While all humans are flawed and perhaps not deserving of adoration, a morally sublime act is pure and transcendent.

The famous German author and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote, “The deed is everything, the glory is naught.” In building our statues, let’s remember that actions not only speak louder than words, they may outshine — and outlast — the person performing the action.

People are more likely to disagree about who a hero is than about what specific action is heroic. For that reason, let’s honor and celebrate heroic actions that can inspire us all to behave heroically.

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Scott T. Allison is Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond. Another version of this article appears in Psychology Today.

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The Unification Principle of Heroism in the Age of COVID-19

By Scott T. Allison

Heroism is defined by researchers as extreme prosocial behavior that is performed voluntarily, involves significant risk, requires sacrifice, and is done without anticipation of person gain.

The devastating effects of COVID-19 on individuals and on societies worldwide bring into sharp relief what “extreme prosocial behavior” really means.

I argue here that heroism’s primary aim is to unify people. The dictionary’s definition of “unify” is to take actions that make people united and whole. Let’s break down these two components of unification, illustrating how they are the central mission of heroism.

First, to unify is to unite people. Early in the COVID-19 crisis, ER nurse Allison Swendsen took a moving photo of an elderly man holding a sign at a window, thanking healthcare workers for saving his wife.

These heroes allowed this woman to reunite with her husband. Heroism always involves bringing people together.

Second, to unify is to promote wholeness, the mark of health and well-being. We can see that all heroic actions during this COVID-19 pandemic are aimed at reducing suffering and promoting the health and well-being of individuals and society. Heroes strive to promote the wholeness of all people, not just some of them. Heroism is always all-inclusive.

The Unification Principle of Heroism

A simple rule of thumb for distinguishing between heroes and villains is this: Heroes tend to be unifiers, whereas villains tend to be dividers.

Villains throughout history have made it their goal to divide human beings, with their divisions inflicting terrible human suffering and death. Genocidal leaders from Adolf Hitler to Pol Pot made it their aim to promote the well-being of one group of people at the expense of another. Dividing the world between “us” and “them” isn’t always villainous, but when doing so exacts intense suffering on members of the out-group, then such dividers are villains.

Heroes, in contrast, adopt a more “nondual” view of the world. They see humanity as one and value the well-being of all people regardless of nationality, race, gender, age, or sexuality. Because they strive for social unity, heroes aim to eliminate disparities in health and well-being, not just disparities between group categories but also disparities among individuals within categories, too.

The unification principle of heroism operates at the levels of both large collectives and single individuals. At the group level, heroes unify people by leading civil rights movements, for example. The goal of most social movements is to reduce suffering in disadvantaged groups by creating a more equal and united society. Our cultural heroes have always made it their primary aim to unify the world. Heroic legends such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malala Yousafzai, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Nelson Mandela all devoted their life’s work to bring people of different colors, genders, ethnicities, and geographic regions together.

Unification operating at the individual level occurs when a hero saves a person from harm. If a hero rescues someone from a burning building, the hero has allowed for the reunification of the person with their family. Whether the goal is large scale (e.g., ending apartheid) or small-scale (e.g., saving someone from drowning), the hero is striving to achieve unity, wholeness and well-being, either within a society, a family, or an individual.

Perhaps the goal of unifying people has always been heroism’s primary aim. Back in 1949, the progenitor of heroism science, Joseph Campbell, observed that the goal of the mythic hero’s journey is always to return home and become united with family and community. “Where we had thought to be alone,” wrote Campbell, “we shall be with all the world.”

COVID-19 Amplifies the Need for Heroic Unification

Every crisis produces heroes who illustrate the unification principle of heroism. Perhaps more than any single event in recent history, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the heroic imperative to unify people. Everyday unsung heroes, such as healthcare workers and first responders, strive to reunite a saved individual with their loved ones. Heroism is always about social unification.

All crises and disasters tend to engender suffering by widening already existing health disparities between people. Consider what any tsunami, earthquake, or major act of terrorism does to people caught in its swath. The physical, emotional, and financial suffering that existed before a major crisis becomes magnified during and after it.

