do we need heroes essay

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Why Heroes are Important

The impact of role models on the ideals to which we aspire.

When I was 16 years old, I read Henry David Thoreau's book Walden for the first time, and it changed my life. I read about living deliberately, about sucking the marrow out of life, about not, when I had come to die, discovering that I had not lived, and I was electrified. Somehow he convinced me that living deliberately meant becoming a philosopher, and I have not looked back since. And I try as often as I can to remind myself of Thoreau's warning to all philosophy professors: "There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically." If - horrible thought - I should fail to earn tenure here, I would largely blame that damned quotation. But even if that disaster should strike, I know I would find solace by asking how Henry would respond to such a setback, and I know I would be a better man by following his example. Thoreau is one of my dearest heroes, and I do not know who I would be without him.

The term "hero" comes from the ancient Greeks. For them, a hero was a mortal who had done something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that he left an immortal memory behind him when he died, and thus received worship like that due the gods. Many of these first heroes were great benefactors of humankind: Hercules, the monster killer; Asclepius, the first doctor; Dionysus, the creator of Greek fraternities. But people who had committed unthinkable crimes were also called heroes; Oedipus and Medea, for example, received divine worship after their deaths as well. Originally, heroes were not necessarily good, but they were always extraordinary; to be a hero was to expand people's sense of what was possible for a human being.

Today, it is much harder to detach the concept of heroism from morality; we only call heroes those whom we admire and wish to emulate. But still the concept retains that original link to possibility. We need heroes first and foremost because our heroes help define the limits of our aspirations. We largely define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals -- things like courage, honor, and justice -- largely define us. Our heroes are symbols for us of all the qualities we would like to possess and all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. A person who chooses Martin Luther King or Susan B. Anthony as a hero is going to have a very different sense of what human excellence involves than someone who chooses, say, Paris Hilton, or the rapper 50 Cent. And because the ideals to which we aspire do so much to determine the ways in which we behave, we all have a vested interest in each person having heroes, and in the choice of heroes each of us makes.

That is why it is so important for us as a society, globally and locally, to try to shape these choices. Of course, this is a perennial moral issue, but there are warning signs that we need to refocus our attention on the issue now. Consider just a few of these signs:

o A couple years ago the administrators of the Barron Prize for Young Heroes polled American teenagers and found only half could name a personal hero. Superman and Spiderman were named twice as often as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Lincoln. It is clear that our media make it all too easy for us to confuse celebrity with excellence; of the students who gave an answer, more than half named an athlete, a movie star, or a musician. One in ten named winners on American Idol as heroes.

o Gangsta rap is a disaster for heroism. Just this week, director Spike Lee lamented the fact that, while his generation grew up idolizing great civil rights leaders, today young people in his community aspire to become pimps and strippers. Surely no one wants their children to get their role models from Gangsta rap and a hyper materialistic, misogynistic hiphop culture, but our communities are finding it difficult to make alternative role models take hold.

o And sometimes, the problem we face is that devotion to heroes is very strong, but directed toward the wrong heroes. In the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden and his like still have a widespread heroic appeal. We can tell how we are doing in the struggle for Muslim hearts and minds by the degree to which this continues to be true.

So what must we do? How should we address the problem? Part of the answer is personal. It never hurts us to remind ourselves who our own heroes are and what they represent for us, and to ask ourselves whether we are doing all we can to live up to these ideals. Not long ago there was a movement afoot to ask always, "What would Jesus do?" I'd like to see people asking questions like that, about Jesus or others, all the time. I confess I get a little thrill every time I see a protest poster asking, "Who would Jesus bomb?" That's heroism doing its work, right there. Moreover, those of us who are teachers - and all of us are teachers of our own children at least - have a special opportunity to introduce heroes to those we teach. And teaching about heroes really isn't hard; heroic lives have their appeal built in, all we need to do is make an effort to tell the stories. I assure you, the reason those students didn't choose Lincoln and King and Gandhi as heroes was not that they had heard their stories and dismissed them. It is our job to tell the stories. Tell your students what a difference people of courage and nobility and genius have made to the world. Just tell the stories! We should recommit to that purpose. Start by going home tonight and listing your five most important heroes.

But part of the answer to our problem is broader. It is clear that the greatest obstacle to the appreciation and adoption of heroes in our society is pervasive and corrosive cynicism and skepticism. It was widely claimed not long ago that 9/11 signalled the end of irony, but it is clear now that the reports of irony's death were greatly exaggerated. This obstacle of cynicism has been seriously increased by scandals like the steroids mess in Major League Baseball, by our leaders' opportunistic use of heroic imagery for short term political gain, and by the Pentagon's stories of glorious soldiers like Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman that - by no fault of the soldiers involved - turned out to be convenient fabrications.

The best antidote to this cynicism is realism about the limits of human nature. We are cynical because so often our ideals have been betrayed. Washington and Jefferson held slaves, Martin Luther King is accused of philandering and plagiarizing, just about everybody had sex with someone they shouldn't, and so on. We need to separate out the things that make our heroes noteworthy, and forgive the shortcomings that blemish their heroic perfection. My own hero Thoreau had his share of blemishes. For instance, although he was supposed to be living totally independently out by Walden Pond, he went home to Mother on the weekends. But such carping and debunking misses the point. True, the false steps and frailties of heroic people make them more like us, and since most of us are not particularly heroic, that may seem to reduce the heroes' stature. But this dynamic pulls in the other direction as well: these magnificent spirits, these noble souls, amazingly, they are like us, they are human too. And perhaps, then, what was possible for them is possible for us. They stumbled, they wavered, they made fools of themselves - but nonetheless they rose and accomplished deeds of triumphant beauty. Perhaps we might do so too. Cynicism is too often merely an excuse for sparing ourselves the effort.

Again, the critical moral contribution of heroes is the expansion of our sense of possibility. If we most of us, as Thoreau said, live lives of quiet desperation, it is because our horizons of possibility are too cramped. Heroes can help us lift our eyes a little higher. Immanuel Kant said that "from the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." That may well be true. But some have used that warped, knotted timber to build more boldly and beautifully than others, and we may all benefit by their examples. Heaven knows we need those examples now.

Wild geese in flight

With apologies to Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

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Journalism brands can learn something after recent reports of Sports Illustrated (SI) running “product review” articles by synthetic authors. 

What Does it Mean to be Human in the Time of AI? Event held Nov 7, 2023 at Santa Clara University

Three panelists consider questions regarding human flourishing, how we understand individual and humanity’s purpose in relation to emerging AI technologies, and where the fear of AI arises from.

Heroes: What They Do & Why We Need Them

A commentary on today's heroes, 10 reasons why we need heroes.

People often ask us why we need heroes.  Although the phrase “ why we need them ” is in the subtitle of our first HEROES book , we’ve never really offered a succinct list of the many reasons why heroes are so important to us.  Here we aim to do just that, hoping you’ll forgive us for offering up yet another top-10 list.

Below we’ve assembled 10 major reasons why people need heroes.  This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive by any means.  But it’s a good start.  Here goes:

1.  We’re born to have heroes — More than a half-century ago, Carl Jung proposed the idea that all humans have collectively inherited unconscious images, ideas, or thoughts, which he called archetypes .  These archetypes reflect common experiences that all humans (and their ancestors) have shared over millions of years of evolution, and the main purpose of these archetypes is to prepare us for these common experiences.  Two such archetypes, according to Jung, are heroes and demons .  Current research appears to support Jung – scientists have found that newborn babies are equipped with a readiness for language, for numbers, for their parents’ faces — and even a preference for people who are moral .  Humans appear to be innately prepared for certain people and tasks, and we believe this may include encounters with heroes.

3.  Heroes reveal our missing qualities — Heroes educate us about right and wrong.  Most fairytales and children’s stories serve this didactic purpose, showing kids the kinds of behaviors that are needed to succeed in life, to better society, and to overcome villainy.  It is during our youth that we most need good, healthy adult role models who demonstrate exemplary behavior.  But adults need heroic models as well.  Heroes reveal to us the kinds of qualities we need to be in communion with others.

4.  Heroes save us when we’re in trouble — This principle explains the powerful appeal of comic book superheroes.  People seemingly can’t get enough of Batman, Superman, Spiderman , Iron Man, and many others. We are moved by stories of magical beings with superhuman powers who can instantly remove danger and make everything right.  This principle also explains our extreme admiration for society’s true heroic protectors – law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, and military personnel.

6.  Heroes give us hope — Independent of our own personal well-being, we cannot help but recognize that the world is generally a troubled place rife with warfare, poverty, famine, and unrest.  Heroes are beacons of light amidst this vast darkness. Heroes prove to us that no matter how much suffering there is in the world, there are supremely good people around whom we can count on to do the right thing, even when most other people are not. Heroes bring light into a dark world .

7.  Heroes validate our preferred moral worldview — One fascinating theory in psychology is called terror management theory , which proposes that people’s fear of death strengthens their allegiance to cultural values. Just the simple act of reminding people of their mortality leads them to exaggerate whatever moral tendencies they already have.  For example, studies have shown that reminders of death lead people to reward do-gooders and punish bad-doers more than they normally would.  Just thinking about the fragility of life can lead us to need and to value heroes.

9.  Heroes solve problems — Our research has shown that people’s heroes are not just paragons of morality. They also show superb competencies directed toward the goal of solving society’s most vexing problems.  Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine.  George Washington Carver introduced crop rotation into agriculture. Stephanie Kwolek invented the material in bullet-proof vests that have saved the lives of countless law enforcement officers.  Heroes give us wisdom and save lives with their brains, not just with their brawn.

10.  Heroes deliver justice — People from all cultures possess a strong desire for justice.  After members of the Boston police captured the Boston Marathon bomber, crowds of citizens lined the streets to applaud their heroes.  Research has shown that we need to believe that we live in a just world where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  The preamble to the 1950s Superman television show spoke of superman’s never-ending quest for “ truth, justice, and the American way ”.  Heroes quench our thirst for fairness and lawfulness.

– – – – – –

So there you have them – 10 reasons why people need heroes.  These reasons tap into basic human needs for survival, nurturance, growth, education, safety, security, healing , happiness, health, hope, wisdom , and justice .  None of us can meet these important needs without significant help from others.   We certainly hope – and strongly suspect — that as long as humans have these needs, we’ll have extraordinary people whom we call heroes willing to step up to help us.

For more information, here are some academic articles we’ve written about heroes and the psychology of heroism.

– – – – – – –

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7 thoughts on “ 10 reasons why we need heroes ”.

Well…. I think I was a hero to the slater that was crawling in the bath tub – I took it out before filling the bath! & to the squirrel that looked in the window hopefully and hungrily – when i gave it a few nuts.

You are definitely a hero to animals, Sande . 🙂

This is an interesting list, Scotty and George . As a writer, I naturally prefer #8. 😉 But I think the most crucial item on your list is #3– Heroes Reveal Our Missing Qualities. In other words, they provide inspiration. And inspiration is vitally important in combating the evil (and, worse, mediocrity) in the world.

But, I think, even more crucial than that is the point that you brought up in the postscript: None of us can meet these important needs without significant help from others. Heroism means that nobody is alone. When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and the sidewalk was strewn with broken and bleeding bodies, hundreds of people rushed to help. They not only saved lives, but they provided comfort– and when you’re lying on the ground not knowing if you will live or die, you really need somebody to hold your hand and tell you that everything will be okay. In the days that followed, thousands of law enforcement officers hunted for the terrorists, a very visible and reassuring presence to a vulnerable population. In the days following that, uncounted people have raised millions of dollars to make sure that the victims are well cared for. In times of terror, or merely quiet desperation, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone.

Heroism is the distilled essence of community, society and Humanity.

We can start being a hero by taking care of those children near us or living in our neigbhorhood. If we can protect them from anything that can harm them, then we start by being a hero already for others.

Great list.

I think a lot of bad stuff happens in this world, and it is easy to get stuck on that part of life. Heroes provide a counter to that. Heroes are the ones that jump out in front and take problems head on. Whenever I see a story about someone who did something amazing, it helps soften the blow of the less than stellar things in this world.

We definetely need heroes, especially now to save us of this impending danger of world and disease all over the world. The conflict in the middle east, ebola…

Sadly, we seem to seek to destroy our heroes now. We batter them, magnify their human frailties, and push them off of their pedestals as quickly as we can. Sometimes, I wonder if this is emanating from communal self loathing that is all too common in our culture.

As a child I had a dream that I would be a hero

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do we need heroes essay


Why do we need heroes?

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do we need heroes essay

In the epic poem "The Odyssey," which was written in the 8th century B.C., Greek warrior Odysseus becomes lost on his way home from the 10-year-long Trojan War and spends an additional 10 years fighting monsters and sorcerers and resisting temptations -- all so he can return home to protect his wife and family from men who are attempting to steal their fortune. During the story, Odysseus unflinchingly accepts divine punishment for his men's misdeeds, and relies on his guile and determination to survive. Most importantly, even though Odysseus knows the gods control his fate, he fearlessly struggles to return home to save the ones he loves.

To the Greeks, Odysseus was a hero, a word that is derived from the Ancient Greek term for "protector." But he was more than just that. The brave captain embodied the virtues and attributes that Greek society cherished and he provided a model for Greek people to emulate.

It's probably safe to say that most people in the modern world no longer fear that monsters lurk in unknown islands. But their need for fearless heroes has never faded. These days, some of our champions are soldiers who've shown valor in war, and astronauts who've risked their lives to explore space. We also see heroism in people who make life-saving medical discoveries, dedicate their careers to helping the poor and underprivileged, or labor to right social injustices. Therefore, in a greater sense, polio conqueror Dr. Jonas Salk, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., have a lot in common with ancient Odysseus.

We need heroes because they define the limits of our aspirations, writes Santa Clara University ethics scholar Scott LaBarge. To paraphrase his words, we define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and in turn, our ideals (courage and honor, for example) define us. Heroes symbolize the qualities we'd like to possess and the ambitions we'd like to satisfy [source: LaBarge ]. For instance, a person who chooses women's rights crusader Susan B. Anthony as a hero will have a very different sense of what human excellence involves than someone who chooses, say, a model/actress contestant on a reality TV show [source: LaBarge ].

Still, certain qualities tend to stand out as particularly heroic. For example, a Cornell University business school study of 526 World War II combat veterans found that the 83 individuals who were decorated for battlefield valor described themselves as loyal, self-disciplined, selfless and adventurous [source: Wansick, et al ]. Other researchers have identified those same characteristics in leaders who transform organizations and societies.

Heroes are often brave and capable of leading others, and they resolve problems that confront society. And, importantly, they also tend to be risk-takers. According Temple University educational psychology professor Frank Farley, many heroic historical figures (think Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King) are T-type personalities -- that is, habitual thrill-seekers who don't hesitate to place themselves in personal peril to accomplish a goal. Since many people don't take huge risks, they admire this quality in another person, and are even drawn to follow him or her [source: Psychology Today ].

"Society is founded on hero worship," the 19th - century historian Thomas Carlyle once observed. Many people still believe that today and strive to make sure that people who embody the best values of our culture are held up as objects of admiration. Since 1904, for example, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has issued more than 9,000 medals to people who've risked their lives -- and in some cases perished -- in order to save another person from life-threatening peril.

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  • "Carnegie medals awarded to 23 for extraordinary acts of civilian heroism." Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. June 21, 2010. (Sep. 21, 2010)
  • Homer. "The Odyssey." Undated. (Sept. 21, 2010)
  • LaBarge, Scott. "Why Heroes are Important." Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. 2005. (Sept. 21, 2010)
  • Psychology Today staff. "How to Be great!" Psychology Today. Nov. 1, 1995. (Sept. 21, 2010)
  • Wansink, Brian; Payne, Colin R.; and Van Ittersum, Koert. "Profiling the Heroic Leader: Empirical Lessons from Combat-Decorated Veterans of World War II." Science Direct. 2008. (Sept. 22, 2010)

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Greater Good Science Center • Magazine • In Action • In Education

Big Ideas Articles & More

What makes a hero, we all have an inner hero, argues philip zimbardo . here's how to find it..

This month, Greater Good features videos of a presentation by Philip Zimbardo, the world-renowned psychologist perhaps best known for his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. In his talk, Zimbardo discusses the psychology of evil and of heroism, exploring why good people sometimes turn bad and how we can encourage more people to perform heroic acts. In this excerpt from his talk, he zeroes in on his research and educational program designed to foster the “heroic imagination.”

