The Heroic Delusion Cheat Sheet

Photo by Brozzi

Yesterday I went into detail about the difference between a healthy heroic imagination, which is a force for positive growth, and unhealthy heroic delusions, which can be dangerous.

That article was long and detailed, because it offered my arguments for the differences that I see. But I think it can be reduced to a simple cheat sheet, which might be helpful in identifying hero delusions when you see them. So here we go:


If a person wants to change themselves to meet the challenges of a difficult world, that’s a sign of heroic imagination.

If they want the world to change to fit them, that’s fertile ground for hero delusions.


Heroic imagination makes a person more prepared for situations where heroic action is needed, but they don’t actively seek out those situations.

Hero delusion leads a person to seek out chances to be the hero.


A heroic imagination helps a person develop realistic responses to problems.

Hero delusions give rise to wildly unrealistic solutions.


Someone with a heroic imagination can communicate their ideals to others, because they are both inspiring and realistic.

Someone with hero delusions develops fringe ideas that most people can’t get behind.


Someone with a heroic imagination may be an introvert or an extrovert, but they can work as part of a team toward a common goal.

A person with hero delusions is a loner. They see themselves as the only one who can make a difference and are unlikely to work in a team.


A heroic imagination accepts and responds to real world limits, which may mean many years of hard work to make even a small change.

Hero delusions prefer a single, dramatic act that (they believe) will change everything.


Heroic imagination leads to pro-social behavior and consideration of the needs of others.

Hero delusions lead to anti-social behavior and imposing one’s will on others.


Taken to an extreme, heroic imagination fails by celebrating everyday behavior as heroic.

Taken to an extreme, hero delusions cause violent and forceful acts.


Heroic imagination is contemplative.

Hero delusions are narcissistic.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.