COVID-19 reminds us that the “exceptional prosocial behavior” at the heart of heroism is aimed at reducing existing disparities in well-being, at easing the suffering of one segment of society, at unifying humanity by promoting the welfare of everyone. Heroic scientists racing to develop a vaccine and other treatments for the virus are doing so to benefit all of humanity, not just one segment of it. Jonas Salk became a hero for developing the vaccine for polio, and the vaccine developers for COVID will also likely become cherished heroes as well.

The coronavirus has been especially adept at preying on disparities. People of color have been more adversely affected by COVID-19 compared to Euro-Americans. African-Americans, for example, are less able to take the precaution of staying at home because they are less likely to have jobs that allow them to telecommute. In addition, people of color are more likely to live in crowded housing units that make social distancing difficult.

COVID-19 has also magnified disparities in income, with high-income earners being more likely to maintain their employment during the crisis compared low-income workers. Millions of jobs in the lower paying service and hospitality industries have been lost, many of them permanently. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, already alarmingly large throughout the world, has expanded as a result of COVID-19. Growing disparities in health and in wealth are, at this moment, inflicting tremendous suffering.

The heroes attempting to resolve the current pandemic crisis are working, either directly or indirectly, to achieve the heroic imperative of wholeness and unification across race and class. Reducing health and income disparities is the heroic goal of medical scientists searching for a cure, and should be the heroic goal of our political leaders faced with the task of rebuilding and reunifying society.

The Drive for Unification

The unification principle of heroism has always been an implied element of the definition of the term “hero”. Famed psychologist Phil Zimbardo hinted at unity and wholeness when he argued in 2011 that heroism reflects “a concern for other people in need.” Zimbardo has also referred to unification as sociocentricity, the mindset of looking out for collective well-being. Meeting everyone’s basic needs unifies them with the world and is the imperative of all heroes.

In her recent book on heroism, Elizabeth Svoboda emphasized that “heroes bring people together”. They do so by working for justice and by alleviating suffering, thereby enhancing both psychological wholeness at the individual level and social wholeness at the level of community.

This idea of unification has ancient roots, with world religions from Buddhism to Christianity having long made unification their primary aim. Jesus prayed “that they all may be one” (John 17:21) and Buddha observed that humanity is “many in body, one in mind.” Today’s spiritual geniuses, including Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, and Richard Rohr, place unitive consciousness at the forefront of their definition of psychological well-being and spiritual maturity.

Merriam-Webster defined heroism as “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end.” That noble end is the unification of all human beings. Joseph Campbell himself noted that heroes do not distinguish their own fate from that of others. Heroes, said Campbell, are guided by the “true reality” that we are all in “unity with all life.”

Our most iconic cultural heroes have long argued for the imperative of human unification. The famed poet Maya Angelou said that a hero “is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” And from J. K. Rowling: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

Consider also a thoughtful quote from Albert Einstein (1950): “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Pragmatics: How to Achieve Unification

In this article I’ve argued that the most fundamental goal of heroic action is to unify people. Research on the attributes of a hero places wisdom near the center of heroic consciousness. One might think that I am pushing for the idea that understanding the “oneness” of people, the interconnectedness of all things, is true wisdom.

That’s only partially correct. We cannot escape the reality that true heroic wisdom resides in knowing how best to implement unification in a highly charged, politically polarized world. In the USA, for example, the conservative push for building walls between America and the rest of the world clashes with the liberal push for more open borders and globalization. Heroic wisdom, grounded in unification, resides in negotiating a balance between these two positions. Opening the borders would result in chaos and the collapse of necessary infrastructure; closing the borders lacks compassion and decency. Wise leaders are needed to navigate a workable path between these two extreme positions.

The unification principle of heroism is always about reducing disparities, and this includes disparities in extreme ideology. Heroic solutions to difficult problems require hard work, and the hard work of unifying humanity’s ideological divide must necessarily involve actions that seemingly clash with our tribal instinct to partition the world into “us” versus “them”.

True heroes tend not to view the world only in binary or dualistic terms. In our desire to unify humanity, it is the height of hypocrisy to divide the world into those who are “right” about a complicated issue such as immigration and those who are “wrong” about it. The means to achieving an end state of wholeness must also be faithful to the goal of wholeness. Unification as a goal also requires unification as a process.