More on Heroism

Watch the video of Philip Zimbardo's Greater Good talk on heroism.

Read his essay on " The Banality of Heroism ," which further explores the conditions that can promote heroism vs. evil.

Read this Greater Good essay on the "psychology of the bystander."

Learn more about Zimbardo's Heroic Imagination Project.

What makes us good? What makes us evil?

Research has uncovered many answers to the second question: Evil can be fostered by dehumanization, diffusion of responsibility, obedience to authority, unjust systems, group pressure, moral disengagement, and anonymity, to name a few.

do we need heroes essay

But when we ask why people become heroic, research doesn’t yet have an answer. It could be that heroes have more compassion or empathy; maybe there’s a hero gene; maybe it’s because of their levels of oxytocin—research by neuroeconomist Paul Zak has shown that this “love hormone” in the brain increases the likelihood you’ll demonstrate altruism. We don’t know for sure.

I believe that heroism is different than altruism and compassion. For the last five years, my colleagues and I have been exploring the nature and roots of heroism, studying exemplary cases of heroism and surveying thousands of people about their choices to act (or not act) heroically. In that time, we’ve come to define heroism as an activity with several parts.

First, it’s performed in service to others in need—whether that’s a person, group, or community—or in defense of certain ideals. Second, it’s engaged in voluntarily, even in military contexts, as heroism remains an act that goes beyond something required by military duty. Third, a heroic act is one performed with recognition of possible risks and costs, be they to one’s physical health or personal reputation, in which the actor is willing to accept anticipated sacrifice. Finally, it is performed without external gain anticipated at the time of the act.

Simply put, then, the key to heroism is a concern for other people in need—a concern to defend a moral cause, knowing there is a personal risk, done without expectation of reward.

By that definition, then, altruism is heroism light—it doesn’t always involve a serious risk. Compassion is a virtue that may lead to heroism, but we don’t know that it does. We’re just now starting to scientifically distinguish heroism from these other concepts and zero in on what makes a hero.

My work on heroism follows 35 years of research in which I studied the psychology of evil, including my work on the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment . The two lines of research aren’t as different as they might seem; they’re actually two sides of the same coin.

A key insight from research on heroism so far is that the very same situations that inflame the hostile imagination in some people, making them villains, can also instill the heroic imagination in other people, prompting them to perform heroic deeds.

Take the Holocaust. Christians who helped Jews were in the same situation as other civilians who helped imprison or kill Jews, or ignored their suffering. The situation provided the impetus to act heroically or malevolently. Why did some people choose one path or the other?

Another key insight from my research has been that there’s no clear line between good and evil. Instead, the line is permeable; people can cross back and forth between it.

This is an idea wonderfully represented in an illusion by M. C. Escher, at left. When you squint and focus on the white as the figures and the black as the background, you see a world full of angels and tutus dancing around happily. But now focus on the black as the figures and the white as the background: Now it’s a world full of demons.

What Escher’s telling us is that the world is filled with angels and devils, goodness and badness, and these dark and light aspects of human nature are our basic yin and yang. That is, we all are born with the capacity to be anything. Because of our incredible brains, anything that is imaginable becomes possible, anything that becomes possible can get transformed into action, for better or for worse. 

Some people argue humans are born good or born bad; I think that’s nonsense. We are all born with this tremendous capacity to be anything, and we get shaped by our circumstances—by the family or the culture or the time period in which we happen to grow up, which are accidents of birth; whether we grow up in a war zone versus peace; if we grow up in poverty rather than prosperity.

George Bernard Shaw captured this point in the preface to his great play “Major Barbara”: “Every reasonable man and woman is a potential scoundrel and a potential good citizen. What a man is depends upon his character what’s inside. What he does and what we think of what he does depends on upon his circumstances.”

So each of us may possess the capacity to do terrible things. But we also posses an inner hero; if stirred to action, that inner hero is capable of performing tremendous goodness for others.

Another conclusion from my research is that few people do evil and fewer act heroically. Between these extremes in the bell curve of humanity are the masses—the general population who do nothing, who I call the “reluctant heroes”—those who refuse the call to action and, by doing nothing, often implicitly support the perpetrators of evil.

So on this bell curve of humanity, villains and heroes are the outliers. The reluctant heroes are the rest. What we need to discover is how to give a call to service to this general population. How do we make them aware of the evil that exists? How do we prevent them from getting seduced to the dark side?

We don’t yet have a recipe for creating heroes, but we have some clues, based on the stories of some inspiring heroes.

I love the story of a wonderful nine-year-old Chinese boy, who I call a dutiful hero. In 2008, there was a massive earthquake in China’s Szechuan province. The ceiling fell down on a school, killing almost all the kids in it. This kid escaped, and as he was running away he noticed two other kids struggling to get out. He ran back and saved them. He was later asked, “Why did you do that?” He replied, “I was the hall monitor! It was my duty, it was my job to look after my classmates!”

This perfectly illustrates what I call the “heroic imagination,” a focus on one’s duty to help and protect others. For him, it was cultivated by being assigned this role of hall monitor.

Another story: Irena Sendler was a Polish hero, a Catholic woman who saved at least 2,500 Jewish kids who were holed up in the Warsaw ghetto that the Nazis had erected. She was able to convince the parents of these kids to allow her to smuggle them out of the ghetto to safety. To do this, she organized a network.

That is a key principle of heroism: Heroes are most effective not alone but in a network. It’s through forming a network that people have the resources to bring their heroic impulses to life.

What these stories suggest is that every one of us can be a hero. Through my work on heroism, I’ve become even more convinced that acts of heroism don’t just arrive from truly exceptional people but from people placed in the right circumstance, given the necessary tools to transform compassion into heroic action.

Building on these insights, I have helped to start a program designed to learn more of heroism and to create the heroes of tomorrow.

The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) is amplifying the voice of the world’s quiet heroes, using research and education networks to promote a heroic imagination in everyone, and then empower ordinary people of all ages and nations to engage in extraordinary acts of heroism. We want to democratize the notion of heroism, to emphasize that most heroes are ordinary people; it’s the act that’s extraordinary.

There are already a lot of great heroes projects out there, such as the Giraffe Heroes Project . The HIP is unique in that it’s the only one encouraging research into heroism, because there’s very little.

Here are a few key insights from research we’ve done surveying 4,000 Americans from across the country. Each of these statements is valid after controlling for all demographic variables, such as education and socioeconomic status.

Heroes surround us. One in five—20 percent—qualify as heroes, based on the definition of heroism I provide above. Seventy-two percent report helping another person in a dangerous emergency. Sixteen percent report whistle blowing on an injustice. Six percent report sacrificing for a non-relative or stranger. Fifteen percent report defying an unjust authority. And not one of these people has been formally recognized as a hero.

Opportunity matters. Most acts of heroism occur in urban areas, where there are more people and more people in need. You’re not going to be a hero if you live in the suburbs. No shit happens in the suburbs!

Education matters. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be a hero, I think because you are more aware of situations.

Volunteering matters. One third of all the sample who were heroes also had volunteered significantly, up to 59 hours a week.

Gender matters. Males reported performing acts of heroism more than females. I think this is because women tend not to regard a lot of their heroic actions as heroic. It’s just what they think they’re supposed to do for their family or a friend.

Race matters. Blacks were eight times more likely than whites to qualify as heroes. We think that’s in part due to the rate of opportunity. (In our next survey, we’re going to track responses by area code to see if in fact these heroes are coming from inner cities.

Personal history matters. Having survived a disaster or personal trauma makes you three times more likely to be a hero and a volunteer.

Based on these insights into heroism, we’ve put together a toolkit for potential heroes, especially young heroes in training, who already have opportunities to act heroically when they’re kids, such as by opposing bullying.

A first step is to take the “hero pledge,” a public declaration on our website that says you’re willing to be a hero in waiting. It’s a pledge “to act when confronted with a situation where I feel something is wrong,” “to develop my heroic abilities,” and “to believe in the heroic capacities within myself and others, so I can build and refine them.”

You can also take our four-week “Hero Challenge” mini-course online to help you develop your heroic muscles. The challenge may not require you to do anything heroic, but it’s training you to be heroic. And we offer more rigorous, research-based education and training programs for middle and high schools, corporations, and the millitary that make people aware of the social factors that produce passivity, inspire them to take positive civic action, and encourage the skills needed to consistently translate heroic impulses into action.

We’re also in the process of creating an Encyclopedia of Heroes, a collection of hero stories from all over the world. Not just all the classic ones and fictional ones, but ones that people from around the world are going to send in, so they can nominate ordinary heroes with a picture and a story. It will be searchable, so you can find heroes by age, gender, city and country. These are the unsung, quiet heroes—they do their own thing, put themselves in danger, defend a moral cause, help someone in need. And we want to highlight them. We want them to be inspirational to other people just like them.

Essentially, we’re trying to build the social habits of heroes, to build a focus on the other, shifting away from the “me” and toward the “we.” As the poet John Donne wrote: “No man [or woman] is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

So every person is part of humanity. Each person’s pulse is part of humanity’s heartbeat. Heroes circulate the life force of goodness in our veins. And what the world needs now is more heroes—you. It’s time to take action against evil.

About the Author


Philip Zimbardo

Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D. , is a professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, a professor at Palo Alto University, a two-time past president of the Western Psychological Association, and a past president of the American Psychological Association. He is also the author of the best-selling book The Lucifer Effect and the president of the Heroic Imagination Project .

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Courage Under Fire

Very nice information. In this world this is the very difficult question that what makes people good or evil. This post has helped a lot to understand the difference. Actually in my point of it depends upon the individual that what he/she thinks. If he/she thinks negative all the time them they became evil and thinking vice versa makes them good.

Andrew | 2:31 am, January 19, 2011 | Link

I really like reading this article because there are many individuals in the world that are heroes but are not recognized.  Heroes that have help humanity progress and prosper have fought with the greatest weapons which are love, respect, sincerity, and peace.  The governments that have had the greatest fear of seeing people free have always use war for colonization, genocide, and false treaties.  However, love is much stronger than war, and thanks to the modern forms of communication and exchange of information, more people are united for peace and do not support or participate in colonization or human genocide.  Since the start of humanity most people have use peace to progress, few have participated in war and few are participating. May peace prevail on earth!

Victor | 7:48 pm, January 29, 2011 | Link

A son raising up against an evil father. A brother standing up to a bully attacking his sibling. A stranger rallying to the side of a woman being assaulted in the street.

My sons are my strength. My reason to help others, that they may find the help they need in their lives.

pops | 9:39 am, February 3, 2011 | Link

Of course religion and eduction has a big impact on a child. But once a child is trying to live a good life (earning good karma or call it whatever you want) good things will happen to that child and he or she will recognize this.

So I think you can definitely change from evil to good.. maybe you _can be changed_ from good to evil.

Massud Hosseini | 7:28 am, September 17, 2011 | Link

Actually in my point of it depends upon the individual that what he/she thinks

asalah | 9:41 pm, September 24, 2011 | Link

“Research has uncovered many answers to the second question: Evil can be fostered by dehumanization, diffusion of responsibility, obedience to authority, unjust systems, group pressure, moral disengagement, and anonymity, to name a few.”  <—What I find amazing about this statement is that anything is being branded “evil” at all.  Well, maybe not.  Relativism seems to be something that’s employed when convenient, disregarded when it’s not.

Kukri | 6:58 pm, November 6, 2011 | Link

This is a very comprehensive discussion on heroism. Victor makes a great point in his comment about how most heroes go unnoticed by the vast majority of people. I think that lack of notoriety is part of what it means to be a hero: doing that which is unexpected without the need for a pat on the back. quotes for facebook status

quotes for facebook status | 11:25 pm, December 22, 2011 | Link

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valentines day quotes | 8:15 pm, January 6, 2012 | Link

Generally I do not learn from posts on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and I did so! Your writing style has amazed me. Thank you, quite nice article.

drake quotes | 11:08 pm, January 11, 2012 | Link

I found this informative and interesting blog so i think so its very useful and knowledge able.I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future.

marilyn monroe quotes | 4:45 am, January 12, 2012 | Link

Thanks for the comments here very informative and useful keep posting comments here everyday guys thanks again.

confidence quotes | 4:37 am, January 14, 2012 | Link

When a sniper’s bullet hits one soldier and misses the person next to him, that alone does not make the wounded soldier more heroic.

brokesteves | 6:10 am, April 24, 2012 | Link


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Why Everyone Needs a Hero

New research shows the motivational value of having a hero in your life..

Posted April 6, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

  • Heroes are those who fight to make a positive difference, whether they be famous figures or everyday individuals.
  • Heroes serve many psychological functions, such as enhancing motivation, hope, and morality.
  • New research shows that having a hero can increase your own sense of power.

Can you identify the heroes in your life? What makes them important to you? Perhaps your hero is a cartoon character, one of the many Marvel varieties. Perhaps you admire a major political figure or someone who virtuously defends your own ideological position. Your hero might be a historical person who sacrificed everything to save a nation or cause.

These heroes with a capital “H” stand in contrast to heroes with a small “h” who you might run across in your daily life. The media often focus on stories of those everyday heroes, from people on the front lines fighting COVID-19 to those who make small but meaningful differences in their hometowns. Such heroes may be people who deliver meals to the socially isolated or those who give of their time to find vaccine appointments for neighbors with limited access to the Internet. They may be performing their routine job duties, but under duress, such as teachers or grocery store employees.

Stop and think, then, of the people you consider heroes and ask yourself what gives them this noble quality. According to Aulana Ulqinaku and colleagues of the University of Leeds (2021), a hero is someone who “fights to make a positive difference in someone’s life, winning the respect and admiration of the masses” (pp. 1434-1435).

What are the qualities of a hero and what value can they have?

Ulqinaku and her colleagues go on from this general definition of a hero to list a set of heroic qualities. These include being “brave, fearless, selfless, self-sacrificing, honest, and strong, and having moral integrity” (p. 1435). Another key quality of heroes is having the “guts” to help others even if this means putting themselves in harm’s way.

These laudable qualities, in turn, serve three psychological functions in people’s lives. As noted by the study’s authors, these functions fall into the category of enhancement (providing motivation , hope, inspiration), moral modeling (reminding people about the concept of being “good”), and protection (keeping people from danger and evil).

With these ideas in mind, think about the qualities of the people you would nominate as heroes and why they matter to you. Do your heroes make you feel safe? Do they show you by their selfless behavior that you, too, could become a better person?

According to Ulqinaku et al., you’ll be most likely to turn to a hero for inspiration during times of threat. Your identification with someone who has the qualities of bravery and selflessness provides some of that inspiration but so does the idea that you, too, could rise to conquer the threats in your life.

How do people respond when they face threats to their health and safety?

From a psychological standpoint, people’s responses during the COVID-19 pandemic reflect the way that they cope with the idea of their own mortality. This “mortality threat,” in the framework proposed by the British authors, has the potential to lead people to seek more inspiration than ever by their identification with heroes. In their words, “heroes are likely to be pillars” that you turn to under these highly stressful conditions. When you think about the hero, you are more likely to feel safe and protected, and the feelings of threat start to dissipate.

Much of the literature on stress and coping focuses on the ways that individuals can dig down deep into their own resources to manage threats. As such, this literature fails to consider the function of role models or other sources of inspiration as you make your way through difficult times. Ulqinaku and her team propose that what heroes give you, in addition to moral uplifting, is an increased sense of your own power to overcome adversity.

Researchers explore the idea that heroes help ordinary people feel more powerful

Proposing that heroes instill a sense of power in ordinary people, the British researchers conducted four studies, all of which involved seeing how participants who identified with heroes reacted to some type of mortality threat. Three of the studies used experimental manipulation to induce participants to remind themselves of a hero in the mortality threat conditions.

do we need heroes essay

One key outcome measure of interest the authors used in their experimental studies was a choice option task in which participants rated their intentions to eat unhealthy snack foods. The authors chose this as an outcome because prior research has indicated that during times of intense mortality threat, people actually become more, not less, likely to engage in unhealthy habits. You might think of this as a kind of “last meal” theory in that, if you know your next meal will be your last, you’ll pile on whatever high-calorie comfort food you most crave. Why bother worrying about your health if you know the end of your life is in sight?

