Are you the heroic type?

Robert Labayen

Posted at May 26 2020 09:13 AM

I was tearing up while I was writing this article because I had to read real stories of heroism.

The Greater Good website recalled that four ordinary citizens used crowbars and flashlights to look for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center. They were able to save 70 lives before Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, Carlos DaCosta, and Pete Negron perished when the tower collapsed on them.

In 2007, Westley Autrey covered the body of a man on a railroad track when there was no time to get on the ramp as a train passed over them. Both men lived. The verywellmind.com said that like most heroes, Autrey confided, “I did what I felt was right.” Many accidental heroes admit that anyone in the same situation would do what they did.

Maybe not all. There are some who will be paralyzed by fear or indecision. Others will display the “bystander effect,” the tendency to do nothing because there are many other people around who may step up.

Is heroism natural to humans

In the book Just Babies, psychologist Paul Bloom asserted that babies have compassion. It was observed in test conditions that babies would pat and stroke to soothe other babies in pain.

Evolutionary anthropologists say that empathy may have been stored in our genes. Our hunting ancestors, they believe, would care for and save those that carried their genes. They call it kin selection. The actions of humans up to the present day are driven by the instinct to have their genes passed on to the next generation. This is surely the same instinct that made Cindy Parolin. The BBC website said Mrs. Parolin didn’t hesitate to wrestle with the massive cougar that was about to harm her 6-year old child.

Our ancestor’s protective concerns later on extended to other people in their band or tribe. Their altruism was based on the assumption that they will, in turn, need other people’s help in the future. But there was a side effect to this. Early humans were not as benevolent to outsiders. They applied a different morality to the out-group. That’s why there are battles and wars throughout the history of man.

Even present-day babies showed the tendency in Bloom’s studies. They gravitated towards those with the same color of skin.

But such an attitude is not absolute and final. Many people are doing their best to expand their definition of the in-group. For example, the New York Times website happily reported an occasion when Muslims donated $136,000 for the repair of Jewish cemeteries that were vandalized. The Independent website reported an incident four years ago at Michigan University in which a female Muslim student was verbally assaulted and threatened for wearing a hijab (headscarf.) When Muslim students in the University organized a prayer session for solidarity, hundreds joined. The crowd included non-Muslims who “formed a protective wall.”

What inspires heroism?

Mirror neurons are natural to humans. These are brain hormones that make us feel what others feel. That’s why we can empathize with them and help them if necessary. But playing hero is still not universal. Others will be your knight in shining armor, others will be a frozen bystander.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, former President of the American Psychological Association, explained there are some people more inclined than others to be more heroic. Their influence may come from the values of family and culture. He believes the gallant tendency can be cultivated by what he calls “heroic imagination.” It is about seeing oneself in a situation where they will defy fear and odds to be of service to others.

The heroic imagination can be inspired by true stories of courageous acts. Even by tales, stories, movies, and games. In the media company where I work, we like to honor ordinary people who show extraordinary acts of selflessness. If we give it our attention, our children will grow up knowing what's important to humankind.

Pantawid ng Pag-ibig

Recently, my friend shared that his brother, a lung surgeon, was volunteering for a high-risk role in this time of the COVID-19 even though aware that many doctors have died or have fallen ill. When my friend asked “why are you volunteering when your own family is worried?”

The doctor replied, “this is my oath.”

His oath was the source of his heroic imagination.

Read:

19 Acts of Heroism in 2017 by Millie Tran and Daniel Victor in the New York Times website

Are Humans Hardwired for Heroism by Elizabeth Svoboda in the Discover website

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom

Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame by Christopher Boehm

Natural Born Heroes in the BBC website

The Banality of Heroism by Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo in the Greater Good Magazine website

The Psychology of Heroism: Are Heroes Born or Made by Kendra Cherry in the Verywellmind website

US students form protective wall around praying Muslim classmates by Charlotte England in the Independent website

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.