I am not claiming that compromise is always the answer. Nondual thinking can lead to compromise, but it can also lead to taking a firm stance on one side of an issue. Heroic consciousness, for example, would never adopt a compromising position with Hitler’s final solution. Many of the world’s most pressing problems, from climate change to COVID-19, involve morally complicated issues that require a balanced heroic unification approach.

I offer two pragmatic solutions to achieving heroic unification, one psychological and one interpersonal. The psychological approach centers on our individual imperative to assume heroic consciousness in all our interactions with others. The three “A”s offer a promising technique: Awareness, Acceptance, and Action. First, try to become aware of the default tendency to dualistically lump people into categories of good and bad, us and them, and smart and dumb. Recognize that these divisions run counter to the goal of heroic unification.

Second, accept that we are all human and prone to binary thinking. Accept that engagement in social media magnifies this bias and stirs up negative emotions, and accept that each one of us is powerless over how other people think and behave. Once we practice mindful awareness and acceptance, we are in a good position to take heroic action. Sometimes doing nothing at all is the appropriate response. More often than not, the heroic response is to show gentle compassion – for ourselves, for others, and for our broken world.

Another pragmatic strategy for bringing about heroic unification involves using strategies endorsed by an organization called Braver Angels, which is dedicated to depolarizing the world. Braver Angels teaches interpersonal skills that promote respect, curiosity, and openness between parties who differ ideologically. Braver Angels focuses on recognizing common values and concerns; setting a constructive tone; promoting listening in a way that makes the other person feel heard; helping us speak in a way that enables the other person hear you; and teaching techniques that help us handle difficult interpersonal moments.

Our heroic imperative is to resist our baser instincts to label and categorize, and to embrace ways of thinking and behaving that bring people together. Heroes unify the world by ending suffering, and by listening and negotiating with great compassion. This is the heroic work we desperately need in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.

References

Allison, S. T. (2019). Heroic consciousness. Heroism Science, 4, 1-43

Allison, S. T. & Goethals, G. R. (2020). The heroic leadership imperative: How leaders inspire and mobilize change. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

Campbell, J. (1988). The power of myth. Norwell, MA: Anchor Press.

Efthimiou, O., Allison, S. T., & Franco, Z. E. (Eds.) (2018). Heroism and wellbeing in the 21st Century: Applied and emerging perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Franco, Z., & Zimbardo, P. (2006). The banality of heroism. Greater Good. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_banality_of_heroism

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2019). The romance of heroism and heroic leadership: Ambiguity, attribution, and apotheosis. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

Harari, Y. N. (2018). 21 lessons for the 21st century. New York: Spiegel & Grau

Kohen, A., Langdon, M., & Riches, B. R. (2017). The making of a hero: Cultivating empathy, altruism, and heroic imagination. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 59, 617-633.

Svoboda, E. (2019). The life heroic: How to unleash your most amazing self. San Francisco: Zest Books.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2011). What makes a hero? Greater Good. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_makes_a_hero

Heroism Science: Call for Papers, Special Issue: The Heroism of Whistleblowers

Heroism Science: Call for Papers, Special Issue

The Heroism of Whistleblowers

Edited by Ari Kohen, Brian Riches, and Matt Langdon

Whistleblowers speak up with “concerns or information about wrongdoing inside organizations and institutions.” As such, whistleblowing “can be one of the most important and difficult forms of heroism in modern society” (Brown, 2016 p. 1). Heroism requires altruistic motivation to benefit non-relative others at the risk to the self; thus, while some acts of whistleblowing are not motivated by the altruistic desire to help others, whistleblowers can act heroically and make dramatic impacts on organizations and situations to benefit the lives of others. While whistleblowers have been categorized as heroes for at least a decade (Franco, Blau, & Zimbardo, 2011), there is still little research into this category of  heroic behavior.

