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Unmasking Heroes and asking, can anyone become a hero

It seems that every day, things are getting worse, there are more disasters, from earthquakes to hurricanes, floods to wildfires, there are more instances of terrorism and violence, and every one of those needs heroes.

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

Not those super-heroes from comic books, but those honest to goodness heroes that go out of their way to help someone.  Not police, or firefighters, as by the time a natural disaster occurs, they already are understaffed and overworked, and unable to assist.

But what about those individuals who go out of their way, those who are in the same situation as those they help. What makes them so different, what traits, skills or understandings do they have, that allows them to help someone else?

Recently, NFL player Mitchell Loewen, was in New Orleans, LA, having dinner with his family when something happened and he leaped into action. Take Nancy Wake, who was one of the most decorated special agents of the British Government, who during World War 2 was dropped behind enemy lines in France, and by the end, had a five-million Franc price on her head, for being in the resistance.

We will explore some of the characteristics and traits all heroes have in common, and talk about current thoughts and research discussing if you can learn to be a hero, or it’s something inherited.

In 2017, there were at least three major hurricanes, one which devastated Southern Texas; one nearly destroyed Puerto Rico where its estimated there were over 1100 deaths.

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image courtesy of

A massive wildfire in Northern California that burned for at least three weeks that burned 245,000 acres destroyed over 8,000 structures and killed 23 people.

Photo by Aidan Bartos on

In Mexico, an earthquake in Central Mexico killed over 350 people, destroyed over 44 buildings, and in Mexico City where over eight million people live, there would never be enough police, or firefighters, or emergency personnel to help everyone in need.

Photo by Pete Johnson from Pexels

Traits all heroes have in common

To begin with, let’s take a quick look at what heroes do. They can step outside themselves, and whatever situation is currently happening, and help someone else. Think about this for a moment, a hero, who is in the same moment you are in, in the same place, and with the same considerations going thru their heads, stops that internal dialog, bites down and swallows their fear, and then sets out to help someone else.

The following are in no order, but they are all considered essential skills for a hero. This is not an exhaustive list of traits and skills heroes have, just a few of the more studied traits.

Courage and Bravery

All heroes exhibit courage. It’s almost synonymous with being a hero. But it does not mean the hero does not feel fear, they act, despite that fear. They can motivate themselves and move at the moment when it is needed. Heroes are also considered brave, and the dictionary definition for courage and bravery are as follows.

Courage is defined as the ability to confront a challenge despite the overwhelming presence of fear or disapproval (Oxford English Dictionary online), the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty, and the moral strength to speak out against injustice when no one else will, (Merriam-Webster Dictionary online) and Bravery again by Merriam-Webster indicates that bravery refers to feeling or at least showing no fear. Like valor, bravery refers to boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle (

A Beijing citizen stands in front of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace Photo: REUTERS

There are many examples of individuals who have stood up, stepped up, or were just fed up with something and did something about it. Heroes understand there are risks involved in what they do, consider Rosa Parks, or Nelson Mandela, who both suffered for doing the right thing.

Selflessness and Compassion

Heroes are selfless, they think of and put others before themselves, they work toward the group and team goals. Having compassion is an essential quality of all heroes. Being selfless, allows heroes to step outside themselves and help others. It’s not that they do not also have problems, they do, it’s they can move beyond that to help others who are in need.

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Heroes are honest, they do not like to lie, and that includes to themselves. Being truthful is essential to being a hero, as it involves trust, and in a crisis, you have to trust someone, mainly when you might be the one needing help. You want to trust that the person offering the support is capable of doing what they say, or you can believe what they say is true. We also say they have integrity, passion since they have to be passionate about something in the first place to be heroes.

Perseverance and Confidence

Being able to finish the job, pushing beyond our limits, these are things we also associate with heroes. They demonstrate determination, have an otherworldly endurance, and dedication to “getting the mission done.”  Heroes also have this confidence, it inspires and allows them to earn our trust very quickly, which is an essential skill during an emergency.

Patience and Humility

Having patience is an essential trait of being a hero. As we will discuss next, heroes are not born, they are made, and that takes time, energy and a lot of patience. Learning any skill requires time. Let ‘s use tying knots, for example; there are many kinds of knots, most have a functional use, and have a purpose. But it takes time to learn them, when to use them and how to use them.

Thinking of Boy Scouts, they have a badge for learning knots, that is, they consider it an essential skill for all boys to know. Having patience for learning skills and being able to use them under pressure is vital for anyone, but heroes seem to be able to think under pressure and use skills they know to help others.

But, they are not boastful, they want to be of service, help others and move on with life. Being humble and possessing humility is the last trait we will discuss today. Heroes prefer you focus on others, or on the situation, instead of them. Heroes do not do things because they seek attention or recognition, they just happened to be there and were therefore in a position to help, and that is what they did.

The Research

As a subject of research, there is not a lot out there. Now, the study of Heroism and such is just entering what has been called “the scientific age.”  There is a lot of discussion about the mythical “heroes journey” and the steps we all go thru in life as being viewed through the lens of a journey.

The emerging science of heroes and heroism, as an aspect of human consciousness is searching for those interested in studying the concept of courage and the hero mindset.  Currently, some organizations and groups are conducting training and conversations around what it means to be a hero and tactics, workshops and roundtables where those interested in the study, or the teaching of those traits to individuals.  Notable among these researchers is Philip Zimbardo, who is Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, has studied the emerging field of heroism and is part of the conversation about being able to teach the traits of heroism to today’s youth.

Efthimiou, Olivia (2017) “The Hero Organism and Heroism Science: A New Frontier of Human Consciousness,” Heroism Science: An Interdisciplinary Journal: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 1.
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