This last-meal theory isn’t exactly the most adaptive of behaviors from a long-term standpoint, given that by engaging in unhealthy eating you may place yourself at even higher risk of not surviving a health-related threat. The question the researchers asked was whether participants who believed in heroes would be less likely to throw their health-related cautions to the winds.

Prior to conducting the experimental studies, the authors used real-life data to test their prediction that, when placed under mortality threat, people who think about heroes feel more powerful. The authors subjected Twitter data (over 150,000 tweets) to linguistic analysis. The tweets were produced by users in response to a 2016-17 set of terrorist attacks taking place in Turkey, Germany, and Israel. The key variables of interest were the extent of mortality threat (tweets related to death), reminders of heroes (words involving, e.g., heroism), and perceptions of personal power (strong, mighty, in command).

The Twitter study revealed that, as expected, people who referred to heroic themes also showed fewer mentions of terms suggesting mortality threat and more frequent reference to feelings of empowerment. These findings paved the way for an experiment in which the researchers used online survey software to prime their participants to think about mortality threat. In a third, field, study the researchers interviewed people’s sense of mortality threat in Catholic countries associated with the period of November 1 to 3, the time in which the religious are prompted to remember their lost loved ones.

In the fourth and final of these studies, the research team used the COVID-19 pandemic as the source of mortality threat. The 200 online participants in this part of the project reported on the extent to which they were thinking about death and believed their lives were threatened. Those in the hero reminder group next wrote about a hero, and those in the non-hero group followed the instruction to write about one of their acquaintances (not specifically a hero).

Examples of such stories included: “My hero is my mother. She is the hero of my life because during all her life she tried to fulfill every need of mine, although she was all alone;” “My hero is Angela Merkel. She is a strong and independent woman who now has the power to rule the world and change it for the better.”

The researchers then asked participants to indicate how much of an unhealthy snack presented virtually to them they would consume (e.g. M&M candies) vs a healthy snack (grapes). Finally, participants rated themselves on perceived levels of their own sense of personal power (e.g. “If I want to, I get to make the decisions” and “I think I have a great deal of power”).

The findings and the role of heroes in your life

Turning to the results of the experimental and field studies, the findings reinforced the original Twitter-based research, showing that the value of heroes appears to lie in their ability to help people feel more powerful. This sense of enhanced power, in turn, was associated with lower tendency to over-indulge in high calorie snacks, the sign that people have given up on their future.

As the authors conclude, although prior studies show that heroes help people cope with threats, the previous research failed to reveal the underlying mechanisms in this process. The empirical evidence provided by the Leeds study, the authors note, reinforces the role of heroes in transforming people’s views of their own power.

In the words of the authors, “Our findings suggest that both during threatening times related to terrorist attacks and COVID-19 pandemic, hero reminders can provide some relief to people experiencing mortality threats” (p. 1443). From a practical perspective, the findings also support the value of such messages to consumers as “#heroes” to provide these reminders to people as they bolster their ability to overcome these challenges to their sense of safety and security.

To sum up, whether it’s hero-based action movies or comics, a real story of everyday heroism, or a non-fiction work about a historical luminary, finding your own inspiration from these sources is a way to bolster your stress response. As long as you can identify a source of inspiration in someone who showed bravery, integrity, and strength, you’ll be able to put that identification to use in finding your own fulfillment.

Ulqinaku, A., Sarial, A. G., & Kinsella, E. L. (2020). Benefits of heroes to coping with mortality threats by providing perceptions of personal power and reducing unhealthy compensatory consumption. Psychology & Marketing. doi: 10.1002/mar.21391

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. , is a Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.

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  • Common Core Standards
  • Composition
  • High School

The Hero's Journey: Is There a Hero in Me?

The Hero's Journey: Is There a Hero in Me?

This is a high school unit designed to teach students about the enduring qualities of heroism and how that influences today’s heroes, both in fiction and in reality. Once students understand the concepts, the unit provides teachers with a variety of activities to further strengthen student learning as well as make contemporary connections to the heroic ideal. This unit should take approximately 3-4 weeks.

Unit Overview: The Hero's Journey: Is There a Hero in Me?

Written by Vance Jennings, Lynee Olmos, and Susan Smith

This unit is one of a number of example units that follow the reader to writer process used by OER unit writes in Washington through OSPI. Please contribute to this draft by adding comments and suggestions for implementation.

do we need heroes essay

  • Pre Unit Work: Skill Review or Assessment*, Student Action Planning
  • Introduction: Motivate, Inquire, Set Your Unit Goals

Examine: Gather, Read, Discuss

  • Evaluate: Synthesize, Analyze, Find Your Voice

Express: Share Your Voice

  • Reflect: Reflect on Your Learning, Determine Next Steps

* SBA Interim Assessments can be effective here.

Unit Overview:

The purpose of the unit is to teach students about the enduring qualities of heroism and how the idea influences today’s heroes, both in fiction and in reality. Once students understand the concepts, the unit provides teachers with a variety of activities to further strengthen student learning as well as make contemporary connections to the heroic ideal. This unit should take approximately 3-4 weeks.

Throughout the unit, students will be addressing these questions in various methods - in journal prompts, small group and whole group discussion:

  • What is a hero? What qualities does a hero have?
  • Who are heroes today? Who do we recognise as heroes? (personal, local, American, world)
  • Do heroes make good role models?

Essential Understanding: Students will develop an understanding of the classical definition of a hero. Students will apply their learning to texts, both print and non-print, to determine the heroic qualities of the characters and/or people.

Taught and Measured:

  • Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama RL.11-12.3
  • Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact
  • Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem evaluating how  each version interprets the source text RL.11-12.7
  • Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how the interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis, provide an objective summary of the textRI.11-12.
  • Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text RI.11-12.4
  • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats as well as words in order to address a question or solve a problem. RI.11-12.7
  • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. W.11-12.4
  • Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. W.11-12.5 le sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Assessments (formative and summative):

  • Interim Assessment Block (SBA)
  • Process writing: argumentative, expository, narrative

Required resources:

  • Excerpts from Beowulf  available on line or in anthologies such as  Holt Elements of Literature, Sixth Course: Essentials of British and World Literature 
  • Excerpts from Gilgamesh available on line or in anthologies such as  Holt Elements of Literature, Sixth Course
  • Ted-Ed Talk Matthew Winkler “What Makes a Hero”
  • “Vets use unconventional therapy to treat PTSD” Andrew Manzi
  • CNN Everyday Heroes

Pre Unit Work

Activity 1 : Skill Assessment and Review

Smarter Balanced Interim Assessment Block 1: Reading Literary Texts*

*NOTE: These assessment blocks are subject to change. Other assessments of similar challenge and rigor can achieve the same ends: 1) Determine individual student performance levels and learning gaps, and 2) Help establish specific learning goals for students and teachers.

Pre unit work is designed to give both you, the teacher, and the student an understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Using the Interim Assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessment will allow you to monitor this with a consistent formative tool throughout the year. These are not meant to be graded . The assessments in the unit are to be used for grading, not the pre unit work. However, you may choose to do the student self-evaluation or reflection on it as part of their grade.

It is important that you set the tone for the pre work. It is meant to be a tool for both you and the student. You should note the strengths and weaknesses of the students so that you can adapt the unit to meet their needs. These may also help you to know if the student is in need of further intervention.

For this unit, “SBA Interim Assessment Block 1: Reading Literary Texts”  is recommended.

Technology required : administer SB IAB using district and building protocols.

Teachers unfamiliar with the SB IAB may need additional training and preparation prior to completing this assessment.  For example, students need computers that have the secure browser installed and teachers need access to the state testing website.  Please see your district or building Test Coordinator for specific information.

The Reading Literary Texts IAB is computer scored, so teachers will have access to score reports within a short period of time. Teachers can access individual student reports as well as class reports. Prior to next class period, teachers review student data and print individual reports.

After administering the IAB and receiving score reports, the move to the following whole class activity so students can self-evaluate and reflect.

1. Follow your teachers instructions for taking the Interim Assessment

2: Reflection

Now we are going to take some time to examine our IAB scores, self-evaluate progress and reflect on our skills. Please take out a piece of paper. 

Please write the following on the top of the paper:

1. Your name and today’s date

2. IAB: Reading Literary Texts

3. This test is designed to show my ability to read literary texts with understanding and analyze elements within a text.

You receive your report from the pre unit assessment. Please think about the following prompts.  We will take about 10 minutes to reflect and respond to the remaining seven prompts.  (Teacher now displays prompts to students while distributing the score reports).

1. Describe your confidence and comfort while taking the test.

2. As you took the test, which parts seemed easy for you to complete? Why do you think so?

3. As you took the test, which parts seemed challenging for you to complete? Why do you think so?

4. In reviewing your results, what was as you expected it to be? Why?

5. In reviewing your results, what was a surprise? Why?

6. What does this tell you about you as a learner? How will you build on your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses through this unit?

7. How can your teacher support you in this journey of learning?


Activity 2-Inquire: What Is a Hero?

Quickwrite  ( 10 minutes ):  To frame this unit, have students give a brief written response to the following questions: “How do you define hero?”  “Do you think fame is an important component of heroism, or do you think most heroes are unknown?”  “Is there anyone you know personally whom you consider a hero?”

When students have completed their responses, ask them to share their ideas with the class. You may choose to start with pairs or triads and then whole class.

Technology integration option: You can use a real-time word cloud generator as a discussion focus. Prior to the quick write, create free account at Mentimeter or a similar tool. Create a presentation with the prompt: List five words/phrases that describe a hero .  As students complete their quickwrite, project the presentation with prompt. As each student inputs his/her list, all students will see a real-time word cloud. This can provide another way of examining similarities in ideas without asking individual students to share.

Activity 2 -Inquire: What Is a Hero?

To prepare for our unit work, we are going to start with a quickwrite. A quickwrite is an activity to capture our initial thoughts and ideas about a subject or topic.  It is intended to give us some ideas before we begin talking about and exploring heroes.

On your paper or in your journal, respond to the following questions.  You will have 10 minutes. Write for the entire time.

“How do you define hero?” 

“Do you think fame is an important component of heroism, or do you think most heroes are unknown?” 

“Is there anyone you know personally whom you consider a hero?”

Introduction-What Do We Already Know?

Activity 3-Inquire: What do we already know?

This activity is to activate prior knowledge and generate ideas.

Begin with the Individual Brainstorm (5 minutes). Have students individually generate a list of heroes. The heroes can be ancient, new, real, comic, ordinary, or super.

Next move to the collaboration (10 minutes) . In pairs or small groups, have students create a word (or concept) map that records their thoughts and ideas about their chosen heroes.

Technology integration option: Students can use MindMup, a free online mind mapping application to capture their ideas. Students can print, project, and/or save their work.

do we need heroes essay

Before we begin learning about classic heroes, we are going to complete two activities: one individually and one with a partner. Then we are going to have the opportunity to hear from each other about the heroes they’ve brainstormed and organized.

Take out a piece of paper.  On this paper make a list of heroes that you already know about or are familiar with.  These heroes can be ancient, new, real, comic, ordinary, or super! We aren’t going to share our ideas yet. You will have 5 minutes for this.

Next, please turn to a partner and share your lists.  Then, on another sheet of paper, work together to organize your lists of heroes.  The categories to sort the heroes is up to you and your partner.  You will have 10 minutes for this.

Share your ideas with the class as your teacher directs.

Examine: Gather, Read, Discuss-Developing Common Vocabulary

Activity 4: Developing Common Vocabulary

Have the students view a Ted-Ed talk about the heroic journey; this allows students to create a common vocabulary and set of expectations for analyzing further texts in the module.  Plan to view the video with students at least twice. The first time, students will view for basic understanding and discussion. The second viewing can be more guided and targeted, allowing students to take appropriate notes. ( Note: Because the information is so quickly presented, teachers may decide to view the video more than twice. )

KEY CONCEPT: Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Ordinary World/Status Quo

Call to Adventure

New Status Quo

[Recommended: Teachers are encouraged to read the transcript and/or view the video prior to sharing it with the class.  Closed captioning as well as the video transcript is available in 25 languages.]

Locate the Matthew Winkler Ted-Ed talk “What Makes a Hero.”

You can also create a free account with Ted-Ed in order to access additional learning activities related to the video. digdeeper

Possible after viewing question: How do the stories of heroes we mapped in the last activity fit with the hero’s journey in the video?

Student success criteria:

  • I can identify the stages of a heroic journey.
  • I can explain the stages of a heroic journey.

Possible formative assessments:

  • Check students’ notes from video. Do they have all of the stages listed? If not, help them fill in missing stages before moving on.
  • Ask students to hold up their hands with a fist (no understanding) to five (I can identify the stages of the heroic journey). Quickly scan classroom. If students do not have understanding of the stages, determine best re-teach (view video again, work in small groups to complete, pair-n-share to fill in gaps, e.g.).

We’ve brainstormed some elements of heroism and done some sorting and categorizing of heroes, but now let’s look at a definition and analysis of classic heroes. To do that, we are going to view a Ted-Ed talk about heroes and the heroic journey.

For this first viewing, you are not going to take formal notes. Instead, view for the ‘big’ ideas, the key points, and the evidence the speaker provides. Then we’ll view it again with a focus on taking notes.

Before you view, discuss as a class

1.  “What Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Frodo Baggins might all have in common with the heroes of ancient myths?” What stories do these characters come from?

2. Next view the video. While you watch listen for ideas that answer the question, “What do these characters have in common with the heroes of ancient myths?” 

 -- Play video in its entirety (4:34) --

3. Now  go back to the original question: “What do Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Frodo Baggins all have in common with the heroes of ancient myths?”  What do you think now?

4. Next, watch the video again, but this time take notes on the hero’s journey.  On your paper, draw a big circle.  Label it like a clock with a 12, 3, 6, 9 (12 at the top, 3 on the right, and so on).

As we view the video, listen for and write down the labels for each number (or step) along the journey.  You will be using information from this video in future assignments.

Activity 5 :  Reading for Understanding

  • You may use a text that you like and may use excerpts, but students need to understand the story arc.
  • One recommendation is the excerpted version from the Dr. David Breeden translation
  • Another is from the Holt Elements of Literature, Sixth Course: Essentials of British and World Literature

Copyright 2005 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston

21 – 28 = excerpt of Beowulf , Translated by Burton Raffel

33 – 38 = excerpt of Beowulf , Translated by Seamus Heaney

  • Again, you may use a text that you like and may use excerpts, but students need to understand the story arc.
  • One recommendation is the excerpted version from the Herbert Mason translation

       Copyright 2005 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston

48 – 53 = excerpt of Gilgamesh , Retold by Herbert Mason

Have the students read the excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh . The purpose for reading is to ground students in the idea of what a hero is, the stages of the hero’s journey, and the heroic elements.

As the unit progresses, students will move through the various ideations of hero.  Beginning with two examples of the classic hero gives students a basis for understanding change.

Students will apply previous learning (characteristics of a hero and stages of the heroic journey), evaluate the characters in terms of what it means to be a hero, and compare the main characters (Beowulf and Gilgamesh).

Based on your knowledge of students, determine the most appropriate instructional method for reading the two excerpts (whole class, individual, small group, e.g.) Note that some amount of independent readying should be given along with student reflection on their process and understanding of the text.

  • I can identify and explain how textual evidence supports what the author states directly and what is implied. (RL11-12.1)
  • I can identify how specific words and phrases influence the meaning of a text. (RL11-12.4)
  • I can identify and explain how an author's choices about specific parts of a text contribute to its overall structure, and meaning. (RL11-12.5)
  • I can bring together a variety of sources of information, such as print text and visual media, to address a question. (RI11-12.7)
  • During reading, check for understanding via teacher questioning, pair-n-share, and so on as determined by the teacher. If students need additional comprehension instruction, review story and reading before moving on.
  • After reading, use the focused questions for discussion or have students answer on paper. One formative assessment strategy may be to write each question on a large piece of paper and post around the room. Give each student a marker and have students move around the room in groups. At each poster, have the group discuss the question and write their answers. 
  • Check students’ storyboards for accuracy and understanding. Do the students have the main points recorded? Can students identify stages of the heroic journey in their selected story?

