Heroism

Lessons I Learned from Chasing a Criminal

Photo by Jpmm

Photo by Jpmm

Last month I chased down a criminal. I was working on my laptop on an upper floor of a secure building, and left the laptop unattended while I stepped away for two minutes. When I came back, the laptop was gone.

The Chase

I called for the building staff and we went poking around a little. We found the culprit hiding inside an emergency staircase (no idea how he had sneaked into the building). A staff member confronted him, but he decided to run for it. This is when I made an unconscious gut decision: chase him.

We ran down approximately 12 flights of stairs (six stories). Twice, he opened a door and ran into hallways, crossing over to a different staircase before he continued his descent. He had a good head start on me, but I jumped whole flights of stairs and eventually caught up to him. When I did, he ditched my laptop. At that point I allowed him to flee. Security said he exited the building at ground level (someone witnessed this) and ran away.

Overcoming the Bystander Effect

Although it was a short encounter, it taught me a lot about an issue that’s close to my heart: heroism. I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything heroic in this encounter—nothing at all. I say this for several reasons:

  • I didn’t help anyone. Most of us who study heroism define it as something like making a sacrifice for the sake of others. In this case, I was only helping myself.
  • It’s not clear that I faced any real risk (which is good, and I prefer it that way). If there is no element of sacrifice or risk, it’s hard to call an act heroic.
  • Although I was glad I got my laptop back, I didn’t really save the day. Many people would consider it more heroic if I had brought the thief to justice. Since he escaped, he may steal from others. (I don’t fully agree with this argument, but it’s a fair point.)

Nonetheless, the encounter taught me a lot about what it would take to do something truly heroic. There was a similar moment at the beginning of the encounter where I had a clear choice: remain passive and watch him escape, or do something to intervene. This is a textbook example of the “bystander effect”—the strong instinct we all have to simply keep our heads down in a bad situation, and wait for someone else to handle it. In this case I managed to overcome the bystander effect and took action. For most of us, this is not an easy choice.

The Wrong Conclusions

Before I get into what I learned, I want to point out a couple of issues I’m not going to address:

  1. “Going after him was stupid.” This is a common response to any situation where a normal citizen chases or confronts a criminal. Frankly, I look down on this point of view. I do agree that confronting a criminal is often a bad or dangerous idea. But I also think we use this as an excuse to do nothing. If someone is useful and competent in a bad situation we should not call their choice stupid, even if it was risky. In fact, I’m very glad that people willing to take a risk exist (we need more of them). In this particular case, we could debate for hours whether I was right to believe the  criminal was unarmed, and whether I had reason to trust my ability to run down stairs safely at high speed. All I can really say is that in the end, no one was hurt and the stolen property was recovered.
  2. “You should have apprehended him.” Maybe. Perhaps it would have been better to tackle him and waited for police to come arrest him. But that would have definitely made the situation dangerous, and it wasn’t necessary. I think people get way too excited about punishing criminals. Sending someone to jail doesn’t fix them, or society, or the original crime they committed. In any case, it turns out the building staff know who my laptop thief was. His picture is now posted at every building entrance and elevator.

What Chasing a Criminal Taught Me about Heroism

So what exactly is it like chasing down a thief? It’s not at all how you’d think it is (certainly not what I thought it would be like). Here are a few things I learned:

