The Science of Happiness, a UC Berkley edX distance learning opportunity in which approximately 100,000 people around the world are currently enrolled, enables those in the class to learn about scientific research focusing on topics such as generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and mindfulness. One of the videos presented as a part of the class involved Dr. Philip Zimbardo and the nonprofit organization he founded, The Heroic Imagination Project, that teaches people how to take effective action in challenging situations.
Zimbardo defines a hero as someone who shows concern for other people and/or defending a moral cause knowing there is a personal cost or risk and without the expectation of reward. Through research, Dr. Zimbardo has defined the profile of a likely hero as someone who:
- Has the opportunity to be a hero, living in an urban area more often than in rural locations
- Is fairly well- educated, which may mean simply being more aware of local, national, or world circumstances
- Volunteers up to 59 hours a week
- Is male (women tended to define a lot of their heroic actions as not heroic, but just what was expected of them as wives or mothers)
- Is black, being a hero eight times more often than someone white
- Has survived a disaster or personal trauma himself
According to Zimbardo, people can be heroes-in-training until they become actual heroes. This involves people establishing networks with like-minded goals who band together for the greater good. So the question is: Are you a hero? Could you be a hero?
Think about it. You could be a health or homeless hero. Donate blood to the Red Cross, offer assistance to those hit in a storm area, provide services in an underprivileged community, or lead a food drive for a food bank. You might even want to organize a holiday or birthday party for kids in a hospital or shelter, or serve food or gather basic toiletries for those in a shelter.
What about being an eco-hero? Recycle and lead the way in your neighborhood, or state, to encourage others to recycle, help clean up at a walking trail, use plants requiring minimal watering when landscaping, or start a carpool. You could also use ecologically friendly cleaning supplies or makeup, or grow your own garden, delivering extra food to a shelter.
Could you be a disability or special-needs hero? Volunteer with Special Olympics, start a drive to purchase Braille or large print books, or volunteer to read books to the visually impaired.
Finally, do you know someone who could be a bully hero? Speak to your children about helping others feel like they "belong" at school. Kids can be on the lookout for someone sitting alone at lunch or not playing with others at recess. When it's time for group activities, they can be sure to include those who always seem to be left out. Children can also, with the help of their friends, stand up for students who they see being bullied.
As Zimbardo says, a hero does not need to be an exceptional person, but a person who finds himself in exceptional circumstances. You can be a hero, and so can I. We all need to be heroes-in-training until that exceptional circumstance comes our way.
Dr. Wolbe can be contacted via her website at www.drsusiewolbe.com.