The heroic imagination

According to Philip Zimbardo

My new mission is developing a two-pronged approach to heroism. First, what do we do in a culture to cultivate the heroic imagination in the minds of individuals. What do we need to give people a sense of personal empowerment, the feeling that “I can make a difference,” that “I should make a difference,” and that “I HAVE to make a difference” when the situation calls for action as those around are doing nothing. But secondly, how do we begin to create situations that will empower those people – those kids, those workers, those adults, those mental patients, those prisoners – to constructively challenge wrong-doing and bad deeds in their life setting. So essentially the task before us is to discover what we need to do to change our institutions to make them “hero-engendering,” while at the same time working to create enough heroes-in-waiting who are ready and willing to do what is necessary to right wrongs, step forward to act to challenge unjust systems, and come to the aid of anyone who needs our help. I have begun to write about these new conceptions of the banality of heroism; however, going beyond words to changing real people and real institutions is a tall order. We are now talking about fundamental changes in society that can ultimately impact on our humanity. I hope to be a leader in this new revolution of making heroes more common, more prevalent, and more truly respected for the value they make in enhancing the human condition.

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Also according to Zimbardo

It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.


You can’t be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel.


We want to believe we are good, we are different, we are better, or we are superior. But this body of social-psychological research—and there are obviously many more experiments in addition to mine and Milgram’s—shows that the majority of good, ordinary, normal people can be easily seduced, tempted, or initiated into behaving in ways that they say they never would. In 30 minutes we got them stepping across that line.

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  1. So, what’s your reaction to Phil’s comments? I’m obviously a believer…


    • According to Jason Shen

      In some ways, the Rejection Therapy Challenge is a really weird thing. Who would go out of their way to do this? Someone who is a little crazy – and I don’t think people really like identifying as a border-line nutcase.

      But normalcy is overrated. Do you know what else isn’t normal? Winning – anything. By definition, winners are not normal. Neither are millionaires and successful startup founders. Life is too short to be normal.

      Also see his “Winning isn’t normal“.


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