Why the World Needs Heroes

 In Everyday Heroes, Hero Training, Social Psychology

Can thoughts ignite revolutions? That is the question asked by Hero Town’s advisor, Professor Phillip Zimbardo, in his paper titled Why the World Needs Heroes.

Zimbardo’s paper looks at examples of revolutionary leaders throughout history and their ability to rally people into action against injustice and evil. You can read Zimbardo’s paper in full at the Europe Journal of Psychology.

Heroic thought can move entire civilisations

In 1968, the Soviet Union marched into Czechoslovakia, squashing the liberation movement of the Prague Spring and strengthening the authoritarian wing of the Communist party. The occupation of Czechoslovakia led many of its citizens to lose hope in freedom. As Zimbardo observed during a conference visit, “many people I met [had given up] about ever being freed from their external domination.” They had lost all hope. What they needed was a hero.

Remarkably it was playwright Václav Havel who helped to instigated the rebellion against Communist rule. Havel identified that the resignation of his fellow citizens to totalitarian rule made them complicit in its domination. Using just his words – in his scripts, letters from prison and later speeches to a hopeful crowd of rebels – Havel rallied them into communal action. The power of Havel’s words and that of many other revolutionaries was the driving force for the Velvet Revolution, peacefully ending Soviet Rule and releasing Czechoslovakia from occupation. Zimbardo highlights the power of non-violent and united resistance to unjust authority, citing the words of these leaders as provoking a ‘heroic imagination’ in the community – a mindset behind many personal and societal transformations. 

The power of the heroic imagination

In his paper, Zimbardo looked at everyday heroes and the power of their words to inspire, unify and transform communities into non-violent resistance against systemic evil. Examples included Daniel Ellsberg, a whistle-blower who released the Pentagon Papers to the press and effectively ending the Vietnam War, and Irena Sendler, who risked her life ensuring the safety of Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. Both of these individuals were ordinary people who sought to correct a grave wrong in their society, and their actions had immensely positive consequences for society and future generations.

A compassionate call to arms

With these heroes in mind, Zimbardo founded the Heroic Imagination Project. The HIP was founded on the premise that everyday people can be taught how to be heroes, by modelling after heroes of the past and using the heroic imagination. This mindset helps us to transform our values into political action, to grant us the power to act as everyday heroes. Zimbardo writes that:

I believe that each of us has the ability to make a difference in improving the human condition — through acts of kindness, generosity of spirit, and a vision that always seeks to make others feel special, worthwhile, understood and embraced as our kin, especially when they are not of our kind.

By starting with one good deed at a time, we can all lead heroic lives and become agents of change for ourselves, the community and the world. Find out more how you can train to be a hero by enrolling in Hero Training.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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