Have the students read the excerpt from Beowulf and answer the following questions. You may choose to start reading as a class then move to partner or independent reading.

  • Which stages of the heroic journey are evident in this excerpt?
  • How does Beowulf demonstrate characteristics of a hero?
  • What does Wiglaf’s speech to his companions waiting on the hill (lines 226 - 247) reveal about his character?

We are going to continue learning about classic heroes by reading excerpts from two classic stories: the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh . Our purpose for reading is to ground us in the idea of what a hero is, the stages of a hero’s journey, and heroic elements. We learned about the stages of a heroic journey and now we’re going to begin applying that learning to other stories or texts. As we progress through the unit, we will examine several different types of heroes looking for similarities across cultures and times.

Today’s reading is Beowulf.   While you’re reading, you need to have your work from the Ted-Ed talk “What Makes a Hero” so you can examine the stages of the heroic journey. 

After you’ve finished reading about Beowulf, answer these three questions about this selection.  When you first see  the questions, write down your own thoughts. Then turn to a partner to share your ideas.

Activity 6 :  Reading for Understanding

Have the students read the excerpt from Gilgamesh and answer the following:

  • Using a Venn diagram, compare/contrast Gilgamesh with Enkidu.
  • Evaluate Gilgamesh as a hero. What strengths and weaknesses does he have? How is Gilgamesh admirable or not?
  • What kind of friend is Gilgamesh to Enkidu?

Activity 6: Reading for Understanding

You are going to continue learning about classic heroes by reading an excerpt from the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh . Our purpose for reading is to ground us in the idea of what a hero is, the stages of a hero’s journey and heroic elements.  While we’re reading, we need to have our work from the Ted-Ed talk “What Makes a Hero” and our work from the Beowulf  reading so we can examine the stages of the heroic journey. 

Now that you’ve finished reading about Gilgamesh, you’re going to respond to four prompts about this selection.  When you first see  the questions, write down your own thoughts. Then turn to a partner to share your ideas.

Activity 7: Storyboarding a hero’s journey

Students will create a visual representation of one of the two excerpts from Activities 5 & 6 to demonstrate their understanding of the stories.  They will analyze the chosen excerpt to determine:

  • The important action of the story
  • The heroic qualities demonstrated in that story
  • Important dialogue included.


Now that we’ve read about two classic heroes, it’s your turn to create a visual representation of one of the two. This activity requires you to determine the important action of the story, the heroic qualities demonstrated, and important dialogue to include.

When you are finished, you will be sharing these with other students in the class, explaining the choices you made,  and “publishing” them to the classroom bulletin board.  This activity allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the stories. Additionally, you’ll be able to view others’ interpretations and understanding of the same text.

  • Select one of the two stories for your focus.
  • Review notes (stages of heroic journey, the reading, responses to questions and prompts)
  • Paper: fold your paper to create nine boxes (orient either landscape or portrait)
  • Color pencils or markers
  • Determine the nine important events to include
  • Identify important dialogue (quotations) from the story to include
  • Draw the story

Share and publish

Evaluate: Synthesize, Analyze, Find Your Own Voice

Activity 8 :  Comparing Heroes

Compare the two heroes, Beowulf and Gilgamesh. Working with a partner or in a small group, discuss the following three questions. Then, on a large sheet of paper, record your group’s ideas. Be prepared to share with the whole class.

  • What characteristics of a hero do both Beowulf and Gilgamesh share?
  • How are the stories of Gilgamesh and Beowulf similar?
  • Based on these excerpts, what characteristics can you infer about what the ancient Mesopotamians ( Gilgamesh ) Anglo-Saxons ( Beowulf ) valued?

Technology integration option: Rather than have students make a poster, teachers can instead have students record ideas electronically:

  • Using mentimeter , students list similarities and watch the real-time word cloud record responses
  • Using mindmup , students create a document that organizes and records similarities

Now you’ll compare the two heroes. Working with a partner or in a small group, discuss the following three questions. Then, on a large sheet of paper, record your group’s ideas. Be prepared to share your work with the whole class.

Based on these excerpts, what characteristics can you infer the ancient Mesopotamians ( Gilgamesh ) Anglo-Saxons ( Beowulf ) valued?

Evaluate: Synthesize, Analyze; Find Your Own Voice

Activity 9: Analyzing an interpretation

Animated Epics: Beowulf. (Run-time: 26:41)

The Epic of Gilgamesh . (Run-time: 10:58)

Based on the teacher’s knowledge of students, class time, and schedules, students may view one or both videos. Referencing their hero’s journey notes from Activity 3, notes on the Ted-Ed talk, and their own storyboards, students will view interpretations of Beowulf and Gilgamesh for analysis . (These interpretations include more than the excerpt students read, so teachers may want to view both prior to introducing the the activity to the students.)

  • I can analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem evaluating how each version interprets the stages of the heroic journey RL.11-12.7

In this activity, you will view an animated version of one of the stories we just read.  Your purpose is two-fold. You are viewing to identify the portions of the story you’ve read, and to analyze how the animated version has interpreted the stages of the heroic journey.

You’ll need the following resources:

  • Your heroic journey notes from the Ted-Ed talk
  • Your notes from the two readings
  • Your storyboard

To get ready for this activity, take a moment to review your notes on the Ted-Ed talk and the two readings. Then scan your storyboard on the classroom bulletin board.

(Allow roughly five minutes for review. Then show the selection(s).)

Now, working with a partner, make a list of the parts of the video that were the same as what we have studied. Were elements of your storyboard included in the video?

Where were the stages of the heroic journey featured in the animated version?

Share your findings with another pair of students.

Evaluate: Synthesize, Analyze, Find YOur Own Voice

Activity 10: Analyzing and Synthesizing Everyday Heroes

For teacher: Prior to this activity, you will need to locate computers with internet and audio capabilities.  You will need to determine the best delivery based on technology capacity and knowledge of students.

You may want to ensure that students don’t all select the same hero stories by creating lists from which each group or student can select; however, this is not a requirement for success.

Activity progression is: activate prior learning through review, introduce the learning activity, whole class modeling, release to student directed learning and application, then return to whole class for closure.

Have the students read/view stories of people who have been selected for “CNN Heroes: Everyday people changing the world.”  While reading/viewing, have the students listen for elements of the classic heroic journey and take notes. After completing two or three (teacher will determine appropriate number) hero stories, they synthesize learning to answer the question: After looking at several different modern hero stories ask,  “How can we now define what it means to be a hero in today’s world?

Picture of CNN Heroes

Whole class modeling: Hero for whole class modeling: “Vets use unconventional therapy to treat PTSD”

Andrew Manzi

This includes a video and a written component, so teachers can select the appropriate delivery method.

Either show the video or distribute written copy.

Have the students view/read along with you. Model with a think aloud connecting the class brainstorming of characteristics of a hero and the stages of the heroic journey to Andrew Manzi’s work (note: everyday heroes are not classic heroes, they will not have all or even many of the stages. You should help students to see that there are connections regardless.) You may follow same delivery method as the Ted-Ed Talk -- telling students that they’ll view the video twice, watching once for overall meaning and the second time for details. See table below for one way of organizing information.

After completing the whole class modeling, check students’ understanding informally by checking charts and asking for a fist-to-five self-evaluation of their readiness to move to independent learning.

Teachers either create a handout for students to complete or have students take notes on their own paper.

Modern day heroes

Monitor learning and student engagement through observation and informal assessment (asking questions, checking chart completion, for example).

Return to whole class: Students return attention to whole class. Teacher guides them to share out about heroes 1. Name; 2. General information; 3. One or two elements of classic heroic journey they noticed

To bring lesson to closure, teacher asks students to again review chart. Students can respond as a silent journal write: After looking at several different modern hero stories, how can we now define what it means to be a hero in today’s world?

Technology Options:

Student directed learning:

Option 1: No accessible technology

Teacher selects and prints a variety of stories from the CNN website. Teacher makes copies to distribute to students.  In the classroom, teacher has students work in small groups to read and discuss the selected heroes.  Or, the teacher can use the station model and have different stories at each station. Students rotate through at pre-determined times to read, take notes, and discuss each hero’s story.

Teacher monitors learning and student engagement through observation and informal assessment (asking questions, checking chart completion, for example).

Option 2: Limited access to technology

Teacher organizes students into pairs (or groups of three, depending on number of computers available). Students navigate to the CNN website and select heroes. While viewing and reading, students take notes to complete the chart. Students also have opportunity to discuss while in small group.

Option 3: 1-to-1 devices or full class access to technology

Students navigate to the CNN website and select heroes. While viewing and reading, students take notes to complete the chart.

Student success criteria

  • I can apply my learning to new texts.
  • Turn-and-talk. Students think of a solution or think of ways the person’s story fits the classic heroic journey then turn to a partner to share ideas before sharing out to the whole class.
  • Fist-to-five (on the heart). Ask students to self-evaluate their readiness to move to independent learning and show via the number of fingers -- students hold hands up to their chests so that the teacher can see but the student doesn’t have to share assessment with entire class
  • Teacher observation and questioning. Teacher moves through class as students are working and is able to observe when students may need assistance or correction.

Today’s learning is focused on contemporary heroes.  You will have the opportunity to view clips and read about people who have been selected as being heroic. Before we begin, however, we need to review our brainstorming and learning so far. While learning about these people, consider the heroic journey and how that journey looks for each person.

Begin with your teacher and class as a whole group and look at one example before you take over.

Revisit Activities 1-3 (initial brainstorming, organizing information about heroic qualities, and the heroic journey stages). The day’s learning will require you to apply your understanding of what a hero is and the classical definition of a heroic journey to people today. Based on the options below, your teacher may model the learning activity in a variety of ways - paper/pencil to showing how to navigate to the videos – you will follow along.

Activity 11: Finding What You Think

Prior to this activity, read the two options to determine appropriate strategy for students.

“Superheroes: Are They Really Heroes?”

“The Problem With Heroes”

Option 1: Discussion stations around the room (small group discussion).

To prepare: Teacher prints each statement on a piece of paper and tapes it to poster paper so there’s enough room for students to write on the paper. Teachers will need a timer to track time at each station and sets of markers for students to use.

Process:   Divide the class into five groups (or fewer groups if the class is small) and give each group a set of markers -- it works great if each group is a different color. Direct students to one station -- home station -- for a discussion (they will rotate through the stations). At the first station they will discuss what the statement means to them, whether or not they agree, and how it relates to the idea of the heroic journey and definition of hero.  They will write their ideas on the paper. When directed by the teacher (4-7 minutes), they will move to the next station. Again beginning with a short discussion of what the statement means and whether or not they agree, the students will then read what other groups wrote, they will then add their own ideas - agree, disagree, confirm, expand, provide examples, and so on. By the end of four rotations, the students will have discussed each statement and had the opportunity to add to other groups’ discussions.  The last rotation has the group return to their home station. This provides some closure as they can not only see their comments but how other groups responded.

Option 2: Agree/Disagree

To prepare:   Teacher creates signage for Agree and Disagree and posts them in opposite corners of the classroom

Process: Teacher reads (or displays) statement and students move to one of two corners depending on whether or not they agree  or disagree with the statement. Students have discussion within group. Teacher can moderate discussion between two groups to share ideas and rationales.  Teacher may have students return to middle of classroom - neutral ground - before reading/displaying the next statement.

Statements: from “Superheroes: Are they Really Heroes?” and “ The Problem With Heroes”

When asked to describe traits of a hero, the number one response by people today (2010) was that a hero “provid[es] a standard of conduct… he/she is a role model.”

 “Representing the ideal self-image, shows achievement or accomplishment, being intelligent, loving and religious” is how many people describe today’s heroes.

“...contemporary society has often misconstrued and overused the term hero..., applying it to people who do not have the moral fibre” to be considered a hero.

“When we have heroes, we look up to them. This is all well and good, but the problem is — in a subtle, sneaky way — simultaneous to looking up, we’re putting ourselves down.” 

It’s important to “recognize that the values we’re admiring are not confined only to the hero, but can be spread and shared. And time to stop being bashful about having a hero, because all that really means is we’re bashful about embodying the hero’s values.”

  • I can explain my thinking
  • I can work collaboratively with my peers to complete a task

You are going to examine the following statements about heroes.  You will have the opportunity to discuss your understanding of statement, how they connect with what you have read, and if you agree or disagree.

Follow your teacher’s instructions for the discussion process.

Statements: from “Superheroes: Are they Really Heroes?” and “The Problem With Heroes”

1. When asked to describe traits of a hero, the number one response by people today (2010) was that a hero “provid[es] a standard of conduct… he/she is a role model.”

2.  “Representing the ideal self-image, shows achievement or accomplishment, being intelligent, loving and religious” is how many people describe today’s heroes.

3. “...contemporary society has often misconstrued and overused the term hero..., applying it to people who do not have the moral fibre” to be considered a hero.

4. “When we have heroes, we look up to them. This is all well and good, but the problem is — in a subtle, sneaky way — simultaneous to looking up, we’re putting ourselves down.” 

5. It’s important to “recognize that the values we’re admiring are not confined only to the hero, but can be spread and shared. And time to stop being bashful about having a hero, because all that really means is we’re bashful about embodying the hero’s values.”

Activity 12: Sharing Your Voice

Option 1: An Original Hero's Journey

After the completion of the module activities, it is time for students to use the knowledge they have gained to create products that demonstrate their understanding and their skills. The teacher can choose to assign one or more of the tasks depending on the time allowed as well as student needs and interests.

For these tasks, we go back to the initial questions posed at the beginning of the module:

  • Who are heroes today? Who do we recognize as heroes? [personal, local, American, world)

With these questions and the stories and concepts studied throughout the module students are asked to go beyond the texts and videos to create their own response.

The three task assessments span three different modes of writing--narrative, argumentative, and explanatory, allowing for flexibility for the teacher. Teachers will plan their units for the entire course to span all of the required skills, and this unit offers a selection for each mode.

Narrative: An Original Hero’s Journey

Students choose and audience and craft a story based on a real person, such as an historical figure, a person they know, or even themselves. Using the classic concept of the stages of the hero’s journey, they create an original narrative.

Argumentative: Do We Need Heroes?

Students pick an audience to convince and establish a claim that either supports the need for heroes as role models or argues that we should rely on the inspiration of heroes less than we do.

Explanatory: Hero of the Year

Students choose and audience and select a real hero to nominate for Hero of the Year. They gather and present detailed information to support their nominee’s selection for the honor.

Supporting the Summative Assessment

If students need additional support during the writing process, the teacher can plan for additional time to scaffold the lesson with guided planning and modeling.

Scoring the Performance Tasks

For these tasks, teachers should use the rubrics provided by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. You can find rubrics and scoring guides with their practice tests and resources:

Teachers should provide students with copies of the scoring rubrics and use the rubrics throughout the process of drafting and revision. With support, students should be able to predict their own scores based on the information in the rubrics, giving them opportunities to revise, based on peer editing and their own observations.

Option 1: An Original Hero’s Journey

Explain to the students that today we will begin creating a narrative. Before we begin, review what we already know of the hero’s journey that we have studied both in classic literature and in the stories of modern heroes. At the beginning of the module, we asked ourselves some questions. Let’s review. (Lead a discussion about these questions. It can be in depth, with notes and suggestions for each. Alternatively, it can be a quick review of learning, if that is what is needed. A teacher’s knowledge of the students can inform the amount of support and review needed.)

  • Who are heroes today? Who do we recognise as heroes? [personal, local, American, world)

Now let’s add one more question. Consider your own journey. Have you been on a hero’s journey? Imagine that your life is a hero’s journey.  If so, what stage are you in? Take a moment to plot out your journey so far through the stages. (This can be an informal discussion, or the teacher could provide handouts with a the stages provided, leaving space for the students to describe each element of their own journey.)

Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Ordinary World/Satus Quo

You are about to write a narrative. That means that you will be writing the story of a hero’s journey. This story will be your original creation, but its plot will follow the classic stages of the hero’s journey. You are required to choose a real life hero on whom you will base the narrative. You can choose to write about yourself, crafting an inspirational story about your own personal journey. Alternatively, you can choose another person to research. Whichever you choose, your target audience will be young readers who need an inspirational hero. Follow the instructions I will give you. We will check in after each stage of writing: prewriting, the initial draft, revision, editing, and final publication. If you need assistance at any time, I will be here to guide you and answer any questions. (Hand out the Student Instructions for An Original Hero’s Journey.)