  • Building staff were not happy with me. I was quite pleased with the outcome of the chase. But the building staff have to worry about liability (what if I broke a leg on the stairs?). They would much rather if I had watched the man flee, even though losing the computer would have disrupted my life for weeks. Often, the people charged with keeping us secure are primarily concerned with following procedures—they prefer that no one take heroic action, which is by definition daring and unusual. This is how people who do the right thing get vilified or reprimanded. (In my case, staff stopped short of actually criticizing my actions.)
  • Willpower is what won, not athletic superiority. The thief was younger, leaner and faster than me. I felt myself flagging within a few flights of stairs, and I’ve never been a strong runner. But he didn’t know that. I made myself keep going, and in the end, that’s why I caught him. The longer I kept on him the more scared he got. Eventually, he decided to play the safe card and ditch my laptop, hoping I’d stop. It worked out for both of us.
  • I could not have done this if I wasn’t physically fit. Despite what I just said, there is a baseline of physical fitness that’s necessary to intervene in many situations. I’m no gym rat: I was a nerd growing up, I run with a limp, and I will always be last picked for sports. But I work out regularly and do my best to eat a healthy diet. Doing the right thing in a bad situation often means having a body you can count on.
  • I like this guy. Theft is wrong. Seeing an empty table where my laptop was put a sour, heavy feeling in my stomach. But I don’t hate the young man who stole it. To the contrary, he has qualities I respect. This is a man who (the police tell me) routinely enters downtown apartment buildings. He knew the layout of the floors. He knew how to get in, where to hide and how best to escape. Frankly, what he did took bravery—misguided bravery, but still. When I learned his name I had half a mind to put posters in the staircases inviting him to contact me; I’d love to interview him. Someday I hope he finds a way to apply the same level of planning and derring-do to legal, gainful activities.
  • Mental preparation matters. More than anything, I realized I would never have done this if I hadn’t mentally prepared myself to be the sort of person that takes action. I had about a half second to decide whether to chase the thief or not. In that half second, I didn’t consciously decide anything—I found myself flying down the stairs and realized, “Oh, I guess we’re doing this.” The reason I acted as I did is because I’ve spent a lot of time “training” myself not to by a bystander.

And this is really what I want to share. Your heroism may not look like anybody else’s. It might not involve chasing criminals, or rescuing people from fires, or defending someone’s life. But what about stopping when you see a car accident? What about giving someone CPR? How about blowing the whistle on illegal activity in your workplace?

Each of these scenarios requires a decision. Sometimes you’ll have time to think, like last time I intervened. Other times you’ll have to decide immediately. Either way, your choice will be shaped by how well you have prepared by picturing yourself as the kind of person who takes action. There are several ways you can do that:

  • Don’t react to heroic or impressive deeds by saying, “I could never do that!” Ask yourself how you could do that—even if you would do it differently.
  • Picture yourself as the hero or heroine the next time you watch a movie.
  • Learn CPR.
  • In new places, picture potential bad events and how you would react to them. (What would I do if there was a fire here? What would I do if someone fell on these tracks?)
  • Regularly put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Learn a new language; take a challenging class; travel somewhere new; go out alone; talk to a stranger. Any small incident of controlled risk-taking helps you build your capacity for acting against the odds.

You could also join us at this year’s Hero Round Table and learn how to be more than a bystander—from real-life heroes who have done amazing things around the world.

Have you ever had to take action in a bad situation? What did you do? How did you feel afterwards? I’d love to hear your story. What made you do what you did?

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Adventure, Andre Sólo, The Great Adventure, Writing

Return of the Rogue Priest

Hi adventurers. It’s been a while. I’ve spent the last few months doing many things:

  • Planning the next leg of the bike ride
  • Dating someone wonderful
  • Writing

Writing has, in fact, consumed most of my time. And not just writing new stories—I also educated myself about how to build an author career. A few weeks ago I made my first ever submission to a literary journal(!). Those journals are where great authors start out, and they’re the road to prizes, literary awards and publishing contracts. I’m excited to see if I’m accepted.

At the same time, I believe in the indie route. My novella Lúnasa Days was independently published, and was 100% funded by my fans (that’s you guys—I couldn’t do it without you!). Readers also backed the last leg of the bicycle trip, which produced four short stories set in Mexico. One of those stories is the one I’ve now sent out to the journals.

So, what are the fruits of all these months of work? Well, I have three big announcements to make:

1. The Adventure Continues

My Adventure is far from over, and the next leg is coming up soon! I expect to be back on the bicycle starting in November (just in time to escape Trump). The next ride will go from Mexico to Panama, through all the countries shown in pretty colors here:

Next leg of the journey! Image by Wikimedia Commons.

This will be the most borders of any leg of the trip to date. It’ll take me across mountains, rainforests and volcanic lakes, and through places you’ve seen on the news—the countries where child refugees come from.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce that this leg of the Adventure will be a fundraiser. This time, the miles I bike will raise dollars for a worthy cause. I’m working to identify an organization that’s a good fit, preferably with a focus on heroism or immigration, both of which are close to my heart (and appropriate for Central America).

Any thoughts on an organization worth supporting?

2. New Rogue Priesting

The long hiatus of this blog is over. I won’t be posting every week, but you can expect new pieces in the near future. Topics will include:

  • An updated vision of the Heroic Life.
  • A new report on the journey to meet the gods: where I’m at, what I’ve seen, and everything I’ve learned so far.
  • The true story of how I ended up chasing down a laptop thief, and what it taught me about the bystander effect.

