Philip Zimbardo’s work mainly focuses on why people do evil and the interplay of personal behavior, the system and oversight. But he is using his work to focus on encouraging heroism.
His theory is that we are all ‘heroes-in-waiting’. We focus too much in our hero worship on extraordinary people and not enough on ordinary people taking extraordinary action. He thinks the latter is much more typical of heroes than the former and we need to cultivate these ‘heroes-in-waiting’ to increase our acts of heroism.
He quotes Dostoevsky that the line between good and evil runs through each one of us. And notes that the same situation that inspires the evil imagination in some (or more typically the innocent bystander) can inspire the heroic action in others.
He says that most people are innocent bystanders who claim to be following their parents’ “mind your own business” advice; we need to teach that humanity is our business and always worthy of intervention
He is now working on developing Hero Workshops with Matt Langdon. He is teaching students that to be a hero you have to be a deviant, moving beyond the more typical ego-centric behavior to social-centric behavior (concerned about others). And getting people to focus on acting to defend a person or an ideal.
He points to Wesley Autry (a black man who jumped onto NYC train tracks to hold down white flailing person who had fallen onto tracks). Autry said: “I did what anyone could do; I did what everyone OUGHT to do.”
Zimbaro notes that there may be only one situation in your life for your heroic imagination to take hold of you and if it doesn’t you may regret it for the rest of your life. So we need to be prepared.