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Why We Need to Redefine Heroism

Over the years, a big part of defining the Heroic Life has been figuring out what exactly heroism is.

That was part of why I went on a 5,000-mile bike ride.

At the beginning, I defined it simply:

Taking a risk or making a sacrifice for the sake of others.

But that isn’t the only thing we call heroism. There are many ways to be a hero, and most don’t involve taking a “risk” at all. We count artists, scientists, rock stars and all kinds of inspiring examples as our heroes—not just the people who risk their lives for others.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of other good definitions out there. Most heroism experts use the risk-taking definition above, and some won’t count anyone as a hero if they didn’t take a risk. Other experts suggest that heroism is totally subjective. To me, both of those positions seem extreme.

I wanted to find a middle way.

A third option.

Some way of understanding heroism that asks: what do all of our many heroes have in common?

For the last two years, I’ve been working on answering that question. And I finally think I’m onto something.

A Unified Theory of Heroism

If I asked you who your hero is, you might give a lot of different answers. You might say your own mom, or Nikola Tesla, or Barack Obama. Or you might say it was that 6th grade teacher who made a big difference in your life. All of these people are very different. But they do have one thing in common:

All of them stand out.

You’re not saying, “Everyone in my family is a hero.” You’re saying your mother is.

You’re not saying, “All teachers are heroes.” You’re saying that one teacher did something no other teacher did, that made him or her really important to you.

The same is true when we talk about the most famous or impressive types of heroes: not all scientists, not all musicians, but certain ones who went above and beyond.

When someone does the extraordinary in their field—whatever field that may be—they’re likely to be seen as heroes. In other words, achieving something exceptional is what we call heroic. (As long as you don’t do anything crooked along the way. We tend to draw a sharp line between our heroes and our villains.)

So a simple definition might be:

Heroism is doing the extraordinary.

On the surface, this is still a little subjective. What counts as extraordinary?

But, in practice, most of us can tell when someone is going above and beyond those around them. You can be extraordinary for your grade school soccer team even if you’re not FIFA extraordinary. And, even in the World Cup, some players stand out as extraordinary even among the other excellent players.

Extraordinary can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it, and it provokes a certain sense of awe. “Hero” is our word for anyone who provoked that awe.

What about doing good in the world?

If you’re like me, this definition gives you a knee-jerk reaction. Personally, I want my heroes to be BIG heroes. And I want them to do good in the world—like moral good, not just winning soccer games.

But that’s okay.

It’s okay because people can be extraordinary at a lot of things. Some people do extraordinary things for the sake of others. This is, without a doubt, extraordinary—and worthy of our emulation. It might even be the highest form of heroism.

But helping others isn’t the only thing we value in life. Depending on who you are, you might value the arts, learning, science, freedom, good management, an entrepreneurial spirit, or many other things. And when someone does the extraordinary in the pursuit of such a thing, that person is a hero. Not the same kind of hero as MLK, mind you, but a hero nonetheless.

The Two Types of Heroes

The result is that there are two types of heroes: inspirational heroes who only matter to certain people, and moral heroes that we can all agree on. Here’s an illustration:

Copyright 2017 Andre Sólo

 

These two types of heroes each deserve a little close-up of their own.

Inspiration Heroes

Inspiration heroes achieve the extraordinary in a specific skill, art, career or ideal. They don’t normally save lives or fight injustices; that is not the kind of hero they are. Yet, in one sense they are the most important kind of hero, because this is the type of hero that everyone can become.

You can spend your entire life ready to perform CPR and never have a chance. But you have the opportunity every day to make a sacrifice for your chosen art or passion and achieve a little more at it.

The complication with inspiration heroes: We all look up to heroes like this, but we can also get cynical about them. What if someone just gets famous because of luck, or just because they’re good at marketing? What if someone is treated as an “inspiration” despite not doing anything of substance?

Well, the truth is, this happens. That doesn’t lessen the impact of the true inspiration heroes—people who actually do the extraordinary, rather than just cultivating a reputation. The press may highlight some people and obscure others, but press is not the arbiter of who is a hero. Rather, heroism is determined by whether or not you:

  • Dedicate yourself to something, and
  • Achieve something extraordinary doing it.

Some people do this in obscurity—like that 6th grade teacher—and they still deserve the title.

Moral Heroes

Moral heroes are what most of us think of as heroes. These are people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who take a risk or make a deep sacrifice for the sake of others.

In a sense, this is the most important type of hero: it is the kind that faces a moral crucible and chooses what is right over their own wellbeing. The world desperately needs this kind of hero.

The complication with moral heroes: Sometimes people take similar risks for terrible causes—like a terrorist who blows himself up attacking civilians. It’s too easy to resort to the old saw that, “One person’s hero is another person’s criminal.” But just because someone is called a hero does not mean they actually are one. True moral heroes are heroes because they go to extraordinary lengths for what’s right. Going to extraordinary lengths to do something immoral, like attacking innocent people, simply doesn’t fit. Those people are misguided, delusional or both.