Activity 12 Sharing YOur Vocie

About narrative writing: Writing a narrative requires you to use clear and specific details about well-developed character (s) and at least one well-defined setting . A good narrative has an effective plot with a logical sequence of events, including a clear beginning, middle and end. When writing a narrative, choose the most effective point of view for your story – first person, third person omniscient, or third-person limited – and sustain that point of view throughout.

Topic: For this narrative writing task, you will be writing an original hero’s journey. Using what you have learned of the stages of a hero’s journey, create a character, based on yourself or someone else, and write a narrative account of his or her journey. You can use biographical information about a real person, following their life story as they go through the stages. Or, you can look at your own life as a hero’s journey and create your own legend in a narrative format.

Audience: For this task, imagine that your audience is young students in junior high or middle school. Your task is to create an easy to follow hero’s journey story about someone worth admiring. This could be your own story, where you show that you have overcome obstacles, persevered, and learned significant lessons along the way. Alternatively, it could be the story of an historical figure, showing how they faced challenges and completed their heroic journey.

Use what you have learned about heroes, the hero’s journey, and heroism itself within your writing.

·     Consider your audience. What will they expect? How can you capture and maintain their interest? What is a good message for this audience?

·     Gather your ideas. Choose your hero. Find specific details about the hero and gather facts.

·     Organize and establish an outline. Arrange your facts chronologically and align them to a hero’s journey cycle.

·     Write a first draft. Keep in mind that you will need a clear beginning, middle, and end, write out the story. Remember to use specific details to clarify your setting and develop your characters.

·     Review your writing. Share your first draft with others. Get feedback on what you can do to clarify the action or add detail. Is it appropriate for your audience? What’s missing? What are the strengths of your story?

·     Revise, edit, and publish. Make any necessary revisions, based on feedback. Edit your writing for conventions, such as spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other errors.

Sharing Your Voice Option 2: Do We Need Heroes?

Option 2: Do We Need Heroes?

Today we will begin creating an argumentative performance task. Before we begin the writing process, let’s discuss what we have learned about heroes.

Let’s examine these questions:

Is our society obsessed with heroes?

What is the effect of heroes on the entertainment industry?

Is hero worship a good thing? In what way?

Can it be bad?

Let’s list as many modern heroes as we can. They can be real people, or they can be from books, movies, video games, comics, etc. (The teacher can refer back to the mindmaps created earlier in the module. New lists can be created informally. Spend time talking about individual heroes. Are they beneficial? Do they set a good example? Why do people admire them?)

Now, thinking about these heroes, form an opinion. Do we need them? Write down your initial response to that question - Do we need heroes? (Pause) Now, ask yourself why. We have studied heroes throughout the module. Humans have been telling stories about heroes since long before they could write those stories down. Why? (Give students time to think about and react to each question.) Now that you have thought about it, is it beneficial to us to have heroes? Does it somehow keep us from solving our own problems? Or, does it inspire us? (Let the students have some time to think about these questions and discuss them together.)

You are about to write a argumentative essay . That means that you must form a clear opinion about the topic. Pick a side. Do we need heroes? Once you have chosen which side of the issue to support, you must develop a strong claim. That means that you need to create a statement that gives your strong opinion about the need for heroes in our society.

Once you have your claim established, gather evidence to support your ideas. You have some sources that you have read or viewed throughout this module. You can use them as evidence. Additionally, you can research your claim. Look for reliable sources that address heroes in our modern culture. If you need help determining the quality or reliability of a web resource, please ask for assistance. Whenever you use research materials, be sure to credit them appropriately in your writing. Ask me for assistance, if you are uncertain about how to reference your sources.

Whatever side you choose, remember to address counterclaims, as well. If you were on the other side of the debate, what would be your best argument? Acknowledge the other side and give specific evidence that addresses their claims. Remember to always use a respectful tone when writing an argument. A good argument is won on evidence and persuasion.

Follow the instructions I will give you. We will check in after each stage of writing: research, prewriting, the initial draft, revision, editing, and final publication. If you need assistance at any time, I will be here to guide you and answer any questions. (Hand out the Student Instructions for Do We Need Heroes?)

Activity 12 Option2: Do We Need Heroes?

About argumentative writing: Writing an argument requires you to take a stand on an issue. It doesn’t have to be a heated debate, but rather is a position that has opposing viewpoints. A good argument has a clear claim that is established early and sustained throughout. What is your stance on the topic? To be effective, your argument must use specific and relevant evidence from well-chosen sources. Always acknowledge opposing

viewpoints/ counterclaims and conclude your argument in a way that ensures your audience is aware of your strong claim/position.

Topic: Throughout this module, you have studied heroes. Our culture seems obsessed with heroes, in literature, in movies, and in the news. Is that obsession healthy? Does our “hero worship” help us? In your opinion, do we need heroes? Think about the benefits of hero figures in literature, entertainment, and real life. Develop a specific claim that either supports our need for heroes or argues that we do not need them, and perhaps rely on them too much .

Audience: Choose an audience for your writing. It can be your peers, to convince them they need the inspiration of hero figures, or to tell them to stop relying on heroes for their entertainment and example. Alternatively, you could write an argument aimed at the entertainment industry, encouraging them to make more films based on heroes, or fewer, depending on your claim. Can you think of another possible audience for your argument?

·     Consider your audience. What do you think their current opinion might be? How can you convince them to agree with your claim? Maintain a respectful tone in your writing, keeping your audience in mind.

·     Gather your ideas. Use the resources you have read in this module. You can also do your own research to support your claim. Remember to research the arguments against your claim. You should be prepared to address counterclaims in your argument.

·     Organize and establish an outline. Plan for a clear introduction of the topic and your claim. Make sure your body paragraphs are organized with specific reasons backed up by detailed evidence from your sources. Finish up with a conclusion that firmly restates your position.

·     Write a first draft. Put it all together and make sure you use transitions to help your writing flow from paragraph to paragraph. Build your argument in a logical order. Do you choose your best argument to go write after the introduction, or do you want to end with it? Make intentional choices for your writing.

·     Review your writing. Share your first draft with others. Get feedback on what you can do to clarify your position or add evidence. Did you address any counterclaims? Is it appropriate for your audience? What’s missing? What are the strengths of your essay?

Sharing Your Voice Option 3: Hero of the Year

Activity 12 Option 3: Hero of the Year

About Explanatory Writing: Writing an explanatory essay requires you to gather and use specific details to explain your ideas, using relevant facts and sources. Good explanatory writing has a clear organizational structure, staying focused with a strong introduction, consistent and varied transitions, and an effective conclusion. You need to use specific and detailed elaboration from well-chosen sources. Take time to select vocabulary that is appropriate for your topic and audience. The best explanatory writing engages the reader with style and interesting word choice.

Topic: For this essay, you will think about the heroes you have studied. What is a hero? What does it mean to truly be heroic? Your task is to nominate someone for the Hero of the Year. You can choose anyone that you think deserves such an honor, such as a celebrity, an athlete, a political figure, a firefighter – anyone you think fits the definition of hero. It can even be someone you know personally. Once you have chosen a subject, you need to gather your evidence. You can use sources from the module, but you will need to use specific evidence about your selected hero, as well. You will need to show how your subject deserves the honor of Hero of the Year.

Audience: The audience for this essay is an imagined selection committee. Imagine that your essay will be read by a committee that selects the Hero of the Year. They should be people with a lot of influence, including past recipients of the award.

·     Consider your audience. Select and deliver your information about your nominee in a way that will impress the committee. It isn’t an argumentative essay. You don’t have to state a claim and argue your position. Your job is to demonstrate the worthiness of the candidate with detailed and specific evidence.

·     Gather your ideas. How is your nominee heroic? What evidence do you have of this? Think about the heroes you have studied. What made them great heroes? Can you compare your hero to them? Use sources from the module and that you find through research about your nominee.

·     Organize and establish an outline. Plan for a clear introduction of the topic and your nominee. Make sure your body paragraphs are organized with specific and detailed evidence from your sources. Finish up with a conclusion that wraps it up explains concisely why you have chosen your nominee. 

·     Write a first draft. Put it all together and make sure you use transitions to help your writing flow from paragraph to paragraph. Engage your readers in the story of your hero. Are you being specific enough to help them truly imagine your hero and his or her great attributes?

·     Review your writing. Share your first draft with others. Get feedback about your nominee. Did you give enough detail? Is it clear and organized? What’s missing? What are the strengths of your essay?

Option 3: Hero of the Year

Today we will begin creating an explanatory performance task. To prepare for this, let’s revisit our definition of a hero. In your opinion, what does it take to be a hero? (Take time to listen to and record student responses.) Let’s list some of the qualities a hero has. (Have students individually list qualities or create a list together.) Looking at the list, think of someone who exhibits these qualities. This should be a real person. Although, it can be a celebrity, an athlete, a soldier, or any other famous person, it should not be a fictional character. By contrast, you could choose a friend or family member. Heroes do not have to be famous. Think of someone who is alive today who should be considered a hero, according to your definition.

For the upcoming writing task, you will be imagining that there is an award for the Hero of the Year. You will be nominating your chosen real-life hero for the award. To successfully write in support of your hero, you will need a great deal of specific detail and evidence of their heroism. Think about the real-life hero that you admire; consider all the traits and accomplishments that make him or her heroic. Take time now to brainstorm some specific reasons to give your nominee the award for Hero of the Year. (Have students brainstorm a list and discuss their ideas with their peers.)

You are about to write a explanatory performance task . That means you need to research your topic thoroughly. You will need reliable and authoritative sources. For famous people, you will use web resources to gather important details and anecdotes. For people you know personally, you may need to interview them or other people to get your information. Whichever route you choose, be sure to credit your sources in your writing. If you need assistance when it comes to citing your sources when you write, ask me. You should never  use research without properly identifying your sources.

Follow the instructions I will give you. We will check in after each stage of writing: research, prewriting, the initial draft, revision, editing, and final publication. If you need assistance at any time, I will be here to guide you and answer any questions. (Hand out the Student Instructions for Hero of the Year.)

Activity 13: A Return to the Beginning

At the end of the unit or when the writing tasks have been graded and returned, select from the following ideas for student reflection.

1. Re-administer SB IAB:  Reading Literary Texts using district and building protocols. By re-administering the interim assessment allows teachers and students to measure their growth in reading and comprehending literary texts. Teachers can access individual student reports as well as class reports. Prior to next class period, teachers review student data and print individual reports.

For teachers: Prior to distributing the students’ second IAB score, have them take out the original score sheet and their answers to the following questions.

In terms of my reading and writing:

“Where am I now?”

“Where do I want to be?”

“How will I close the gap?”

Return the test results to the students. Have them respond to these questions.

1. Describe your confidence and comfort while taking the test. Has your confidence grown?

2. Which parts of the test seemed the most easiest for you? Is this the same as the last time you took the test? Why do you think so?

3. Which parts of the test seemed the most challenging for you? Is this the same as the last time you took the test? Why do you think so?

4. Review your results. Were the results what you expected? Were you surprised by anything? Explain.

5. Think of this unit as a journey of learning. It’s part of your journey as a learner, and you are the hero of this story. So, with that in mind, describe how you have improved your skills as a learner. What lessons and activities stand out to you?

6. Describe the assistance you received on your journey of learning.

2. Have students brainstorm their heroic journey as a learner. For example, this student has filled in some elements

End of unit: personal journey

3. Have the students respond to the following questions

  • What worked well for you in completing this unit?
  • What did not work well or was a struggle?
  • Considering this, what will you do or change in the next unit to help in your learning?

Activity 13: Reflection

Follow your teacher's instructions for reflection. Take time to consider what went well in your learning and what you would like to do better or differently.

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  • Front Psychol

Lay perspectives on the social and psychological functions of heroes

Elaine l. kinsella.

1 Department of Psychology and Centre for Social Issues Research, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

Timothy D. Ritchie

2 Department of Psychology, Saint Xavier University, Chicago, IL, USA

Eric R. Igou

3 Department of Psychology, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

Declaring and thinking about heroes are common human preoccupations but surprisingly aspects of heroism that reinforce these behaviors are not well-understood. In four thematically consistent studies, we attempt to identify lay perspectives about the psychological functions served by heroes. In Study 1, participants ( n = 189) freely generated open-ended descriptions of hero functions, which were then sorted by independent coders into 14 categories (e.g., instill hope, guide others). In Study 2, in an attempt to identify the most important functions associated with heroes, participants ( n = 249) rated how each function corresponded with their personal views about heroes. Results from a confirmatory factor analysis suggested that a three-factor model of hero functions fit the data well: participants thought that heroes enhanced the lives of others, promoted morals, and protected individuals from threats. In Study 3 ( n = 242), participants rated heroes as more likely to fulfill a protecting function than either leaders or role models. In Studies 4A ( n = 38) and 4B ( n = 102), participants indicated that thinking about a hero (relative to a leader or an acquaintance) during psychological threat fulfilled personal enhancement, moral modeling, and protection needs. In all, these findings provide an empirical basis to spur additional research about the social and psychological functions that heroes offer.


Heroes have played an important role in society for centuries ( Campbell, 1949 ) and their influence remains evident and prevalent in modern life ( Zimbardo, 2007 ; Sullivan and Venter, 2010 ; Allison and Goethals, 2011 , 2013a ; Franco et al., 2011 ; Kinsella et al., 2015 ). Survey data from one recent sample revealed that 66% of the participants reported having a personal hero ( Kinsella et al., 2010 ). This underscores the fact that heroism is a pervasive and everyday phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, it has been posited that heroes exert psychological influence on others ( Sullivan and Venter, 2005 ). The variety of heroes that exist—whistle-blowers, martyrs, civil heroes, political heroes, and humanitarians ( Zimbardo, 2007 )—suggests the far-reaching utility of heroes. Yet, heroism has received relatively little attention in psychology ( Becker and Eagly, 2004 ; Sullivan and Venter, 2005 ). Related topics such as generativity (e.g., Mansfield and McAdams, 1996 ), prosocial behavior (e.g., Hart and Fegley, 1995 ), whistleblowing (e.g., Lewis et al., 2014 ), and moral exemplars (e.g., Matsuba and Walker, 2005 ; Walker and Frimer, 2007 ; Frimer et al., 2011 , 2012 , 2013 ) are present in the literature and offer insights into persons who display some prototypical hero features. Few researchers, however, have considered why individuals have or want heroes ( Goethals and Allison, 2012 ).

Empirical endeavors to understand heroes are gaining momentum (e.g., Allison and Goethals, 2011 , 2013a ; Franco et al., 2011 ; Goethals and Allison, 2012 ; Kinsella et al., 2015 ; Allison et al., unpublished). So far, many of these endeavors have progressed our understanding of what constitutes a hero in modern times; however, researchers have not yet explicitly theorized and empirically substantiated the array of social and psychological functions heroes might fulfill for individuals. A person who shows the prototypical hero features of bravery, sacrifice, conviction, risk-taking, and moral integrity for an honorable purpose (see Kinsella et al., 2015 ) is likely to provide psychological and social functions for individuals who encounter (or cogitate about) them. The focus of the present article is to systematically examine lay perspectives about the psychological and social functions provided by heroes. We believe that studying the psychological influence of heroes on individuals is a fascinating and worthy topic of study, especially given that heroes are often spatio-temporally distant (e.g., sometimes dead or remote). Focusing on understanding hero functions is likely to offer insights into the processes by which heroes influence individuals and help to discern ways to effectively harness the positive influence of heroes in education, healthcare, communities, or organizations. Examining possible functions fulfilled by heroes may provide another source of evidence about prototypical hero features (e.g., a hero described as providing an inspiring or uplifting function is likely to be characterized as inspirational), thus informing our understanding of the concept.

