I’ve mentioned Philip Zimbardo’s “Lucifer Effect” a few times now, but the take-away I’ve been struck with has to do with heroism. Inasmuch as people prove capable of unthinkable evil, in different circumstances they also prove capable of heroic acts. The question is how we instill the kind of thinking that not only resists systemic evil but also watches for the everyday opportunity to do extraordinary acts of goodness. Regular acts of everyday heroism. It’s a way of thinking that is largely unfamiliar these days, as the “don’t get involved” attitude is more prevalent, along with the “somebody else will help” mode of delayed response. The counter-attitude to try and instill is a form of heroic imagination, one which readily enables responses that are to someone, in some small way, heroic. This is something that we would of course like to see in our children.
We’ve been running a separate gathering for our kids, as the adult gatherings aren’t really conducive to including most of the kids in the group. On the other hand, in the kids’ gathering, the older kids are able to take up some of the responsibilities for leading the meeting and involving one another in conversation around the weekly theme. Bearing in mind this theme of heroism, we’ve been discussing heroes a little, and a couple of weeks back they were each given some homework to find a hero that fit certain criteria — a kid, an animal, someone living, someone from long ago, and so forth.
Last week they each brought and shared their research about the heroes they selected, including Hannah Taylor, Paul Rusesabagina, Nellie McClung, Laura Secord, Rosa Parks, Moses, Miriam, Batman, and Carrie the Horse.
One of the questions in my mind is how prepared we are for our kids to carry out heroic acts. In some ways, if they catch hold of a heroic imagination, it could be quite uncomfortable for us as parents… even though they could turn out to be better people than we are. Probably will. Sunday evening just after these conversations, I was challenged as I left St. Ben’s with my daughter. A woman came up looking for $5 to settle a dispute with her landlord so she could get back into her apartment. It’s a better story than some I’ve heard, perhaps even the truth. The story wasn’t way over the top and she didn’t look the part of the type that heads straight for the liquor store. You never know, but that’s not the point. I set aside my own question and gave her the few dollars I had in change. One of the risks of responding to needs and requests is the risk of being taken advantage of… but in order to capture the heroic imagination, we need to begin to acknowledge that this small aspect isn’t really our concern. The heroic imagination is more concerned to respond to a stated need than to judge its validity.
So how do we go about instilling a heroic imagination in our kids? To encourage them to become better people than we are?