Learning to be a hero is more important than you might think.
Article by Brooke Allen, Interview by Adrienne Rodney and Brooke Allen.
Before we met Dr. Phillip Zimbardo it wasn’t clear what a hero is or how frequently we all are presented with opportunities to be one. Zimbardo defines heroes as people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. Altruism is “heroism lite” – helping others without expectation of gain. When most people say someone is a “hero” they really mean “role model.” Sports figures, celebrities, or business leaders may or may not be good role models, but few are well known for heroism.
Phil Zimbardo is perhaps the greatest living psychologist. He has been the president of the American Psychological Association, hosted the 26 episode PBS series titled Discovering Psychology, and authored many books, including a favorite, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. But Phil is most famous for the Stanford Prison Study conducted 40 years ago.
Please, take a few minutes to watch our interview and then answer a few questions.
Can you imagine being a hero, or even wanting to be one?
Before you answer, can you imagine the following conversations?
Conversation #1: Saleswoman, “May I tell you about our product?”
Prospect, “Possibly. But first, would you ever lie to a customer?”
Saleswoman, “Let’s just say that I will never let my children starve.”
Prospect, “Are you married? Does your husband have a job?”
Saleswoman, “Yes and Yes.”
Prospect, “Sometimes it feels like there are more unemployed unwed mothers feeding their children than there are honest salespeople.”
Saleswoman, “Whatever. Now, may I tell you about my product?”
Conversation #2: Hiring manager, “I have lots of unemployed friends. Would you mind if I introduced one of them to fill the vacancy you’ll leave behind?”
Job Candidate, “I would not recommend anyone do my job because my job requires I do unethical things.”
Hiring manager, “Then I can’t hire you because you are saying you are the most unethical person in the world. You do things so unethical you would not recommend anyone else on the planet do them other than you. You think it is ok to be unethical as long as it isn’t your idea.”
Conversation #3: College Career Officer, “Last year I told our president that for three years every graduate from one of our departments has been unable to get a job in their field, and I feel an obligation to disclose this fact to our students. He ordered me to stop keeping track and never disclose this fact because, as he said, ‘What am I going to do with the department? Don’t be selfish; think of your colleagues.’”
Friend, “What did you do?”
Career Officer, “I did what he said. What else could I do? I’m not selfish.”
Conversation #4. Job Candidate, “After 21 years of competent and loyal service I uncovered some shenanigans in one of our divisions. My boss and his boss didn’t seem to care so, after exhausting all internal options I quit and went to the regulators who nipped it in the bud. Although it cost me and two layers of management our jobs, I saved the shareholders boatloads of money. Now I’d like to do the same thing for your shareholders.”
Hiring Manager, “When can you start?”
I (Brooke) can imagine conversations #1 through #3 because I’ve personally participated in similar ones.
I can imagine the fourth only because I have an active imagination.
Phil Zimbardo believes we all need to imagine having conversations like #4 and we should never find ourselves involved with the first three.
He started his Heroic Imagination Project in San Francisco where he is raising money to sponsor heroism research and to educate people on how to be everyday heroes. He told us that, while you might benefit from a heroic act, it cannot be your motivation.
Not only do we need to strive to do the right thing every day, we must “Learn to love the whistle blower.” He should know. He had a whistleblower for his 1971 experiment. A recently minted doctorate in psychology, Christina Maslach was appalled at the change in Phil’s personality and behavior while he was conducting his prison study. She called him on it. They married the following year.
Do you want to be a hero?
Don’t your customers, employees, employers, students, shareholders, loved ones, and future generations need you to at least try?
You can learn more about what it means to be a hero by watching our interview with Dr. Zimbardo and then visiting The Heroic Imagination Project website to learn how to imagine being one and to help the cause.
And, while you’re here, please post a comment.
We are particularly interested in a story about a hero in your life, or a situation where you wish there was one on hand.
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