Understanding how people comprehend the social world can be enlightened by the ways people think about and infer meaning from what occurs around them ( Heider, 1958 ). Increasingly, in health care settings, the lay conceptions explanatory model ( Kleinman et al., 1976 ), is increasingly applied by medical professionals to gain critical insights into what is most important to the individual, what they believe about their health, and what they think will influence them psychologically. As research on attitudes, attitude and behavior, person perception (e.g., stereotyping), self-regulation, and metacognition has shown, people’s beliefs shape their reality and behavior ( Heider, 1958 ; Kruglanski, 1975 ; Snyder, 1984 ; Dweck and Leggett, 1988 ; Igou, 2004 ; Fiske and Taylor, 2008 ). We adopt this perspective for investigating the topic of heroism. In order to understand how heroes are used in everyday life, it is important to examine how heroes are perceived, what qualifies as a hero, and how people think they can use them. Systematically identifying lay perspectives about a topic can be useful in helping to formulate common views that dominate thinking about a given psychological construct. Importantly, examining lay conceptions can be helpful for contributing to a conceptual framework for the development of explicit theories ( Sternberg, 1985 ). In essence, our research makes an important first step toward understanding the social and psychological functions that heroes provide.

Existing literature typically focuses on one aspect of heroic influence, such as social control ( Klapp, 1954 ), rescue from physical harm ( Becker and Eagly, 2004 ), or symbolic immortality ( Becker, 1973 ). In all, the result is a fragmented and diverse interpretation of the many possible functions that heroes may serve for groups and for individuals. This makes it difficult to develop a psychological theory of heroic influence. Before detailing four new empirical studies, we offer a synthesis of existing literary accounts of functions provided by heroes into three broad themes: enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting, which are briefly summarized below.

First, heroes are described in the literature as uplifting and enhancing the lives of others. Heroes may arouse positive emotions such as awe, gratitude, or admiration ( Algoe and Haidt, 2009 ). People may experience positivity as result of being associated with their hero’s exceptional accomplishments ( Allison and Goethals, 2011 ); this process is termed basking in reflected glory ( Cialdini, 2007 ). Heroes may motivate individuals toward being a better person by raising awareness of ought or ideal selves ( Klapp, 1969 ). Also, heroes have been described as directing our own ambitions away from “narrow, self-centered concerns” ( Singer, 1991 , p. 249). These type of encounters may trigger a period of world-focused savoring and social connectedness ( world focus ; Bryant and Veroff, 2007 ), evoking a sense of positive communion with nature and with others. Applying these ideas, The Heroic Imagination Project 1 was set up to offer information about heroism that individuals may use to transform negative situations. Also, the Hero Construction Company 2 uses inspiring narratives about heroes to promote heroic (rather than condemning bullying behavior) in schools. These projects use accounts of heroes such as Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Daniel Ellsberg, and Irena Sendler to educate and inspire others toward create positive change.

Second, heroes are described as modeling morals and values. Heroes uphold the values of society ( Carlyle, 1840 ), act as comparison targets for the masses ( Pretzinger, 1976 ), and model virtues ( Cohen, 1993 ). Also, heroes may help people to understand the norms and values within society ( Erikson, 1977 ; Cohen, 1993 ). Heroes have been described as displaying moral integrity ( Kinsella et al., 2015 ), doing the right thing ( Schwartz and Schwartz, 2010 ), and showing a noble purpose without selfishness ( Singer, 1991 ). Heroes prompt people to do what they can for those who need help, endorsing other-regard ( Flescher, 2003 ). In fact, most heroes meet Colby and Damon’s (1992) criteria for serving as moral exemplars. It may not be realistic to emulate heroes that show moral fortitude, but the encounter may evoke a period of introspection which helps individuals to avoid moral complacency ( Flescher, 2003 ).

Third, the etymology of the word heroes (from Greek heros ) suggests that heroes protect others ( Harper, 2010 ). Some philosophers and psychologists have alluded to the idea that heroes protect against threats to perceptions about one’s own meaning or purpose in life. For example, Hobbs (2010) suggested that heroes offer resources to adults who feel disillusioned. Heroes who uphold cultural values and norms may also serve as a resource for dealing with threats to uncertainty, meaning, or other existential dilemmas ( Becker, 1973 ). Similarly, individuals often strive to create a meaningful life ( Duckworth et al., 2005 ) based on society’s values, often modeled by heroes. Through such means, people create a lasting impact and achieve symbolic immortality ( Goethals and Allison, 2012 ).

Based on our literature review, three broad categories of hero functions are accounted for: enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting. To reach consensus about the types of social and psychological functions that heroes provide, we suggest that examining lay conceptions about hero functions is a useful precursor to developing a theory of hero functions. As such, we first attempted to distill the range of functions that people associate with heroes, and then synthesized this information into meaningful categories (Studies 1 and 2). Second, we illustrated the extent to which individuals perceived that heroes influenced others in a similar or distinct ways to other persons of influence (Study 3). Third, we examined the extent to which people perceived benefits from thinking about heroes, leaders (Study 4A), or acquaintances (Study 4B) during times of threat or unfulfilled needs (e.g., low self-esteem, social isolation, uncertainty) as predicted by Klapp (1969) and Becker (1973) . Thus, the present article responds to the call for further research on heroes ( Zimbardo, 2007 ; Franco et al., 2011 ) and particularly to the call for further research on what good that heroes might do for people ( Allison and Goethals, 2011 ).

The study of the impact of persons’ lay theories on their social understanding has a long history in personality and social psychology (e.g., Hong et al., 2001 ). Following in that tradition, Study 1 aimed to systematically analyze lay persons’ responses to the question: “In your view, what functions do heroes serve?” The term functions was adopted in order to facilitate participants’ inclusion of both positive and negative assessments of heroic actors. The resulting exemplars were analyzed systematically, in accordance with prototype methods ( Hassebrauck, 1997 ). We expected that the most representative functions provided by heroes would be those that our participants expressed most frequently.


One-hundred and eighty-nine participants (116 women, 73 men, M age 29.98 years, SD age = 11.88, age range: 18–73 years) were recruited via Facebook TM and snowball sampling via email ( n = 164), and in the local city center ( n = 25). Participants originated from North America ( n = 90), Europe ( n = 89), and Australasia or Africa ( n = 10). Gender frequencies by geographical location were as follows American (59% female), European (65% female), and Australasian or African (56% female). The mean ages of participants in each geographical location was as follows: American ( M = 28, SD = 11.10), European ( M = 32, SD = 12.89), and Australasian or African ( M = 32, SD = 8.80).

Materials and procedure

Ethical approval was obtained from the University of Limerick’s Research Ethics Committee (Studies 1–4). Informed consent was obtained from all participants (Studies 1–4). Participants completed standardized materials either on paper or online. Those who completed the questionnaire online did not receive any compensation for their participation. Those who filled out the questionnaire in the city center received a coffee as a token of appreciation. Participants were asked: “In your view, what functions do heroes serve?” Participants were informed that “There are no correct or incorrect answers, and this is not a psychological test.” Responses were not timed. Participants were then thanked and debriefed (Studies 1–4).


A verbatim list of exemplars ( n = 344) was compiled. An exemplar is defined as one item from a list, or one unit of meaning ( Joffe and Yardley, 2004 ) from responses that contained multiple connected descriptions of hero functions.

During Phase 1 of coding, two research assistants sorted the original exemplars into superordinate thematic categories without prior knowledge about our predictions. This was achieved by grouping (a) identical exemplars, (b) semantically related exemplars (e.g., “give people hope” and “instill hope”), and (c) meaning-related exemplars into categories (e.g., “keep people safe” and “protect people from evil”) in accordance with the approach taken by previous research ( Hepper et al., 2011 ). In the first round, the first coder identified 13 categories and the second coder identified 14 categories. To reach full agreement it was necessary to create a new category. The first coder’s category, to inspire and motivate , was split into two categories (i.e., to inspire , to motivate) , resulting in 14 function categories.

During Phase 2 of coding, the third and fourth coders independently matched each original exemplar (e.g., “helping somebody to pave the way toward a personal goal”) with the 14 categories (e.g., to help) identified by the first and second coders. There was 76% consistency between the third coder’s ratings and the original coding. There was 67% consistency between the fourth coder’s ratings and the original coding. Most of the inconsistencies arose where coders placed exemplars such as “builders of self-esteem,” “punish the bad,” and “they epitomize what we should be” in multiple categories. If we take semantic units that were multiply classifiable as confirmation of reliability, the figures rise to 83 and 87% which are comparable with other published articles (e.g., Gregg et al., 2008 ).

Categories of hero functions

The independent coders identified 14 categories of functions provided by heroes from the original 344 exemplars (see Table ​ Table1 1 ). The categories of functions that were identified are as follows: to help, to inspire, to motivate, to save, to be a role model, to protect, to instill hope, to improve morale and camaraderie, to make the world a better place, to do what no one else will, to remind people about the good in the world, to guide, to show morals and values, and to act against evil or danger. On average, participants described two exemplars ( M = 2.05, SD = 1.30) 3 .

Fourteen hero functions and relatedness ratings in Study 2.

Linguistic analysis of hero functions

To provide additional information about the exemplars, all responses were subjected to analysis using the textual analysis software, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Version 2007 for Windows (LIWC; Pennebaker et al., 2007 ). LIWC compares each word from every participant’s response against an internal dictionary that contains English words, and then, reports a percentage of words that represent a psychological theme. For example, one participant wrote that heroes “remind us of the human potential,” and LIWC flagged the word human as belonging to the social theme. On average, participants’ descriptions consisted of 26% social (e.g., people, others), 20% affect (e.g., happy, positive), 19% positive emotion (e.g., love), 17% cognitive mechanism (e.g., ought, know), and 8% achievement (e.g., earn, win) themes. This is consistent with the view that heroic benefits are described in positive ways, in particular, relating to social topics, emotions, attitude formation, and taking action to pursue goals.

Some heroes were described as enhancing positive feelings about the self and others (to inspire, to motivate, increase morale) and modeling morals (to provide morals and values, to remind people of the good in the world). Other heroes were described as protecting people, either physically (e.g., “saving lives”) or emotionally (e.g., “to help people in a situation where they are in distress or despair and they are almost ready to give up”). These findings present empirical support to some ideas about why people need heroes presented by Allison and Goethals (2013b) . For instance, those authors suggested that heroes give people hope and offer nurturance (enhancing); educate people about right and wrong, and validate our moral worldviews (moral modeling); and, save us when we are in trouble, pick us up when we are down, and deliver justice (protecting). Each are consistent with the three themes that we identified in the literature.

Participants were invited to rate the relatedness of each heroic function (identified in Study 1) to their own view of heroes. Researchers have used similar methods to identify exemplar representativeness of a prototype (e.g., Hepper et al., 2011 ). Based on the themes that emerged from the literature and from an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) 4 , we expected that the ratings of some functions would cluster together into three categories, with each factor a latent construct representing hero functions: enhancing , moral modeling, and protecting . We tested the extent to which a three-factor model fit the data via a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA).

Factor loadings from factor analysis based on ratings in Study 2.

Two-hundred and forty-nine participants were recruited for this study in a local city center, on the University of Limerick campus, and via the psychological research website, (120 women, 129 men, M age = 32.64 years, SD age = 12.48, age range: 18–67 years).

We offered the participants who we recruited on campus or in the local city center chocolate for their participation in the study. Participants recruited online were not compensated. Participants rated how closely each of the 14 functions of heroes related to their personal view of heroes. After each function category, some common exemplars were provided in brackets: “Inspiration (make you dream, show people what is possible, remind us of the human potential)” and “Shows morals and values (give us a set of values, conserve morals, and values).” All ratings were indicated on a Likert scale that ranged from 1 (not at all related) to 8 (extremely related). Readability statistics for the functions of heroes and associated exemplars include the Flesch Reading Ease = 67.6% and Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level 8.

Descriptive statistics

The ratings for hero functions ranged from 5.65 (to remind people about the good in the world) to 6.48 (to make the world better), on an 8-point Likert scale (see Table ​ Table1 1 ). These results support the idea that these 14 functions represent some of the most important functions provided by heroes.

Confirmatory factor analysis

A CFA tested the three-factor structure that was predicted from our analysis of the literature and from our preliminary results that emerged from an EFA. The analyses were conducted with LISREL 8.8.

In the CFA model, to save, to protect, to help, to do what no one else will, and to act against evil or danger were each specified as the latent factor protecting . To motivate, to role model, to inspire, to instill hope, to provide morale, and to guide were specified as the latent factor enhancing . Finally, to remind people about the good in the world, to show morals and values, and to make the world better were specified as the latent variable moral modeling . Results confirm that this three-factor model fit acceptably with the data, χ 2 (74, n = 248) = 232.82, p < 0.05, goodness of fit index (GFI) = 0.89, the non-normed fit index (NNFI) = 0.92, comparative fit index (CFI) = 0.94, root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) = 0.08, and standardized root mean residual (SRMR) = 0.08. Bentler and Bonett (1980) recommended that measurement models have GFI, NNFI, and CFI of at least 0.90. According to Browne and Cudeck (1993) , RMSEA between 0.05 and 0.08 represents a reasonably close fit, and, RMSEA > 0.10 represents an unacceptable model. Also, Hu and Bentler (1998) suggested that SRMR larger than 0.08 represents an unacceptable model fit.

In accordance with the variety of our participants’ responses, the data suggest that heroes provide more than a single, overarching psychosocial function. Indeed, a one-factor model fit the data inadequately, χ 2 (77, n = 248) = 584.73, p < 0.05, GFI = 0.70, NNFI = 0.81, CFI = 0.19, RMSEA = 0.19, and SRMR = 0.11. None of the fit statistics for the one-factor model reached 0.90 and the RMSEA was well above 0.10. We predicted three categories of heroic influence based on a review of the literature and our EFA results; indeed, the data suggest that this model fit the data well.

Leaders are typically described as persons who are responsible for organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal. More specifically, transformational leaders have been described as those who inspire others and create a future vision ( Bass, 1990 ). Previous research suggests that transformational leaders may provide psychological functions to their followers ( Ilies et al., 2005 ). Leaders are sometimes considered heroic. Allison and Goethals (2011 , 2013a ) draw attention to the number of leaders who are represented on their lists of popular heroes. Some hero functions could also describe the influence of leaders. We wondered if lay theories about hero functions would be measurably distinct from those of leaders.

Next, role models have been described as influential people who are often geographically close, similar in age, and share comparable experiences to their supporter ( Brownhill, 2010 ). In 1991, Singer explained that role models who are closer to their follower are observed carefully and mimicked. Role models have previously been found to engage followers in prosocial behavior ( Bryan and Test, 1967 ) and inspire others ( Lockwood and Kunda, 1997 ). The words hero and role model are often used interchangeably. Thus, we wondered if lay theories about hero functions are measurably distinct from those of role models.

Given the etymology of the word hero (meaning ‘protector’), we expect that heroes would be the best protectors of psychological and physical well-being. Hence, Study 3 examines whether participants would rate the 14 functions (generated in Studies 1–2) equally for heroes, leaders, and role models.

Two-hundred and forty-two post-graduate students (136 females, 106 males, M age = 30.60 years, SD age = 10.64, age range: 18–66 years) were recruited for this online study via the University of Limerick intranet.

The study employed a between-groups design. Participants completed an online questionnaire that prompted them to bring to mind either a leader ( n = 73), a role model ( n = 95), or a heroic individual ( n = 74). Persons were randomly distributed across conditions. Participants rated how closely each of the 14 functions of heroes (described in Studies 1 and 2) related to their personal view of heroes. After each function category, some common exemplars were provided in brackets: “Inspiration (make you dream, show people what is possible, remind us of the human potential)” and “Shows morals and values (give us a set of values, conserve morals and values).” All ratings were indicated on a Likert scale that ranged from 1 (not at all related) to 8 (extremely related).

Rating heroes, leaders, and role models on 14 hero functions

A multivariate General Linear Model evidenced a significant association between type of influential person and associated functions, Wilk’s Lambda F (28,452) = 2.48, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.13. Univariate tests shows significant relationships between type of individual and ratings for the following (see Table ​ Table3 3 ): to help, to save, to motivate, to make the world better, to guide, and to do what no one else will do. Participants rated heroes as more likely to help, to save, to protect, to make the world better, and to do what no one else will. They rated leaders as more likely to motivate and to guide.

Mean (SD) and inferential statistics tests that evidenced significant differences between type of influential person and the participants’ ratings of each in Study 3.

Rating heroes, leaders, and role models on categories of hero functions

Each heroic function was coded as belonging to one of the three categories from Study 2: protecting, enhancing, and moral modeling. A multivariate General Linear Model revealed an association between the type of influential person and the categories of hero functions, Wilk’s Lambda F (6,494) = 3.07, p < 0.01, η p 2 = 0.04. Univariate tests indicated that there were significant relationships between type of individual and ratings for protecting. For instance, heroes were rated as more likely to save, to help, and to do what no one else will do.

