In Search of Heroes

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

~ Joseph Campbell ~

In the future, when we look back, we may call it the COVID Collapse, a cliff really, that the human experiment fell off of. Marked by a massive failure in leadership, nationwide disunity and division and an urgent, persistent demand for racial justice and police reform, America appears to be reeling out of control. We are now in freefall, clutching at air, looking but not finding mature, secure leaders who grasp the enormity of the moment and understand the need to stabilize and unify the nation. We are desperate for solid authorities worthy of our trust who we can turn to for reassurance, comfort and healing; a Moses or two who will lead us to a new promised land of redemption and hope; clear-eyed guides in whom we can rely to rise above the lunacy and lies and carefully lead us home. Heroes with muscular minds, warm hearts and kind eyes who can gather up our broken pieces, all our disparate parts and lovingly weave them into a new and glorious quilt of our deepest hope and longing. Uncompromised and unconflicted warriors of peace and justice who respect medical science and detest the poison of racism that infects the American soul and are able to rise above the fear and rage to soothe our spirits, validate our values, and act with clarity and courage while calling us to fully embody our better angels of generosity, compassion, unity, empathy and love. Broken and flawed humans like each of us; battered a bit but resilient and fit; fighters, dreamers, well-meaning schemers, prepared and ready to reflect our sacred, collective purpose and truth. The heroes we wait for, the good and gentle gods; the special ones possessing the power and peace we seek ARE IN EACH OF US, of course, but until we realize that, we need a few champions of our choosing and a little help from our friends and families, communities and tribes. We are in need of a few humble heroes. Just a few will do. Look in the mirror. How about you?


What is a Hero?

“One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of
our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.”

~ Joseph Campbell ~

One author suggested a true hero exceeds what is expected of them, makes a positive impact on the lives of others and rises above and beyond the ordinary. These heroes tend to be “caring, compassionate individuals who want to save and improve people’s lives independent of external rewards.” Heroism, from this perspective, merely requires “a willingness to selflessly serve others.”

According to Scott Allison, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond, the author of 15 books on heroism and heroic leadership and over 100 academic articles, “Heroism is defined by researchers as extreme prosocial behavior (service to others) that is performed voluntarily, involves significant risk (or cost to the individual), requires sacrifice, and is done without anticipation of personal gain.”

A true hero, Allison argues, possesses a sincere desire to “unify people” and make them whole. He writes that heroism “always involves bringing people together” and promotes “wholeness, the mark of health and well-being.”

For example, he writes, “We can see that all heroic actions during this COVID-19 pandemic are aimed at reducing suffering and promoting the health and well-being of individuals and society. Heroes strive to promote the wholeness of all people, not just some of them. Heroism is always all-inclusive.”

We Can All Be Heroes

“By conceiving of heroism as a universal attribute of human nature, not as a rare feature of the few ‘heroic elect,’ heroism becomes something that seems in the range of possibilities for every person, perhaps inspiring more of us to answer that call.”

~ Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo ~

What if we were all meant to be heroes, in the same way that caterpillars are destined to become butterflies? What if deep within each of us lies the seeds of our individual and collective transformation? What if even now, if we pay attention, we can feel something shifting in us, calling us to become better versions of ourselves?

Each of us is our own unique and mysterious mixture of dark and light; one part crawls and clings while visions of bright wings and flight fill our minds at night; if we are alive, we are still in the process of becoming; our pre-heroic consciousness shedding itself in the fog and friction of our daily life as we come into a deeper awareness of what is possible. Can we truly fly? Is there something vivid and bold in each of us ready to unfold?

Before we attain heroic consciousness, Allison explains, we are defined by “nescient and maladaptive thinking, dualism, separation, mono-rationality and a naïve sense of empowerment.” Heroic consciousness, however, is quite different from this and “is exemplified by non-dualism, unity, transrationality and the wisdom of tempered empowerment.”

What does this mean? Just as an infant becomes a child before she becomes an adolescent and then an adult, our consciousness can likewise, mature, develop and evolve into its highest state, which some have called heroic consciousness. Allison claims we “are naturally equipped with a transformative drive toward realizing heroic consciousness.”

To become more heroic is to become less egocentric and more sociocentric. As our consciousness shifts, we focus less on the differences among people and social groups and begin noticing their unity and commonality. We see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves and begin sensing the unitive nature of the human experience.

How many of us, regardless of the color of our skin, saw ourselves in George Floyd? We can imagine what that knee felt like pressing on our neck, cutting off our airway, forcing our face into the hot, hard pavement as we beg to breathe, cry out to our mama and feel the sweetness of life slipping away. With Floyd’s senseless death, and the ensuing outrage, something marvelous and beautiful has emerged; a collective, heroic decision has been made to move the world toward a greater sense of unity, justice, equality and peace.

As we become more heroic, we can learn to communicate, cooperate and collaborate more effectively with others, helping to build social unity, advance society’s development and further “people’s spiritual and cosmic understanding of the world.” All of this “is ultimately aimed at promoting individual and societal well-being, equilibrium and wholeness.”

