As longtime readers know, last year I spoke at the Hero Round Table, the world’s largest conference dedicated to real life heroism. This year I wasn’t able to attend, but my friend Ari Kohen was, and by all account it was every bit as wildly inspirational as last year. Ari has some observations and a question that I think is very important:
I’ve just returned to work after a weekend in Flint, Michigan at the second annual Hero Round Table conference. Roughly 800 people filled a beautiful auditorium to listen to and interact with a very impressive group of speakers over the course of two days.
Some of the speakers were honest-to-goodness celebrities, at least to this audience, like former Michigan State and NBA athletes Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves. Some were well-known academics, like Philip Zimbardo. And then there was Daniel Ellsberg, who blew the whistle on extensive governmental lying about the Vietnam War when he released the Pentagon Papers.
Looking at that list, I suspect you can guess who elicited the biggest reaction from the crowd.
It was Zimbardo, the 81 year old psychology professor.
If that wasn’t the person you would have guessed, then you are like me. I would have assumed that people at a heroism conference would have been standing in line to meet Ellsberg, an actual hero. But, at least in part, I think Ellsberg’s heroism is now too far removed from the public consciousness. Most of my parents’ generation (and — to a much lesser extent — my generation) would recognize Ellsberg’s heroism and would likely, if given the option, sit down to hear his thoughts on whistleblowing (especially considering how much whistleblowing has been in the news of late). But people who are younger than I am? Not so much.
So, the question is this: Who are the heroes of the next generation?
What do you think? On this blog I generally define a hero as someone who takes risk to help others. At the same time, it’s natural to think of anyone who inspires us as a hero. With those definitions in mind I would love to hear your take on who the big, memorable heroes of our time will be. Whose name, deeds or work comes to mind?
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