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26 May 2017

Holding out for a Hero


In a world of seemingly endless superhero blockbuster releases, you’d be forgiven for presuming that heroes are characterised by their ability to pull off lycra and a cape, or at least by having an awe-inspiring story of defying evil forces or preventing the apocalypse. But against all this Hollywood glamour, it seems that we have forgotten the true sense of what makes a hero.

Mid May saw the TED Talk-style Hero Round Table come to London for the first time. The event, which is now in its third year, saw speakers ranging from academics and creatives to adventure-seekers and whistle-blowers come together to showcase and celebrate ground-breaking acts of heroism. The stories proved to be diverse, captivating and inspiring, and certainly shared some food for thought. Above all, speakers encouraged us to forget Bonnie Tyler’s advice about holding out for a hero and to simply become the hero ourselves.

Perceptions and definitions of what makes a hero varied between speakers, with labels like selfless, courageous, risk-taker and even dangerous being banded around throughout the day. Despite these varying viewpoints, there was one thing on which every speaker could agree: no one is born a hero. Heroism is about giving and growing: heroism must be practised in order to be achieved.

Sounds easy, right? But what exactly does it take for us to go out in the world and become heroes?

The good news is you don’t need to go running into a burning building just yet. There are a few tips and tricks we picked up from the Hero Round Table that you can take into your everyday life and should help you feel more prepared in case you ever are in a situation where you need to be a hero

It’s a mindset

At its core, heroism is about empathy. It’s all about training the brain to put someone else’s needs before your own. For the people we hold closest in our lives, this might be an easy ask, but to be a hero we must extend this empathy to complete strangers. Put simply: pure heroism is about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It is helping for no other reason than genuinely wanting to help.

Courage to do the right thing

Arguably the biggest obstacle that prevents heroic action is something over which we have very little control. The Bystander Effect is an innate psychological phenomenon whereby humans are less likely to help in a situation if others are present. Whether the one in need is being harassed, in need of first aid or even just struggling with their shopping; if others are nearby, we are instinctively more likely to lean back and become a bystander to their struggle.

Wendy Addison, the famous whistleblower on South Africa’s LeisureNet, spoke at the Hero Round Table. She argued that the way to combat the bystander effect is to place courage in your convictions. Addison explained that heroes are those who know the difference between right and wrong and have the courage to do the right thing.

Small acts, big impact

Contrary to popular opinion, heroism isn’t about constantly putting yourself in the line of danger for the greater good. Rather, it’s an everyday state of mind. It’s about making small changes that affect the people around you in a big way: handing in a lost wallet, helping a stranger in distress, or even something as simple as holding the lift for someone.

While no one is born a hero, it’s certainly possible to take some steps to help you become one. Remember: you might not be donning a cape overnight, but even the smallest acts of courage, bravery and altruism help make the world a little bit better.

The Hero Round Table is going global and will be returning to the UK next year. If you’re interested in finding out more about the event or the speakers who attended, check out their website here.

by Evie McDermott and Jed Just

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