3. My New Website

I’ve known for a long time that I need a separate website for my fiction. That site is now under construction! The most exciting part is that I will release free fiction online there, and eventually run a full length fantasy story, told in free weekly episodes.

Don’t miss the first episode when it launches—sign up for my new mailing list and be the first one to see it. Signup is free and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to sign up for email updates from me.

Subscribe

That’s the latest here. What have you all been up to?

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Andre Sólo, Fellowship of the Wheel, Writing

Happy Midwinter

Photo by Guilerme Souza

It’s been over a month since my last update. In that time, I’ve written more; built my business as a freelance writer; continued educating myself on publishing; and just finished the first of my Mexico stories. The story is a work of magical realism called Concha and the Saints and I just sent out an advance copy to select supporters of my ride across Mexico. I hope to submit it to literary contests before publishing it. I’ll let you know here as soon as it’s available to the general public.

One thing I have not done in the last month is figured out the next steps for Rogue Priest. This blog serves as a chronicle of my journey, but the only thing to report lately is “stayed in one place; wrote more.” Not quite as exciting as tripping down pyramids!

I view this quiet work time as a necessary stage in my journey. It’s a way to make sure I develop not just as an adventurer, but also as an author. But it also feels strange leaving Rogue Priest quiet.

So I have questions for you:

  1. I’m considering starting a writer blog, separate from this one. I would share lessons I learn, snippets of stories in progress, and examples of feedback sessions with my writing partner. Would you want to read this? (Rogue Priest would still be here. The journey is far from over yet.)
  2. With the many months in between adventures, what sorts of posts would you like to see here?

Also, today is the official date of Midwinter, and yesterday was the traditional date. I’ll be holding a small offering ceremony tonight with BT Newberg. For those of you who celebrate, I hope you have something special planned too.

What are you doing for the holidays this year?

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Writing

Watcha Writin’?

Recently I caught up on where I’ve been since finishing the ride across Mexico, and what ridiculous Hallowe’en festivities we had here in New Orleans. But my biggest focus these days is my career as an author. And I think it’s high time to share what I’m working on.

Here are my top projects, and where I’m at with each one.

Image by Lívia Cristina

Mexico Stories

When I started my ride across Mexico last year, I promised I would write four short stories based on the places I visited. If you backed the crowdfunding campaign to launch the trip, depending on the level you came in at I may owe you a copy of these stories. Accordingly, they’re my top priority.

All four stories are finished in draft form. They all need more editing. However, I do realize it’s been a year since I set out in Mexico. I’m hoping to have them done within the next 30 days.

I think you’ll like them. Three of them are magical realism pieces similar to Lúnasa Days and one is a tale of lost love. All are set in real places, but none are based on my actual travels. They’re fiction.

As backdrops I chose some of the the most dramatic places that you saw in my road logs. Concha and the Saints happens in the bullet-riddled border region. The Cloud Desert takes place on pilgrimage through the misty, high-altitude wasteland. Guadalupe Calling, starring a 60-year old doña on a mission, is set by the pirate walls of Campeche. And the last story features my favorite city in Mexico: Meet Me in Xalapa.

Just because these stories are finished doesn’t mean they’ll be immediately available to the public. I will send them out privately to those supporters who are owed a copy, prbably before Christmas. Then I plan to enter some of them in literary contests. Eventually, they’ll be published.

My First App

The next project is a not a book at all. It’s a game. I grew up wanting to create my own video games, but I was always told you need a big budget for that. Then I saw the success of simple, story-driven games like A Dark Room. Minimal graphics, compelling gameplay, and a mystery to unravel. That’s something I can do.

I teamed up with a friend who’s a coder (creater of the Ananda app, which you can see reviewed here.) and we decided to make it as an app for iOs. After kicking a few ideas around, we settled on the game we liked best: Hunger.

You start Hunger alone in a dilapidated cottage. Your food supply is dwindling, just a few morsels. You own nothing else except an old ring on the shelf.

Outside, Ireland is starving. Soon you’ll be forced to leave the cottage and wander town to town in search of food or a better life. And in the process, you might start to change things…

My friend and I are working on this game slowly, one chunk at a time. It will come out in 2016.