The majority of research on whistleblowers exists in the fields of business ethics, management, law,   healthcare, public administration, and psychology. But there is currently not enough empirical work on whistleblowers as heroes. As such, Heroism Science will publish a special issue devoted to the topic of the phenomenon of whistleblowing and whistleblowers as heroes. Our goal is to increase scholarship and understanding of whistleblowers through the lens of heroism science. Submissions are welcome from diverse fields including psychology, sociology, cross cultural studies, political science, history, the humanities, philosophy, popular culture studies, and international relations. All papers will be considered and priority will be given to empirical papers discussing new qualitative and/or quantitative evidence. Additionally, all papers will be sent out for peer review from at least two relevant experts in the field.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Challenges that whistleblowers face in government as compared to industry or care services (nurses, elder care)
  • Rank, social supports, organizational cultures, and other factors that make whistleblowing easier or more difficult
  • “Everyday” whistleblowers who make less publicized changes such as getting an organizational policy changed, created, or getting a supervisor dismissed. Similar to “everyday heroes” who risk their physical safety, how common are the “everyday whistleblowers” and what do they look like?
  • Ways in which businesses and other organizations can improve their cultures to reduce the need for whistleblowing
  • Whistleblowers as an organizational failure
  • Whistleblowing as heroic behavior
  • Personality characteristics of whistleblowers
  • Lifespan development of whistleblowers
  • What does life look like for whistleblowers who “fail” to achieve their goals? Do they continue to try to make change? Do they fall into despair and depression? Are they arrested? Killed?
  • Factors that lead to whistleblower “success” where change was achieved
  • Differences between social and civil heroes
  • Lessons we can learn from whistleblowers
  • Policies supportive of whistleblowers
  • Countries and cultures with strong support for whistleblowing and how they build that support

Submission Instructions

Interested authors are asked to submit a 200-300 word proposal to Ari Kohen by June 30, 2020. If accepted, completed papers are due by October 1, 2020. Completed papers should be between 5,000 and 7,000 words, including references. Please send proposals or questions to akohen2@unl.edu

Here is a link to the Heroism Science Journal

References

Brown, A. J. (2016). Whistleblowers as Heroes: Fostering “Quiet” Heroism in Place of the Heroic Whistleblower Stereotype. In Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership, eds. Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., and Kramer, R. M. New York: Routledge. pp. 378-398.

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, 99-113. doi:10.1037/a0022672

The Miniseries ‘Devs’ Delivers a Delicious Dose of Heroism and Villainy

By Scott T. Allison

Devs is the ideal TV mini-series for people to sink their teeth into, for many reasons: (1) It’s both science and science-fiction; (2) it’s brilliant mix of psychology, philosophy, religion, and technology; (3) it tantalizes us with the mysteries of love, life, death, time, and space; and (4) it features a creepy 200-foot tall statue of a pre-school girl, which ordinarily would be cause for alarm until we realize that the girl symbolizes Devs’ paradox of our choices changing everything – and nothing at all.

I have to give writer Alex Garland tremendous credit for creating a universe, or rather a multiverse, that succeeds on many different levels. There are fabulous characters, specifically Lily and Jamie, whom we care about and who rise to the heroic challenge. Jamie hits the nail on the head in characterizing Lily as someone who doesn’t merely think about boldly taking actions – she takes bold action in situations where 99.9% of humans would not. That approach to life, dear readers, is the central essence of heroism. As her sidekick, Jamie is loyal to the core and uses his gifts to assist Lily on her hero’s journey.

But Devs is much more than a couple of heroes venturing on the mythic journey. It bestows us with an outstanding ensemble cast featuring generationally diverging Amaya coworkers Lyndon and Stewart; a charismatic, psychopathic villain in head-of-security Kenton; a pair of ethically shady billionaire tech giants in Forest and Katie; and a homeless dude named Pete who somehow worms his way into these people’s lives.

I was captivated by Devs from the get-go. We meet Sergei, and we like him. He’s got a lot of heroic potential – he’s young, smart, loving, loyal. His girlfriend Lily has these same qualities and the two appear to have a close relationship. Amaya’s top secret Devs operation is shrouded in mystery. This element of mystery is a vastly underrated aspect of heroism and villainy. What role does mystery play? It inflames our heroic imagination. It especially ignites our imagination for the presence of potential evil.

Shameless plug time – in our last book, The Romance of Heroism, my co-author George Goethals and I discuss how the ways in which human beings resolve mystery can lead to extreme and biased conclusions about heroism, and especially about villainy. Here’s a brief overview of how this can happen.