This evolution is happening now. You are part of this, just as I am. Scientists who study heroism “have recently argued that the ultimate goal of heroic transformation is the attainment of a higher, or deeper, level of consciousness,” within individuals and society.

Some will recognize similarities between heroic consciousness and spiritual awakening. Allison agrees and writes, “The goal of spirituality shares the same goal as heroism – to see our inner, truer, and best self, and to discern that this new truer self is deeply connected to everyone and to everything.”

Time to Wake Up to What We Are

“We can be heroes, forever and ever.”

~ David Bowie ~

While a caterpillar’s vision is quite poor, once it becomes a butterfly, its eyes never close and they develop excellent vision. They are able to “see many different things in many directions all at the same time while their brains collect all of that information and make one whole picture from all those tiny parts.” Some butterflies can even see colors we can’t see.

Likewise, as we become more heroic, we learn to see ourselves and others in a new way. This new view, “Dares to deviate from our Western culture’s emphasis on individualism, hyper-rationalism, and materialism.” With these new eyes, the hero is “able to sense through division and experience the unity inherent in all, and will be able to unify perceptions and self.”

Susan Ross has scientifically studied the process by which ordinary humans become heroic, “by transforming into entirely new, resplendent individuals that demonstrate valuable capacities whiles still being mortal.”

Ross describes this growth process as a movement toward becoming more awake or more conscious of who we are and what we are capable of. This is an evolutionary process, the same system of growth that drives acorns to become oak trees and caterpillars to become butterflies. Evolution leads an individual to “grow, learn, and encounter life-changing experiences—albeit unconsciously at first—and to eventually become a master herself, a hero…a healthier, happier, more triumphant self.”

Signs of a Hero

“Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

~ Bruce Springsteen ~

In one of the recent public protests in Redding, over 400 people gathered in front of the Shasta County Administration Center before a phalanx of helmeted, baton-carrying police officers who had “formed a skirmish line to confront the crowd.” Suddenly something unexpected happened, when “a woman walked from the group of protesters to the line of police and gave two of them hugs.” Soon after, “Redding police Sgt. Mark Montgomery stepped from the line of about 20 officers and walked into the crowd of protesters” to the cheers of many of the protesters.

What followed was equally remarkable when Montgomery and several other officers linked arms with protesters and walked peacefully together to the courthouse. Montgomery later said, “I’ve never seen an intense situation like that turn on its head on a dime. It was kind of a surreal, magical moment.”

This was an example of heroic consciousness, nondual awareness, transrational or third-force thinking, or what Steven Covey calls “win-win.” Everyone won. No one lost. Sides disappeared and melded into one. Protesters were able to voice their outrage over the needless death of George Floyd and so many other black men and women and the police were able to clear the streets and prevent vandalism. Everyone respected each other. This was heroic consciousness on display for all to see. It only took one person to act heroically, triggering an energetic shift within hundreds of people.

What is this magic that turns a tense moment full of fear and anger into something peaceful and kind? As Montgomery said, “It came down to trust between law enforcement and trust between the demonstrators that allowed that to happen.”

Something similar happened recently in Nevada when Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters and armed “all lives matter” counter-protesters set their differences aside and, just like in Redding, hugged one another. It started with BLM members approaching the counter-protesters with an offer of “peace” to which Max Ryan, one of the armed “peacekeepers” said, “If you come in peace, then give me a hug.” This led to “a civilized conversation…for over an hour, sharing our opinions and beliefs.” Ryan said, “We actually found we agree on more than we disagree on.” This is heroism and mutual trust in action.

Where does this level of trust come from? Allison cites Joseph Campbell, the author of The Power of Myth, who described an incident where two police officers were willing to die to save a stranger from committing suicide. Campbell described their heroic response as “a metaphysical realization which is that you and that other are one, that you are two aspects of the one life.”

Allison writes, “Heroic consciousness is the awareness of this truth” and explains that Campbell “taught us that the classic, mythic initiation journey ends with the hero discovering that ‘our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life.’”

Larry Dossey states as much in his book, One Mind, “that all individual minds are part of an infinite, collective dimension of consciousness.”

What’s Next?

“Treat everyone you meet as if they were you.”

Doug Dillon

Allison writes, “As we move deeper into the 21st century, it becomes more and more evident that our world can best undergo heroic transformation when our individual heroic consciousness joins forces with the heroic consciousnesses of others.”

Called “collaborative heroism” and marked by “greater inclusivity,” it is clear the world is crying out for each of us to come into a greater awareness of “the interdependence and unity of the human race.” As we collectively emerge from our illusory cocoon of unconscious separation, “It is incumbent on us all to evolve into heroically conscious individuals who can work together locally and globally to help a troubled world so desperately in need of the consciousness of heroes.”

In the future, when we look back, we may call it the COVID Collapse,
a cliff really, that the human experiment fell off of.
Who will catch us as we’re falling? Who will answer the heroes’ calling?
We are in need of a few humble heroes.
Just a few will do. Look in the mirror.
How about you?


Douglas Craig

Douglas Craig

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.

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