There was a significant difference between ratings of protecting for heroes, leaders, and role models, F (2,249) = 4.07, p = 0.02, η p 2 = 0.32. The pairwise comparison revealed mean differences between heroes ( M = 6.09, SD = 1.46) and role models ( M = 5.60, SD = 1.56), t (175) = 2.17, p = 0.03, d = 0.68. Further, the mean differences between heroes ( M = 6.09, SD = 1.46) and leaders ( M = 5.40. SD = 1.50) was significant, t (151) = 2.77, p = 0.01, d = 0.33.

The data highlight some important conceptual distinctions between persons of influence. Heroes, role models, and leaders have potential to serve both enhancing and moral modeling functions. Heroes may provide a protecting function beyond that of role models or leaders. Overall, heroes are more likely to help, save, protect, make the world better, and do what no-one else will than leaders or role models.

The findings illustrate that leaders were rated as more likely to guide and motivate than heroes or role models. This is probably not surprising given that political leaders such as Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are considered heroic by millions of people and are famous for their ability to guide and motivate others. Leaders who display prototypical features of heroism may influence people in different ways than other leaders. For example, transformational leaders are defined as leaders who raise followers to higher levels of effort by appealing to their morals and values ( Chmiel, 2000 ). Also, Allison and Goethals (2013a) helpfully point out that the distinction between indirect and direct leaders (e.g., Gardner, 1995 ) may help us to further understand the overlap between the concepts of hero and leader.

Participants in Study 3 most likely brought to mind direct leaders (e.g., Barack Obama, Angela Merkel), rather than indirect leaders (e.g., Helen Keller, Wesley Autrey). Thus, this study is most likely comparing heroes with direct leaders. Conceptual clarification is needed in order to tease apart the possible functions of direct and indirect leaders, and the overlap with heroic actors.

Role models, due to their accessibility to their follower, are often scrutinized in detail and mimicked ( Singer, 1991 ). Whereas, heroes tend to be distant figures who have endured tremendous suffering and sacrifice for purposes of great nobility, whom we would not wish to emulate ( Singer, 1991 ). These ideas are reflected in recent research that suggests that role models are generally physically close, from the same generation, and have comparable experiences to the follower ( Brownhill, 2010 ).

Previous research has found that lay persons tend to think of role models as more talented, honest, personable, exceptional , and humble than heroes or leaders ( Kinsella et al., 2015 ). Researchers have found that altruistic role models increase the likelihood that those around them engage in prosocial behavior ( Bryan and Test, 1967 ). This is consistent with the findings here that role models provide a moral modeling function. Also, Lockwood and Kunda (1997) described the enhancing function of role models which is consistent with the present research. Of course, negative or ‘bad’ role models are unlikely to be a positive influence on others.


In Studies 4A and 4B we examined the extent to which participants indicate that heroes, leaders and acquaintances fulfill enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting functions when experiencing social or psychological threats. We hypothesized that participants would consistently indicate that heroes fulfill the enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting functions to a greater extent than a leader or an acquaintance.

In a pilot study conducted on the University of Limerick campus, we asked participants ( n = 42) to state whether they believed Nelson Mandela (former President of South Africa), Enda Kenny (Taoiseach, Leader of Fine Gael in Ireland) and Michael O’Leary (Chief Executive of RyanAir airlines) to be either a hero or a leader. Sixty-seven percent of our participants believed that Mandela is a hero rather than a leader or neither (i.e., non-hero/non-leader), in comparison with 64% who believed that Enda Kenny is a leader, and 67% who indicated that Michael O’Leary is a leader. In a study that we conducted in Kinsella et al. (2010) , we found that Mandela was one of the most frequent heroes mentioned. Therefore, in Study 4A we used these target persons to examine perceived functions fulfilled by heroes and leaders in an Irish sample.

Participants and design

In Study 4A (within-subjects design), 38 participants (18 men, 20 women, M age = 22.53, SD age = 2.02) were asked to rate three persons of influence in three different scenarios (enhancing, moral modeling and protecting conditions). In Study 4B (mixed design), 102 participants (55 men, 47 women, M age = 26.34, SD age = 11.58) were randomly assigned to the enhancing, moral modeling, protecting, or control conditions, and then asked to rate both target persons (hero, acquaintance). Participants were recruited in the local city center and did not receive any compensation.

Procedure and materials

In Study 4A, participants were asked to read three statements representing the enhancing, moral modeling and protecting functions of heroes. For enhancing, participants read “If I felt negative about myself and others, thinking about (see person below) would increase my positive feelings about myself and other people, and motivate me to further develop my potential.” For moral modeling, participants read “If I felt disconnected from others and unmotivated to act for the good of the group, thinking about (see person below) would remind me of morals, values and ethics, and encourage me to behave in ways that benefit others.” For protecting, participants read “If I felt threatened in some way or worried about the future, thinking about (see person below) would increase my feeling of protection and safety, and help me to cope with uncertainty.” Participants were then requested to indicate how much they agreed with these three statements, in relation to three named targets (i.e., Nelson Mandela, Enda Kenny, and Michael O’Leary) on the rating scale provided (1 = strongly disagree , 7 = strongly agree ).

In Study 4B, participants were assigned to one of four conditions: enhancing, moral modeling, protecting, and control. To rule out the possibility of a valence effect, we included a control condition that refers to more mundane social interactions (i.e., talking about the weather). This condition was included to control for the potential effect that heroes, positively represented targets, are generally rated more positively than others (i.e., valence effect), or whether heroes are rated more positively only on hero functions. Participants rated self-generated heroes and acquaintances. Specifically, participants were asked to write the name or initials of either a person in their life who they know slightly, but who is not a friend (i.e., an acquaintance), read a statement relating to one of the four conditions, and rate their responses on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree , 7 = strongly agree ). On a separate page, participants were asked to write the names or initials of their personal hero, read a statement and rate their responses on the 7-point Likert scale. In Study 4B, the acquaintance (i.e., non-hero) is the main reference point. Crucially, we predicted that heroes would be viewed more positively than acquaintances at providing enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting functions; further, we expected no differences between targets in the control condition.

Participants in both studies rated specific targets, rather than abstract ideas, of heroes, leaders, and acquaintances. The enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting statements used in Study 4B were identical to those used in Study 4A. A control condition was included in Study 4B to reduce the possibility that heroes received higher ratings across all dependent social measures. As such, the control condition stated “If you think about the weather and how strongly you feel about it, can you see yourself having the wish to talk about it with __.” Discussing the weather in social settings is a prevalent norm in Ireland which forms the basis of relatively mundane social interactions. We use this control condition to examine whether heroes receive inflated ratings across all positive conditions.

Enhancing condition

In Study 4A, for enhancing, there were statistically significant differences between the mean ratings for Mandela ( M = 5.51, SD = 1.21), O’Leary ( M = 3.24, SD = 1.53) and Kenny ( M = 2.89, SD = 1.58), Wilk’s Lambda = 0.478, F (2,35) = 25.59, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.59. Paired samples t-tests were used to compare ratings for each of the target persons. There was a significant difference between mean ratings for Mandela and O’Leary, t (36) = 6.02, p < 0.001, d = 2.01 and for Mandela and Kenny, t (36) = 7.00, p < 0.001, d = 2.33 but not for the leaders, O’Leary and Kenny, t (36) = 1.17, p = 0.09, d = 0.39. Finally, in Study 4B, in the enhancing condition ( n = 25), there was a statistically significant difference on ratings for acquaintance ( M = 3.84, SD = 1.78) and for hero ( M = 4.92, SD = 1.63), t (24) = –2.52, p = 0.02, d = 1.03.

Moral modeling condition

In Study 4A, for moral modeling, there were statistically significant differences between ratings for Mandela ( M = 5.6, SD = 1.36), O’Leary ( M = 2.68, SD = 1.75) and Kenny ( M = 2.51, SD = 1.43), Wilk’s Lambda = 0.221, F (2,35) = 61.78, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.78. There was a significant difference between mean ratings for Mandela and O’Leary, t (36) = 8.50, p < 0.001, d = 2.83, and for Mandela and Kenny, t (36) = 11.25, p < 0.001, d = 3.75. However, there was no significant difference for ratings between the leaders, O’Leary and Kenny, t (36) = –0.67, p = 0.51, d = 0.22. Finally, in Study 4B, in the moral modeling condition ( n = 27), there was a statistically significant difference between acquaintance ( M = 3.59, SD = 1.87) and for hero ( M = 5.74, SD = 1.70), t (26) = –4.45, p < 0.001, d = 1.75.

Protecting condition

In Study 4A, for protecting, there were statistically significant differences between ratings for Mandela ( M = 4.70, SD = 1.83), O’Leary ( M = 2.62, SD = 1.53) and Kenny ( M = 2.65, SD = 1.57), Wilk’s Lambda = 4.78, F (2,35) = 19.12, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.52. There were significant differences between mean ratings for Mandela and O’Leary, t (36) = 6.27, p < 0.001, d = 2.09, and for Mandela and Kenny, t (36) = 5.19, p < 0.001, d = 1.73. However, there was no statistically significant difference on ratings for the leaders, O’Leary and Kenny, t (36) = –0.13, p = 0.90, d = 0.04. Next, in Study 4B, in the Protect condition ( n = 26), there was a significance difference between acquaintance ( M = 3.08, SD = 1.50) and hero ( M = 5.38, SD = 1.86), t (25) = –5.34, p < 0.001.

Control condition

In Study 4B, as predicted, there were no reliable differences between heroes ( M = 4.67, SD = 2.12) and acquaintances ( M = 4.21, SD = 1.87) in the control condition, t (23) = 1.14, p = 0.27.

Interaction analyses for Study 4B

The findings from Studies 4A and 4B supported the hypotheses that participants reported that heroes (to a greater extent than leaders or non-hero targets) provide enhancing, moral modeling and protecting functions if a particular need is threatened or unfulfilled. To further examine this data, we created a heroic function variable comprising of an aggregate of the enhancing, moral modeling and protecting conditions. The non-heroic function variable represents the control condition.

Overall, heroes ( M = 5.36, SD = 1.74) were rated by participants as more likely to provide a heroic function than acquaintances ( M = 3.50, SD = 1.73). A mixed ANOVA was conducted for target person (hero and acquaintance) and functions (hero functions or non-heroic function), with repeated measures on the target person variable. There was a significant interaction between type of function provided and the target person associated with that function, F (1,100) = 7.10, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.07. Participants who thought about a personal hero while imagining social psychological stress expressed greater fulfillment for hero functions than thinking of an acquaintance. Participants who thought about a personal hero while imagining a need to talk socially about the weather (control condition), showed no significant effect. There was a significant main effect for target person, Wilk’s Lambda = 0.84, F (1,100) = 19.42, p < 0.001, η p 2 = 0.16. There was no significant main effect for functions, F (1,100) = 0.98, p = 0.98, η p 2 = 0.

In Study 4, two studies elucidated lay beliefs about the functions of heroes and in particular, how individuals may use heroes as a resource if a given need is threatened or unfulfilled. Participants rated heroes as more likely to fulfill enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting functions than other targets, offering support to our hypotheses. Study 4B illustrated that participants did not rate heroes higher across all positive social functions. Study 4B replicates and extends the findings from Study 4A. We think that participants were discerning in their beliefs that heroes serve enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting needs, but not necessarily other social or emotional needs (e.g., daily social pleasantries). In sum, we demonstrated that participants view heroes as a resource for coping when psychological or social needs are threatened or unfulfilled.


A primary goal of this research was to clarify lay perspectives about hero functions and to ascertain the extent to which such functions are similar to or different from each other, and to the themes that we identified in the exiting literature. This review led us to the assertion that the subjective functions provided by heroes can be represented in three categories: enhancing, moral modeling, and protecting.

Independent coder analyses of lay conceptions (Study 1) revealed 14 perceived functions provided by heroes, for example, to inspire, to protect, to guide, to instill hope, and to motivate. Another sample rated each of the 14 function categories in terms of importance (Study 2). CFA established that our predicted three-factor model, including the factors protecting, enhancing, and moral modeling, fit the data well in comparison to a poorly fitting one-factor model. In Study 3 we asked participants to rate heroes, role models, or leaders across all 14 hero functions. The results illustrated that heroes were perceived as more likely to help, to save, to protect, to make the world better, and to do what no one else will. Heroes were perceived by participants as protecting others more than both leaders and role models. In Studies 4A and 4B the results evidenced that participants viewed heroes as a resource for experiencing enhancement, moral modeling, and protection when psychological or social needs were threatened or unfulfilled. The present studies suggest that lay theories can provide a useful assessment in the study of heroism. We use the information from the literature and lay conceptions of heroes to form a conceptual framework, the Hero Functions Framework, which is integrative and can serve as a basis for future research. We describe this framework below.


Enhancing function.

According to lay conceptions, heroes motivate, act as a role model, inspire, instill hope, improve morale and camaraderie, and guide others. Participants described feeling positive affect when thinking of heroes, “making them feel happy” and “helping people to live a happy life.” Heroes were frequently described by participants as making people “feel better about the world,” “more positive about humanity,” and reminding people of “the good in the world.” To us, this makes sense, because when a person feels good about the self they are more positive and less misanthropic toward other people too (e.g., Ybarra, 1999 ). One person described heroes as “builders of self-esteem.” Heroes were portrayed as elevating and motivating people, for example, “[they] elevate the rest of us to a place of courage” or “elevate the consciousness of others.” The enhancing function is linked to previous writings about heroes who instigate periods of transcendence ( Klapp, 1969 ), induce a perspective shift ( Allison and Goethals, 2011 ), increase the positive emotions experienced by others ( Algoe and Haidt, 2009 ), and increase social connectedness ( Smith, 1976 ). Future research will help to clarify the apparent role of heroes in helping individuals to cope with or transcend difficult situations.

Upward social comparisons with role models ( Lockwood and Kunda, 1997 ) and do-gooders ( Minson and Monin, 2012 ) can sometimes result in perceived self-threats and self-deflation. Individuals do, however, sometimes actively seek out upward social comparisons in order to gain an accurate self-assessment and to self-enhance ( Collins, 1996 ). In fact, a person can consciously prevent upward comparisons from influencing their self-evaluations and choose to use that information to inspire, motivate, and promote positive affect instead ( Taylor and Lobel, 1989 ).

When experiencing the threat of uncertainty (e.g., during major life transitions), superior others and role models can be perceived as inspiring if the more established person has successfully overcome similar adjustment difficulties and their behaviors are perceived as attainable ( Lockwood et al., 2012 ). The mystery behind heroes is that, although their exceptional behavior is normally out of reach of regular people and even though they are single exemplars which are particularly likely to induce judgmental contract effects, heroes still appear to produce motivational assimilation effects. We suspect this is because heroes, though individuals, embody abstract values. We believe that people typically process information about heroes at an abstract level and use the information as a source of motivation for their goals. Future research on heroes could draw from construal level theory ( Trope and Liberman, 2010 ) to investigate the role of psychological distance on the social comparison interpretations of heroic influence.

Alternatively, the positive (and non-threatening) influence of heroes could be interpreted from a recent theory of inspiration. For instance, Thrash et al. (2010) note that people first appreciate the exceptional efforts of the inspirational target (resulting in feelings of transcendence and meaning) which in turn is translated into a personal desire to perform at a higher level in one’s own life (evoking feelings of self-responsibility and volitional control). In all, theories of social comparison and inspiration both help to generate specific hypotheses about heroes. Taken together, these ideas pave the foundation for future research into the psychological processes associated with the enhancing influence of heroes.

Moral modeling function

Some hero functions are abstract and symbolic, for example, reminding people about the good in the world, showing morals and values, and making the world a better place. Research about moral exemplars may elucidate the moral modeling function of heroes ( Colby and Damon, 1992 ; Matsuba and Walker, 2005 ; Walker and Frimer, 2007 ; Frimer et al., 2011 , 2012 ). In our studies, lay persons described heroes as “increasing positive feelings about humanity” and promoting “confidence that there is good in the world.” When a person feels good about their own self they are more receptive to negative information about themselves ( Trope and Neter, 1994 ). Given this, it is no coincidence that heroes boost our feelings of happiness and simultaneously reveal our missing qualities.