“Project 30”

The last item is a collaborative fiction project about coming of age in your 30s. It consists of a “season” of 10 short, written episodes. My coauthor Am ber has been my writing partner for over a year, which usually just means we critique each other’s work. But this is a topic near to both our hearts, and we decided to take the big leap and write it together.

The story will center on four 30-something friends living in New Orleans, each coming to grips with a simple truth: they aren’t doing what they wanted to do with their lives. They have jobs and they get by but they yearn for something more. Some of them don’t know how to get it; others don’t even know what it is. The story follows them as they date, work, and struggle to launch a new life.

We’ve nicknamed the series Project 30 until we get a better title. (Do you have a suggestion?) It will appear in 2016.

Odds and Ends

Lower on my list, but still on my radar, as a few side projects:

  • Sky People, a novel about two girls who find a crashed airship and go to a lost kingdom in the sky.
  • Heart of Adventure, my long overdue book on the philosophy of living life as an adventure

Do any of these strike your fancy? Do you have a title suggestion for Project 30? I’d love your feedback.

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New Orleans, Travel

Hallowe’en in New Orleans

Halloween in New Orleans. Photo via Nola.com.

I’m back in New Orleans. I arrived one week ago with a few boxes, a “new” 42-year old bike, and—for a couple days at least—my dad.

He had offered to drive me down. The plan is that I’ll stay here a few months and keep building up my career as an author. I’ll also be looking for a more permanent residence, so that I’ll have a place to land here every time I come back. It does seem to happen quite often, after all.

I’m, never sure if I’ll still love this city until I get back. During the drive I thought about how slow everything is, how expensive it is, and how bartenders glare at strangers like convicts. I worried it wouldn’t be magical anymore.

But then I stepped out of the car and smelled the clean swamp air; I saw the hanging moss and Creole cottages; we spent some time sitting on a porch, just because. I always love this place just as much as the last time.

The Art Haus

Before I landed I made arrangements with a friend of a friend, which is the best way to get anything done in New Orleans. This particular gent owns an old plantation manor in the Bywater, the Boheaux fantasyland of the city. The house is a wreck, and my friend is doing his best to shake 170 years of decline out of its bones. It looks more like a demolition site than a home.

But, he told me, there is a little private room on the second floor, at the back of the house. It has a loft bed and a private bath. Normally it’s his room, but he’s leaving for a long trip to New York, and he’s happy to rent it.

Sounds like a good place for a writer to write.

The room opens onto a side porch. It’s not as dirty as I feared, nor as finished as you might hope. I could afford somewhere nicer—somewhere that looks respectable—but I’ve done that enough. I don’t feel any more comfortable in the gilded places than I do in the rough ones, as long as I have a silent spot to work. And if I save money, there’ll be more for a down payment on a house.

So we hauled an old writing desk into the room, and I made sure the wi-fi works. Good enough.

Briefly, the first night, I did get apprehensive. The menagerie of unwashed pots in the kitchen, the mosquitoes drifting through the screen on my door; what if I’d made a mistake? But then I heard a violin. I went out on the porch, stared at the moon, and listened to the music drift through the magnolias. I didn’t mind being there at all.

The roommates also sold me. It’s a mansion, so even with five of us we never step on toes. As far as I can tell they’re all artists of one kind or another. Greg, who restores historical homes, lives on the premises in exchange for his labor. Ryan, who has the only finished room, tells me he spends his days reading philosophy—by which I mean actual philosophers, not self-help blogs. He shares the room with his girlfriend Winnie, who almost never speaks. “It’s hard living with such an extrovert,” he told me.

I like being surrounded by these people. Good conversation is on tap when I want it, and creativity begets creativity. As my friend Cole told me, “Some day your biographer is gonna write about about how you all meet at this house, before you were famous.”

I’ve decided to call it the Art Haus.

Praise to the Gods of the Nile

Of course, Hallowe’en is approaching. This is my favorite holiday in New Orleans—more so than even Mardi Gras. Hallowe’en is at the beginning of the festival season, when people are still fresh. The weather is better. And the mood suits me.

As usual, we have a theme. My friend Cole was determined that she would be Cleopatra this year. (Yes, I told her it’s overdone; and yes, she will make it amazing anyway.) I decided to be Horus, the hawk-headed deity of the Egyptian pantheon. Pretty soon Cole’s boyfriend got on the bandwagon. He forsook dressing as Caesar and called dibs on Anubis, the jackal-headed god, instead.