The Devs unit at Amaya is mysterious and spawns rumor and speculation, even among government oversight committees. Forest’s instructions to Sergei on this first day at Devs are mysterious – he’s told to just look at code and he’ll know what to do, eventually. The mystery and the potential darkness of Amaya is heightened when we witness Sergei lose his lunch in shock after seeing some of the code. Sergei says, “This changes everything” to which Katie replies, “This changes nothing” — an exchange that offer only the slightest of hints about Devs’ true purpose. At this point, I was hooked and pretty much binge-watched all eight episodes of Devs in two days.

Devs features outrageously high production value. The music, in particular, lends a stylish note during key scenes such as Episode 2’s slow-motion fight between Kenton and Anton in the parking garage. Nick Offerman as Forest strikes just the right balance between brilliance and eccentricity, and between good and evil. I also enjoyed Alison Pill’s striking performance. She shows off her range here, portraying a brilliant scientist named Katie whose emotional control contrasts starkly to her portrayal of a similar scientist in Star Trek: Picard. I love that Katie’s intelligence exceeds that of Forest and that she calls the shots at Amaya as much as, and even more than, Forest himself.

Devs is to be commended for having three very strong female lead characters who drive the story forward. The series takes a big chance in casting Sonoya Mizuno as Lily, our primary hero of the story. Mizuno isn’t the most charismatic actor — yet, I’m going out on a limb by saying that she is the perfect person for this part. Let’s face it, Lily is a tech nerd, and I suspect that few tech nerds have the magnetism of a Meryl Streep or a Kate McKinnon. Her low-key approach is matched by that of Jamie, her sidekick and former lover. The inability of these two characters to communicate their thoughts and feelings was sometimes torture for me to watch, but their dialogue was also realistic in a less-is-sometimes-more kind of way.

Most of all, Devs succeeds in a sublimeway at the level of storytelling, weaving together a tapestry of mathematics, the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. I enjoyed witnessing the unfolding success of the Devs’ mission, which begins with the development of brief temporal simulations that can accurately expose both past and future. Soon it becomes more than just an exercise in simulations and evolves into an actual portal into our true past and into what seems to be our exact future. I love how Devs invites us into the philosophical argument about free will versus determinism and gives us data supporting both positions. Mustn’t the true reconciliation of the free will vs. determinism duality reside in its nonduality? Lily’s final actions in the last episode demonstrate the fallibility of taking an all-or-nothing position on this issue.

Episode eight’s Devs/Deus reveal is fabulous, building on the notion that Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and others are self-anointed Messiahs. I should have discerned the connection to Deus coming, as references to the god-like self-images of silicon valley executives are peppered throughout the entire series. But I didn’t see it coming and I credit Alex Garland for giving us enough clues without sledgehammering us.

So we’re left wondering whether we’re all living a “real“ life versus existing as computer simulations of ourselves. And as Stuart says, we could be a simulation existing within countless simulations because the Devs supercomputer exists in every multiverse. And as Forest says, what difference does it make whether our existence is real or a simulation? The laws of the universe work the same either way.

The Devs miniseries is a masterpiece and is a must-see for anyone who enjoys science, science fiction, psychology, philosophy, religion, and ethics. Alex Garland throws a lot of complex, interconnected human issues at us to disentangle. Lily is  pegged as “the chosen one”, the special someone around whom the fate of the entire universe resides, the person whose choices somehow break the prognostic ability of the Devs supermachine, the women whose “death” is visually reminiscent of that of Christ on the cross.

To be fair, Devs isn’t perfect. One could be critical of Pete’s identity as a Russian agent being a little too obvious. We know that Pete isn’t really a homeless man, and so the “big reveal” at the end is hardly a big reveal. A second criticism centers on why Lily and Jamie returned to her apartment after her escape from the mental institution. They had to know that Kenton would likely hunt them down and kill them. Jamie in particular, who was terrorized and tortured earlier by Kenton, should have been extremely reluctant to sit in Lily’s apartment waiting to be Kentonized — unless, of course, Lily and Jamie’s inability to alter their fate is the very point here.

