I had always been hesitant to have a personal hero, for placing any person on that pedestal seemed to imply lofty, even unattainable expectations to be met. However, after having read compiled literature on heroes, I realized I had been operating with a skewed definition of heroism, one that included the expectation (either overt or covert) of perfection from a hero. I suppose if that were true, we wouldn’t need to distinguish heroes from God.
In identifying one of my heroes, I considered the argument that “all of humanity – not just a select group of moral elite – is capable of heroism” (Allison, Goethals, & Kramer, 2017). True heroism calls for both morality and influence, but morality can be subjective. We, as individuals, prioritize different values over others based on our own experiences. As such, we have different ideas about who meets “heroic” standards. I personally have a passion for social justice, as well as an interest and appreciation for people of all walks of life. With those values and interests in mind, Brandon Stanton, the creator of the “Humans of New York” blog, is one of my heroes.
Brandon Stanton started the “Humans of New York” blog in the summer of 2010 with the intention of compiling an “exhaustive catalogue” of people in New York City by taking photos of 10,000 New Yorkers. His project quickly evolved, and he began recording tidbits from the New Yorkers he photographed. These quotes and short stories give a glimpse into the lives of the people he photographs, and provides the blog’s followers with inspiration, compassion, and often a good laugh.
Today, the blog maintains 17.18 million followers from all around the world. His work is fascinating in part because it challenges viewers to acknowledge that no matter how we perceive people at first sight, we can never know their unique experiences and how we may be able to relate to them. His daily posts on my newsfeed serve as a constant reminder for me to resist the urge to hastily judge others. It is also important to note that the blog does not engage in partisan rhetoric, a practice that I feel often further polarizes us.
In 2016, the Internet and social media are some of the most powerful vehicles for social movements and influence. The vignettes of human experience Stanton carefully crafts reflect that he is “not only…powerful and charismatic,” but “held in fascination by a strong faith,” which in turn “awaken[s]” a similar faith in his 17.18 million followers (Allison, et al 2017). As such, Stanton seems to have recognized the power and responsibility of his role in promoting social change. While I have followed and enjoyed his blog for a few years now, it is Stanton’s most recent posts that make him a hero for me.
With the recent tensions in the Middle East bringing an influx of Syrian refugees to the US, many Americans are giving in to fear of the unknown and resisting our nation’s efforts to provide aid to the refugees. Brandon Stanton traveled to the Middle East and began photographing and interviewing displaced Syrians, Muslims, and other Middle Easterners, illuminating the humanity of their experiences. In other words, Stanton showed us all that these refugees are not a mob to be feared or shunned, but individual human beings in need of our acceptance and help. After awakening compassion and concern in his followership, Stanton took the next step and organized enormously successful fundraising efforts for many of the families he met overseas.
Finally, Stanton’s most recent post broke his general protocol of posting photographs and snippets – It was an open letter to Donald Trump opposing his racist, violent, and ignorant rhetoric. In the most traditional sense of the term, Brandon Stanton is a hero to all of us Americans terrified of the implications of a Trump presidency that has become less and less impossible. He understands that his blog can be used as a powerful weapon in the battle against Trump and the ignorance that fuels his supporters’ loyalty, defining his public opposition not as a “political decision, [but] a moral one.”
Brandon Stanton’s understanding of and appreciation for people continues to give us a daily dose of laughs, empathy, and exposure to new ideas. It is his willingness and dedication to using his influence to inspire social change, however, that makes him a hero.
Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2017). The hero’s transformation. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.
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.
Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (Eds.) (2017). Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.