Add in a friend visiting from up north, who will be Isis (the goddess, not the terrorist movement), and we’ve got a pretty neat little pantheon.

Horus

We build everything by hand. My Horus mask has several hundred hand cut feathers, and Cole just finished adding real gold leaf to the Anubis mask. I can’t be sure, but we might just outdo our past costumes.

We may also build a mobile pyramid full of beer to follow us, but I’m not certain we’ll have time to finish it.

(Yes, there will be pictures.)

The Next Adventure

Not everything in New Orleans is easy. I liken her to a courtesan, one who knows just what to say but always ends up costing more than agreed. Even that is part of her charm: she’s a city of blues, of Vodou, of letting les bon temps rouler. You take the bad and the good together here, which is part of why I like it.

It will be a few months of writing, saving and house-shopping. Meanwhile, the Giant is safe in Yucatán; new stories are almost ready to share (more on that soon), and the Adventure across the Americas is waiting, whenever I’m ready.

Which leaves me with just one question. What should I name the new bike?

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Andre Sólo, Travel

Sólo, Where Yat?

We’re long overdue for an update. The short version: I’m back in the US now, and it’ll be a few months before I’m on a bicycle in Latin America.

After Mexico

Here’s the latest. After my time was up in Valladolid I traveled around Mexico a bit with a friend. (We took buses. The Giant is stored safely at Alberto’s house in Valladolid. That’s the same Alberto who leads underground swimming expeditions.)

Then I needed to buckle down and work somewhere. The journey has taught me that my purpose really is to write, and I’m focused a lot more on career. I chose the city of Xalapa—my favorite stop from the ride across Mexico, and the perfect place for a creative. I rented a small apartment June-August and finished drafting four new short stories.

Finally, I returned to the U.S. I have no illusions of doing the bike trip all in one go. Instead I do it in segments, often with six months or more in between. I’m currently in Wisconsin for a long overdue visit with my parents. I spend weekdays with them, weekends seeing friends, and every day getting a lot more work done.

Some of that work was dedicated to this year’s Hero Round Table, which I spoke at this past weekend. (It was great, by the way. Once the video of my talk is live I will share it here.)

Backstage at the HRT. I took this photo, but I can't describe what's going on here.

Magician Scott Dietrich backstage at the HRT.

When to Adventure On?

Those of you who are supporters are very familiar with the words adventure on. It’s the refrain I finished all of my video logs with. The problem: at this point, I don’t know exactly when I’ll be taking my own advice. I have no date for the next leg of the Adventure.

This is nothing new. So far, no segment of the journey had led seamlessly into the next one. Each section requires prep work and planning, and has to be balanced with other priorities in my life. But this time, the biggest consideration is career: there’s a lot I want to publish. I’d like to do that before I get back on the bike.

I’m fine with the delay. I used to agonize over the pace, and felt like a failure if I didn’t get on the road quickly. Not anymore. I have a deeper confidence about the Adventure now, and I know I’ll continue it sooner or later. Meanwhile, I gotta keep my kitchen in order.

Some things on my list before the next leg:

  • Publish four stories set in Mexico, and two books
  • Launch a collaborative writing project
  • Launch an app
  • Spend Hallowe’en and maybe Carnival in New Orleans
  • Look into getting a permanent home in New Orleans, so I have a place to come back to

One thing I’m not worried about is recruiting. I used to really, really want adventuring companions. Then I biked across Mexico solo, just like the name says, and it was amazing. A handful of friends have expressed interest in the Central America leg, and they’re welcome to come. But there will not be a massive call for adventurers this time. The journey is mine, and that makes me happy.

So what exactly are all these books and collaborative projects? I’ll save that for next time. Until then…

Adventure on :)

Lúnasa Days

Lúnasa Days is the story of a young man on a bicycle, finding his purpose in life. Check it out here.

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Andre Sólo, Heroism, Spotlight

If You’re Just Joining Us…

Photo via Hero Round Table

Photo via Hero Round Table

For those of you at the Hero Round Table, thanks for checking out Rogue Priest. Here are some of my favorite posts if you’d like to learn about my journey:

It Was the First of Many Deserts

A Report from the Journey to Meet the Gods

The Heroic Life

You might also enjoy my book, Lúnasa Days:

Lúnasa Days

It’s story of a young man on a bicycle, finding his purpose in life. Check it out here.

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