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The Heroic Imagination Project

Quick, name your biggest hero. Is it a sports figure? A movie star? Singer? Artist? Those are the people who make the news, aren’t they?

Rarely do we hear about ordinary men and women who have, by circumstance or fate, done something extraordinary for a greater cause or sacrificed on behalf of fellow human beings.

My current personal hero would have to be Jason Schechterle, a Phoenix police officer who was almost burned to death in a car crash in 2001, but survived and went on to become the founder of Beyond the Flames, a foundation that provides assistance to trauma victims.

The Heroic Imagination project wants to change the definition of heroism. They say that ”The Future of Heroism is Now.”

We seek to redefine heroism and make it more relevant for a 21st century world in which heroism is no longer the exclusive province of the physically brave, but it is also embodied by any individual with firmly held ethics and the courage to act on them. By redefining heroism for contemporary audiences, we can popularize the concept of everyday heroism and provide a catalyst for individuals to transform their understanding into positive action.

So what is the definition of heroism? HIP says that it comprises these four elements:

1. It is engaged in voluntarily.
2. It provides a service to one or more people in need, or the community as a whole.
3. It involves potential risk/cost to physical comfort, social stature, or quality of life.
4. It is initiated without the expectation of material gain.

The Heroic Imagination project website started out very small, with only a few pages and one video, The Bystander Effect. The video demonstrates how people have a “herd mentality” when it comes to helping other people. If one person stops to help and other people see it, they will stop to help too. If people see everyone ignoring the problem, they tend to ignore it too. Observe:

The Bystander Effect

How would you like to be an actual injured man lying on those steps, groaning and asking for help, and watching everyone walk by without helping? Try not to get injured in that town if you are dressed in casual clothes! Luckily, the “injured people” were actors. Here’s a video of The Bystander Effect in operation with actual people and an actual injured man:


Video of crash victim saved from burning car in Utah

The white haired man in the green shirt wearing gloves is clearly the first hero in this video. While others stand and observe, he is the first to try to lift the car. His effort demonstrates the bystander effect, because as soon as he starts to lift, other people join him. Six people don’t have quite enough power to lift the car, so the man in green walks out of the frame to the left. When he returns, he is making pushing motions to the crowd standing nearby, urging them to help. Ten people lift the car easily, even managing to push it sideways before they put it down. While they have the car in the air, one man drags the victim out, saving his life.

Every one of the people in the video (with the exception of the victim and the guy in the business suit) was a hero that day:

1. They helped without being ordered to do so.
2. They helped to save a man who surely would have died if he hadn’t been rescued..
3. They helped even though they could have been burned in the fire or suffered smoke inhalation.
4. They helped without being paid for it.

They helped. They came together as a group and cooperated to move that car. They saved that man’s life without training or compensation or special protective clothing. They weren’t studly firefighters, just raggedy old ordinary citizens off the street. If they can do it, we can too.

I want to post some stories here about people helping other people in Second Life. Maybe it will tempt some other folks to start helping too. Sometimes doing good things is contagious.

The original challenge at the beginning of this article was to name your biggest hero. Who is it, and why do you consider this person to be a hero? To respond to this challenge, write about your hero on your blog, link back to this post, and post a link to your blog article. Readers can visit your blog and gain inspiration by learning about heroic figures. If you don’t have a blog, just post about your hero in the comments here and we can talk about him/her/them. So who’s your hero?

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  1. [...] The Heroic Imagination Project. GreenLantern Excelsior challenges people to write about their heroes in Second Life, to share stories of people helping people in SL and share. The writer explains the bystander effect which can allow people to stand by and do nothing, but can also urge and encourage people to act. Excelsior seems to hope sharing examples will elicit more heroic and helping behavior.  [...]