Heroism, The Heroic Life

Creating Heroic Encounters

Is it possible to “create” a heroic encounter?

Variants on this question come up a lot. To me it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the heroic life. The answer is generally no, but more importantly the answer is you don’t need to and you shouldn’t want to.

You don’t need to because there are already so, so many moments in life when someone needs to stand up or speak out. And chances are you won’t take action in the moment. Most of us have more opportunities to be heroic than we ever respond to, so why try to create more?

You shouldn’t want to because that means questionable motivations. Acting heroically means taking unnecessary risk. If you seek to create more opportunities to do this, it implies self-destructive behavior. When I was 20 and took Chinese sword lessons, I’d always picture running into a mugger and defeating him with my wooden sword. But I never went out looking for muggers.

Heroism is emergent: a quality you can embody more and more with practice, but never quite reach. Pursuing it is more like pursuing enlightenment than going after a promotion.

As such, the project is not chasing chances to act a hero. The project is to develop a heart that’s ready to overcome fear. The easiest way to learn this is to go on a journey.

A journey will not give you a heroic encounter, but it may give you a heroic mindset.

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6 thoughts on “Creating Heroic Encounters

    • Good question Soliwo. I have two thoughts about it:

      1. It makes a great plot line for a work of fiction, but a poor plan for how to actually live your life.

      2. Those comic book heroes usually function like law enforcement. It’s law enforcement’s job to hunt down the bad guys. It’s not, however, the job of traveling spiritual seekers.

      The Heroic Life as a philosophy is not a reason to go vigilante.

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  2. David McGrath says:

    I agree that being ready to face and overcome fear is the greatest task on the path toward heroic life. At a recent informal gathering with my girlfriend’s golfing circle, we were discussing the current US government’s attempts to deal with the budget. One of the men said he wondered how much the government spent on “that new statue of the nigger in the capitol building,” referring to the recently dedicated monument to Rosa Parks, one of my earliest heroic idols from the Civil Rights era.

    I found myself paralyzed in the moment, filled with loathing and disgust, but unable to respond in any way that I would consider heroic or brave. Instead, I stood and walked away from the group, and we departed almost immediately. For 2 weeks I replayed the scene in my head, with better and better roles and responses imagined.

    It took me almost a month to calm my sense of having failed a test of the heroic person I would like to be and in fact thought I was. I am heartened by your encouragement that this is a journey, and not a steady progression of victories and sacred moments. Thank you.


    • David, sorry for the slow reply. I thought I had responded when you first commented, but it looks like I did not.

      I think you did the right thing by removing yourself from the situation when that comment was made. Sometimes that kind of tacit, but clear disapproval speaks more directly than any lecture can. Of course, I wasn’t there and don’t know the details.

      Thanks for sharing this moment and how it affected you. We all feel we failed or could have done more when we face our biggest trials—even if we did the right thing.

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