The goal of the project is simple: to put decades of experimental research to use in training the next generation of exemplary Americans, churning out good guys with the same efficiency that gangs and terrorist groups produce bad guys. At first glance, this seems like a slightly absurd endeavor. Heroism, after all, isn’t supposed to be a teachable trait. We assume that people like Gandhi or Rosa Parks or the 9/11 hero Todd Beamer have some intangible quality that the rest of us lack. When we get scared and selfish, these brave souls find a way to act, to speak out, to help others in need. That’s why they’re heroes.Um, awesome! TAE suggests this is a great idea. However, what makes me sad is that Zimbardo thinks we need such schools, which implies current school curricula is lacking in heroic (moral) education. Give the whole article a read, it's interesting.
Mr. Zimbardo rejects this view. “We’ve been saddled for too long with this mystical view of heroism,” he says. “We assume heroes are demigods. But they’re not. A hero is just an ordinary person who does something extraordinary. I believe we can use science to teach people how to do that.”
Zimbardo suggests a curriculum to foster ordinary heroes: increased awareness of personal faults that could become "evil," study and admiration of historical and fictional heroes, and eventually performing real life acts of kindness and integrity.
I'm reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Sam Raimi's Spiderman 2:
Henry Jackson: Hi Peter!Zimbardo is apparently dreaming big:
Peter: Hi Henry. You've grown tall!
May Parker: You'll never guess who he wants to be...Spiderman!
May: He knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.
One day, though, Mr. Zimbardo hopes to have a hero project in every city. “One of the problems with our culture is that we’ve replaced heroes with celebrities,” Mr. Zimbardo says. “We worship people who haven’t done anything. It’s time to get back to focusing on what matters, because we need real heroes more than ever.”Huh, ya think?
Here's the thing, and both Zimbardo and Sam Raimi nail it: heroes must be cultivated. Peter Parker became a hero after gaining his spider-powers, yes, but the ethics and morals that compelled him to "do good" were fostered in him by his Uncle since he was a kid. "With great power comes great responsibility," his Uncle had told him for years.
TAE posits the following: to teach someone to be a hero, you need only teach them altruism. And unsurprisingly, TAE has previously written that perhaps altruism is the single trait (if a single trait could be identified) that defines us as human. Especially in the sad modern culture of America, selfishness has become a way of life. "Greed is good," Gordon Gekko intones. Reality TV tells us we should have cameras, following us constantly, documenting our lives (because we are so interesting). Facebook enables us to broadcast ourselves, our every activity and interest (with pictures) for the world to see. These activities are all fine, sure. I'm not saying everyone that uses Facebook is a "villain." Rather, I am saying what the world needs is regular lessons and reminders that once you turn off Facebook, turn on your altruism. Once you stop watching reality TV shows, start remembering that other people on this planet exist besides yourself and they could probably use a little help.
As Zimbardo says: "Though real heroes take risks...one can’t begin with reckless acts of altruism. Courage requires practice." Would that we all practiced, daily.