The Heroic Life
You Can Stand Up
The fear to step forward is a social fear. If no one else is acting, do you really want to break from the herd?
Well, do you?
You won't, in the moment. You won't want to. It will be overwhelming. But you can force yourself to act anyway.
And you can train. You can make yourself ready to overcome the bystander effect.
This is the dirty little secret of heroes. They're not special, not chosen by prophesy, not irradiated or born with powers. They work at it. It takes a willingness to challenge yourself, and a heroic imagination. You can cultivate these traits:
- Challenging yourself. In their work studying heroism, Dr. Zeno Franco and Dr. Philip Zimbardo have noted that many (not all) people who do heroic things are thrill-seekers. This does not necessarily represent a natural urge to go snow boarding and rafting. It means these people have experience taking action even when they are scared. I have no interest in going bungee-jumping, but I do try to face my fears on a weekly basis. Whenever I have an opportunity to do something that scares me, I try to take it. The result is that I have gotten better at acting when I'm terrified. You can learn this too. Start with small things. Go to the restaurant you've never heard of instead of your regular favorite. Volunteer for something even though you're busy. Learn a skill you think you'll be bad at (web design? Guitar? Speaking Chinese?). Go camping. In any way you can, challenge yourself to do things that are beyond your current skill set. The result is that you will become accustomed to overcoming fear. You might never feel brave, but you'll have "functional bravery."
- The Heroic Imagination. The good doctors also identified a key element shared by people who act heroically: the ability to imagine themselves doing the right thing, being the hero. Fiction, fantasy and myth help cultivate this, believe it or not-but only when approached the right way. When you read or watch a tale of epic bravery, do you put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist? Do you imagine what you would do if you confronted the same dangers? When the movie is over, do you take this standard out into your everyday life? You don't need a "What Would Aragorn Do" bumper sticker. Just use your imagination. On your way to work, what would you do if a highway bridge collapsed? What's your first move if your office catches fire? What skills might you want to learn to help someone in the water when there's no lifeguard?
When people cultivate their heroic imagination, society improves. More people are willing to speak up when someone is bullying. Pagans are in a unique position to fill the shoes of latter-day heroes. Pagans weave myth into their lives more than almost any other group. If that myth is a fantasy, a story you tell yourself to get away from stress, the only person it helps is you. But if that myth is a template, a template for how you respond to adversity in the real world, you might just become a hero.
I've never done anything heroic in my life, and maybe I never will. Heroism is, in my opinion, an emergent process: a quest more than a destination. But I have made a conscious decision to be ready to do the right thing if it's needed. For me, that means traveling and adventuring even when it's hard.
What does it mean to you?
Drew Jacob is the Rogue Priest, a philosopher and adventurer. Travel is his spiritual practice. To find purpose in life, one needs only to wander. The journey will show the rest.
To pursue that ideal Drew has undertaken his own journey. He wanders across two continents, hoping one day to meet the gods. It is his own attempt at adventure.