Finally, I’m still not sure why Forest was so adamantly opposed to the multiverse idea. Surely Forest had to know that the multiverse theory, championed correctly by Lyndon, was the surest path toward achieving a reunion with his daughter. Perhaps Forest could not bear any universe or existence in which his daughter dies. The vindication of Lyndon is Forest’s salvation, all made possible by Lily’s “original sin” of disobeying Deus, an act that ultimately leads to Resurrection. None of these pieces fit together perfectly but they blend together just well enough to give us much to ponder.

Overall, our hero Lily traverses the hero’s journey in exemplary fashion. Unaware of her true identity as the key to the resurrection of the universe, she has to undergo enormous suffering to come to an understanding of her central role in everyone’s fate. Her ability to exercise her freedom of choice, at a pivotal time, makes her a hero in the very best sense of the word. She enlists the aid of a sidekick and uses an avalanche of adversity to transform herself into a courageous, resilient, resourceful hero who saves the world.

Here you can check out our full Reel Heroes review of Devs.

10 Examples of Heroism Arising From the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Scott T. Allison

In any tragedy or crisis, you will see many people standing out and stepping up to save lives and make the world a better place. These heroic individuals can range from leaders of nations to ordinary citizens who rise to the occasion to help others in need.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, here are some prominent examples of heroism that we’ve seen:

1. Healthcare worker heroes

The doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff on the frontline are doing a remarkable job of saving lives. Some of these medical personnel are exposing themselves to risk. This is the ultimate criterion of heroism: Self-sacrifice in the service of others.

2. Heroes who respect science

Understanding the science of viral outbreaks is crucial to getting us through this pandemic with as little loss of life as possible. Here are the heroes in this regard:

  • The epidemiologists and medical scientists
  • Those who respect epidemiologists and listen to their advice.
  • Those who respect models of disease spread, social distancing, and quarantine.
  • Those who listen to scientists’ warnings about preparedness for future disease outbreaks.

3. Heroes who bring much-needed supplies and equipment to hospitals

Suppliers, manufacturers, shippers, and drivers — these people are heroically giving us what we need to care for afflicted people.

A striking example of heroism of this type was shown by the New England Patriots football team, who use their team plane to deliver 1.2 million N95 masks to the US from China to help ease shortages. In addition, the Brooklyn Nets basketball team flew in much-needed ventilators and masks to New York.

4. Heroes who support heroes

A man in Detroit decided to use the $900 he’d been saving to buy gasoline for nurses working to save lives. If we can’t save lives personally, the heroic thing to do is to support the people who do risk themselves to save lives.

5 Heroes who lead by example

Good leaders lead by example. Leaders who wear a mask, who abide by same rules as everyone else, set a heroic example for us.

6. Helpers of the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions

People are heroes when they get groceries and supplies for the elderly or for shut-ins. Keeping in contact with quarantined and elderly people over Zoom or phone is also heroic.

7. Whistleblower heroes

The US Navy relieved the Captain Brett Crozier who sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Needing help to save his crew, Crozier sent a strongly worded letter to Navy leadership that detailed his concerns about the spread of the virus on the ship. The letter leaked to the media, and Crozier was punished for doing the right thing.

Sailors cheered when Captain Crozier departed his ship, demonstrating that the average person understands heroism when they see it. It is supremely important and even heroic to recognize heroism when we see it.

There is no more courageous hero than a whistleblower.

8. Heroism turned upside-down: Heroes in the service industry

The pandemic means that heroism now available to everyone: food deliverers, truck drivers, grocery clerks, pharmicists — they’re all indispensable right now and they’re heroes. Franco and Zimbardo (2006) were right — everyday people, not the rich and famous, are society’s true heroes.

We’re heroes just by participating in keeping society functioning.

Doing nothing and staying home is heroic because we’re not contributing to the spread of the virus. Heroism is upside-down now, as typically heroes act.  Now inaction can save lives.

9. Heroes who avoid the hoarding bias

Hoarding is a a type of OCD, caused by anxiety and depression. People have panicked and hoarded food, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper.

The solution: relaxation exercises, meditation, online counseling, and developing faith that things will get better.

We’re heroes if we don’t succumb to fear.

10. Heroes who comfort and encourage others

Please do what you can to reach out to offer comfort to people who are frightened and anxious during this quarantine. You can be a hero and save someone’s life just by the smallest of gestures, such as an encouraging text or call.

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