Why does the definition of heroism matter?

In some ways, defining heroism doesn’t matter. You don’t have to worry about the definition to get started living with purpose and pursuing your ideals. Nor does a definition help you overcome the bystander effect and make a difference in a bad situation. The most important thing is to practice habits that will make you ready (what we teach at the Hero Round Table).

But definitions have power, especially for those of us who study and teach heroism. We have to come to the table recognizing the many different kinds of examples people believe are heroic—and we have to be ready to do more than just ignore those examples. The better we understand why people treat artists or scientists or loved ones as heroes, the more we can understand what those role models have in common with the great moral heroes.

That gives us a vital teaching tool, not only to help people become heroes in an emergency, but to get them to cultivate a purposeful life every day. And that, I suggest, is the path of the Heroic Life.

Heroism Today

I’ve just launched Heroism Today, the first online magazine of heroism. Heroism Today is dedicated helping people change their own lives, change the lives of others & change the world. Learn more here.

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Spotlight, Writing

The Introvert Dreams Coloring Book is Here

The opening scene of the Introvert Dreams coloring book

The opening scene of the Introvert Dreams coloring book

Last week I posted some previews from my grownup coloring book, Introvert Dreams. I’m excited to say that early this morning the book was officially released and is now “live” on Amazon! If you like, you can grab your copy here.

I also thought I’d share a little more about why we made the coloring book. I was recently asked some great questions about the storyline behind the book, for the book review list at AskDavid.com. Here’s what I said:

Introvert Dreams features 90 pages of artwork and a storyline based on our own dreams as introverts. The story follows a woman and her cat as they wander through the vast, quiet landscapes of her inner dream world. Along the way they will find forgotten places, search for a wish-granting star, and ultimately find themselves in a loud, crowded city—somewhere she knows she won’t fit in.

As introverts ourselves, Jenn and I find that we often feel alone or misunderstood. We wanted to make this book because we want introverts to see themselves in the story. Many of the scenes are taken straight from our life experiences, like being in the middle of a raging party that everyone else thinks is fun, but only wanting to cover our ears. Other scenes just represent that beautiful, imaginary, quiet place that I think all introverts retreat to when they have time to close their eyes and dream.

This is our first coloring book, although we are both experienced authors. We brought on a talented illustrator, Maxeem Konrardy (also an introvert), who has created a whimsical, breathtaking world. We also paid attention to what colorers told us they want in a book: the images stop just short of the edge of the page, so you’re not trying to color into the binding, and none of the big scenes are printed back-to-back, so you don’t lose one when your pens bleed through from the other. We want it to be a book you really cherish and enjoy revisiting for years.

If you’re an introvert, or just someone who loves occasional alone time, this book’s for you. We hope you enjoy coloring it as much as we enjoyed making it.

I also have some good news: Amazon is currently discounting the book. Jenn and I have no control over this, and I would assume it’s temporary, but for a limited time you can snag your copy for over $4 off.

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Spotlight, Writing

The First Coloring Book for Introverts

It’s been a while. In the past year, I’ve branched out substantially in what kind of writing I do—including writing about being an introvert. I’ve known for years that I tend to prefer alone time to time with people; small groups to big parties; and quiet weekends where I can do lots of creative work. But it’s only recently that I’ve understood what it means to be an introvert, and the strengths that go along with this often-misunderstood trait.

That’s why I’m particularly proud of a coloring book I created with Jenn Granneman, the founder of Introvert, Dear. Jenn and I were at a holiday party last year talking about the adult coloring book craze (Jenn loves to color to relax). Someone jokingly suggested that there should be a coloring book made just for introverts. We started to laugh, and then realized: yes, yes there should be.

So we got to work. We reached out to several introvert artists and ended up asking Maxeem Konrardy to be our illustrator. Max and I storyboarded the book together and he brought our crazy ideas to life. Now I’m excited to say we have a finished coloring book that is, we believe, the first one ever made truly for introverts. We call it Introvert Dreams.

Introvert Dreams front and back cover

Introvert Dreams front and back cover

Introvert Dreams tells the story of an introvert who slips through the pages of a magic book. With her cat at her side, she travels through a beautiful inner dreamworld, seeking a seven-pointed star that’s said to grant wishes. But the star is hidden away in the midst of a giant, crowded city—and when she finally reaches its hiding place, she’ll find much more than she expected.

Here are a few scenes from the book:

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For Jenn and me, Introvert Dreams represents 11 months of work. It’s been a wild ride learning how to collaborate with artists, create a visual story and make a coloring book idea like this into reality. And I’m happy to say it’s finally ready.

Introvert Dreams is now available for preorder on Amazon.com. Preorders get a special discounted price of US $12.99 instead of the usual $14.99. Click here to order your copy now.

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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.

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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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