Fascinatingly, participants described heroes as “moral symbols to protect everyday innocent people,” “providing moral goals for society,” and that they “personify the things we cannot articulate.” In our studies it was clear that some heroes were perceived by participants to act as agents of social justice, striving to improve the situations of the disadvantaged. This is consistent with Sorel (1912) who argued that social movements require a narrative with sufficient moral and emotional force to give clarity and inspiration to an account of events. Indeed, heroic individuals can give meaning to collective action and promote group solidarity. Narrative psychology offers a useful lens through which researchers and individuals can seek to understand the role of heroes in moral narratives.

Lay conceptions refer to heroes that make them “aware of the rest of humanity,” perhaps shifting their focus away from individual concerns and redirecting toward a world-focus perspective ( Bryant and Veroff, 2007 ). This is consistent with previous research that suggests that moral exemplars typically integrate both agentic and communal motives ( Frimer et al., 2011 , 2012 ). In our research, one participant described how heroes teach us that it is possible to be altruistic in an egocentric world [similar to scholarly points made by Flescher (2003) ], regulating the self toward more noble purposes ( Singer, 1991 ), even when those decisions may require courage, conviction, and integrity. The extent that heroes influence moral willpower and moral decision-making, perhaps via a process of self-regulation, has not yet been investigated.

Protecting function

Lay conceptions suggest that heroes provide a protecting function: they save, help, guide, protect, act against evil or danger, and do what no one else will do. Heroes may help people to restore positive feeling about others and buffer negative feelings about themselves. For instance, one participant described a hero who helped her in a car crash. Another participant wrote about a hero who assisted her “to get through the tough times,” offering additional coping resources (suggested by Hobbs, 2010 ).

Heroes were frequently depicted as representing the “fight for good against evil” or “stopping the bad in humanity.” Those who believe that heroes are proactively taking action to combat evil or danger may feel safeguarded (e.g., “a hero’s job is making citizens feel safe”) and more certain about the future (e.g., “tomorrow we will be safe”). Other scholarly work indicates that persons use metaphors, myths, or symbols to give coherence to their lives ( Campbell, 1988 ; Lakoff and Johnson, 2003 ). Perhaps heroes, similar to powerful myths and metaphors, are used as tools for dealing with uncertainty ( Van den Bos, 2009 ). Both leaders and heroes were described as offering guidance and leadership through the complexity of daily life. This is interesting given that many heroes do not occupy formal leadership positions. Formal and informal leadership theory ( Gardner, 1995 ) may help to elucidate the influence of heroes who occupy direct or indirect leadership positions ( Allison and Goethals, 2013a ). Traditionally, direct leaders pull a group toward a tangible goal, whereas indirect leaders (and heroes) guide a new way of thinking, being, or doing within a particular group, sometimes without tangible outcomes. This point underscores the value of current efforts to unveil the complexity of lay perspectives about the psychosocial functions fulfilled by heroes.


Writers have alluded to the psychological benefits derived from heroic encounters, yet this fragmented information has not been synthesized or empirically studied. Until this point, the functions of heroes have been dealt with in a relatively superficial and piecemeal manner. Thus, the present research aimed to narrow the gaps in our understanding of heroes by presenting four studies that elucidate lay perspectives about the social and psychological functions of heroes. Similarly, we synthesize ideas about heroes in the extant literature, in an attempt to offer a novel conceptual framework, the Hero Functions Framework. With this framework in place, researchers can systematically assess the influence of heroes while simultaneously taking into account the type of hero, individual differences, and situational influences. Our research is a starting point, an important step in understanding how heroes are used psychologically and socially.

Klapp (1969) suggested that the media capitalize on the desire for heroes and present heroes (and more often pseudo-heroes) in order to fulfill this need and “vainly do we make scores of artificial celebrities grow where nature planted only a single hero” ( Boorstin, 1992 , p. 76). Other authors similarly noted that “the need for heroes is so strong that the media will manufacture pseudo-heroes to meet it” ( Schwartz and Schwartz, 2010 , p. 32). The impact of pseudo-heroism, celebrity culture, and negative role models is of serious concern for parents, educators, governments, researchers, and many others. For instance, a great deal of debate exists about the over-sexualization of children and teenagers as a result of exposure to negative role models and the absence of real heroes who help others to move toward more noble purposes ( Singer, 1991 ). If people need external reference points for goals, standards, and ways to behave ( Schlenker et al., 2008 ), it is important to make salient heroes, role models, and leaders who serve as models for desirable conduct in a particular group. We study heroes empirically with the hope that this information will be used in responsible ways that benefit others, albeit not heroically but with good intensions. Unfortunately the great tyrants of history have been held up as heroes by the unsuspecting masses, skillfully manipulated through propaganda. Part of the value of this research may be in deterring inappropriate hero worship as much as encouraging appropriate hero worship.

So far, we have examined lay conceptions of heroes—perceivable and conceivable functions expressed by hundreds of mostly young adults—rather than actual or measurable functions that heroes fulfill. It is possible that lay persons overstate the psychosocial functions that heroes provide in their everyday lives, or that heroes provide functions which are outside of their conscious awareness. In view of the introspective illusion (e.g., Pronin, 2009 ), one might question whether and to what extent people, if they are not experts on their own mental processes, can provide valid reports about how heroes function psychologically. Although, lay theories about mental processes can be accurate (see Nisbett and Wilson, 1977 ), we acknowledge that the present research offers suggestive evidence only; it is part of a relatively new empirical story and impetus for further research.


Future research needs to examine how lay perspectives relate to actual changes in the self and self-regulatory processes. The next phase of this research will be to demonstrate the effects of information about heroes on participants in lab settings. Specifically, there is a need to examine the protecting, enhancing, and moral modeling functions of heroes as dependent variables affected by exposure to heroes of heroic acts. This is a broader research question than we intended to study in the present article.

So far, the functions listed for ‘known’ versus ‘unknown’ heroes have not been independently assessed. People’s relationship with their heroes varies widely and as a result they may derive different benefits from encounters. For instance, it is likely that people who have a personal relationship with their heroic grandmother will derive different benefits than a person who has developed a parasocial relationship ( Horton and Wohl, 1956 ) with Nelson Mandela. The types of parasocial relationships people have with influential people, such as heroes, celebrities, or sports stars, are underexplored.

Heroes have been described as shaping and representing culture ( Hegel, 1975 ) and providing a source of social control ( Klapp, 1954 ). The heroes worshipped in a given group may reveal that a group’s most cherished values. In some cases, heroes represent minority values, speaking out against dominant cultural values, and as agents of change. In the present article, a full analysis of cultural differences in lay perceptions about heroes was not possible. The few participants from Africa, Australia, and Asia preclude us to make generalizations across countries or continents. Nonetheless, we think that studying the variety of cultural representations of heroes is a fruitful avenue for future research. For instance, research suggests that Japanese individuals tend to cherish the suffering of their heroes ( Benedict, 1946 ); whereas, in Western cultures, there is a tendency to savor heroic efforts that result in a happy outcome ( Heine et al., 1999 ). Such research looms on the horizon in our labs.

The present research studies potential social and psychological functions served by heroes using deductive and inductive methods. Our research offers a conceptual framework that facilitates the development of a psychological theory of heroism, as well as helping to pave the way for additional research on hero functions and the consideration of how gender and culture might each influence and be influenced by heroes. Given the assortment of physical, psychological, and social reward people associate with heroes, it is unsurprising that many individuals offer “homage, commemoration, celebration, and veneration” to their heroes in return ( Klapp, 1954 , p. 57).

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We thank A. Gregg, P. Ryan, and reviewers for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. We thank F. van Dongen, G. O’Malley, K. O’ Malley, and W. A. P. van Tilburg for their help with data collection.



3 There was no significant sex differences between the number of exemplars reported, t (187) = –1.01, p = 0.31. There was no relationship between age and number of exemplars reported ( r = 0.07, p = 0.36). There were no significant differences between USA and European participants regarding the number of exemplars provided, t < 1. There were no significant differences between community and online participants regarding the number of exemplars provided, t < 1.

The results of the EFA (see Table ​ Table2 2 ) suggested three factors that represent our respondents’ ratings of hero functions. The ratings that loaded onto Factor 1 included to save, to protect, to help, to do what no one else will, and to act against evil or danger. We termed this factor protecting . The items that loaded strongly onto Factor 2 were to motivate, to role model, to inspire, to instill hope, to provide morale, and to guide. We call this factor enhancing . The items that loaded onto Factor 3 were to remind people about the good in the world, to show morals and values, and to make the world better. We named this factor moral modeling .

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The time has come to change our model of heroism

do we need heroes essay

Heroes are not just mythical creatures

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Do we still need heroes in today’s world?


I have been thinking about what being a hero means generally. As a society, such an accolade is often attributed to persons who have contributed to the extraordinary. (“What makes an everyday hero?”; Talking Point)

Too often, though, in the media and in a generation of interactive gaming and such, the term hero is exploited to categorise characters with extraordinary powers.

It is thus harder for the generation growing up today to appreciate fully the significance of ordinary people doing ordinary things as heroic. Then again, must we be constantly acknowledging and giving out awards for every deed?

Doing so would have a knock-on effect. Certificates, scholarships and accolades would soon be meaningless if quantity, not quality, is seen to prevail. It is also time to move away from a carrot-and-stick mentality as Singapore matures.

Growing up is about having confidence in one’s ability to go about life with maturity and dignity. Giving one’s best most of the time is what matters as individuals, as a community and as a nation.

That ultimately makes a society socially richer, so there may be a need for a mindset shift for the future generation. Building up self-reliant, motivated and forward-thinking individuals is what the country needs in the longer term.

We live in a globalised world and our backyard is no longer the yardstick. It is good to remember the past, but preparing for the future is more important.

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Home       Issues     September 2020     The World Needs Heroes

The World Needs Heroes

Heroes are extraordinary people like you, who—by their own actions—choose not to be ordinary.

The World Needs Heroes

September 2020   minute read

By: Bruce Horovitz

Most of us grew up thinking that heroes are found in the colorful pages of comic books, the fast-paced scenes of action films and in the starting lineups of professional sports teams. Most of us would be wrong.

do we need heroes essay

That’s because true heroic acts rarely involve saving someone’s life or hitting a game-winning home run in Game Seven of the World Series. Our day-to-day heroic acts—particularly for those in the c-store industry—mostly involve showing up at work each day, even during the pandemic, and not only greeting customers with a smile but also finding small ways to make each store visit somehow memorable. And for convenience retailers in particular, it’s about adopting that same heroic philosophy with every employee to make them feel as if they truly matter, too.

“Convenience stores rank among the most competitive businesses on the planet,” said Kevin Brown, a general session speaker at this year’s NACS Show virtual experience. “The way we differentiate in this space is how we lead and the environment that we create. We should never treat the people on the outside better than those on the inside.”

His topic, “The Hero Effect,” could not be more relevant to a NACS audience urgently seeking guidance in this most challenging time. If ever there was a time for c-store heroes to step up—and that can be any and all of us—it is right now, amid a pandemic that just won’t seem to let go and a social justice moment that is touching America at its core. In a confusing era of face masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing and social protests, c-store customers are simply seeking moments of comfort. Each one of the nation’s 152,720 c-stores represents a potential beacon of hope—and harbor of heroism—to the millions of customers who walk through the doors daily.

Brown, who is a self-professed expert on heroism, said American culture needs to totally flip its definition of heroes. Heroes are not ordinary people who do extraordinary things, he said. Instead, he insists, it’s the opposite: Heroes are extraordinary people who—by their own actions—choose not to be ordinary. “Everyone has special talents and gifts and abilities as unique as their own fingerprints,” he said. It’s just a matter of using them.

Heroes serve people at a very high level with no strings attached.

What makes a hero? According to Brown:

Heroes help. They serve people at a very high level with no strings attached. In the c-store world, that means keeping an eye on every customer who walks in the door. Do they have a disability and need extra help? Are they regular customers who should be greeted by name? Are they a bit older and might need help getting something down from a shelf? “This isn’t about going the extra mile but taking just one extra step to help someone else.”

Heroes create a special experience. From the minute customers walk into the store, their experience must be “world class” or they have zero reason to return. What does the store look like and smell like? Is it clean? What’s the music like? Is it pleasing to walk into the store—or do customers want to get out as soon as they can? “In the absence of a special experience, you’re only competing on price.”

Heroes take responsibility. Heroic bosses, in particular, take 100% responsibility for everything that happens with their companies and their stores. Instead of blaming the weather, the government or your employees, look in the mirror. “As an owner I have to look at what I can do to create the very best experience for my customer. Heroes never show up and start blaming. Superman never blames Batman.”

do we need heroes essay

Heroes are optimistic. Heroes see life not as it is, but as it should be. They go through life looking for possibilities. For heroic bosses, that means providing career paths for employees and helping them get there. For heroic c-store employees, that means recognizing that every customer who walks in the door is carrying a burden of some sort. “Everyone walks in dragging baggage. I can add to the baggage, or I can lighten the load with a little bit of kindness. Coming to the c-store doesn’t have to be yet one more hassle they have to face today.”

How can a c-store employee making minimum wage even begin to relate to being a hero?

It’s all about the team culture, said Brown. It’s a culture that fast food’s Chick-fil-A tries to ingrain in each employee. “It’s all about the leader creating an environment where you feel respected and you get recognized when things work out well,” said Brown. “Whatever behavior you are modeling is what you’ll get back from your employees.”

In a COVID-19 era, the need for heroes becomes even more critical.

“The crisis does not create heroes, it reveals them,” said Brown. “The c-store clerks are everyday heroes who have always been there.” But it’s not just showing up to work daily that makes them heroes in this era—but the actions they take once they’re there. “The time that a clerk takes to make me feel like this moment in time matters means everything to me,” said Brown. “It’s about taking it beyond the notion that we’re just blowing through each other’s space exchanging dollars.”

Everyone walks in dragging baggage. I can add to the baggage or I can lighten the load with a little bit of kindness.

Why does the world need more heroes right now?

We need them because heroes bring a sense of calm and hope in a world so lacking in both, said Brown. For a c-store clerk, the very first step toward showing a sense of calm, and even hope, is to smile at each patron who walks in the door. “Better for your smile to pull them up, then for their frown to pull you down,” said Brown. A smile, after all, is not some random act of kindness—it’s intentional. That requires showing up at work with a sense of joy—and kindness.

Beyond the smile, it can simply be a greeting. When Brown walks into his favorite c-store in central Florida, where he lives, the clerk, Billy, not only knows Brown’s name, but has nicknamed him Mr. B. “Nobody else calls me that, but I love it. He knows I’m coming in to get a coffee and a Power Bar, and he remembers it,” said Brown. It’s all about validation. Each of us likes to feel needed, wanted and remembered. “Would Billy lay down in front of a train for me? No. But at least he gives me the perception that he sees me, he hears me and that I matter.”

Most of the time, the small acts of being heroic cost nothing, but the return on investment is extraordinary. That, for example, is why Brown will go out of his way to stop at the c-store where Billy works.

Heroic acts don’t require headline-grabbing feats, such as the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson,” when US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger lost all engine power on his flight and still managed to glide the plane to a soft landing on the Hudson River, with all 155 people on board rescued. “Everyone has the capacity to land on the Hudson every day, but it just doesn’t look like you’ve landed on the Hudson. When you help someone take the stress out of their lives, you just landed on the Hudson,” said Brown.

Ah, but how to retain these heroic employees?

Brown, who particularly admires the work habits of Chick-fil-A employees, makes references to a study the chain did on how to retain the best workers. It advises:

  • Be a great boss. People want to work for bosses who will mentor them. And if you’re a boss who is not training your employees enough or paying them too little, you must find a way to improve on both counts.
  • Offer a career path. Every employee wants to know: What does the future look like for me here? Show them the possibility of that path early on and make it attainable.
  • Make them feel important. Most people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves that helps to contribute to the greater good of the world. Through philanthropy or community service, make that path possible for all employees at your stores.

Being heroic is about not buying into stereotypes. You can be a stereotypically unclean c-store that focuses on selling cigarettes and beer, or you can decide that you are something bigger and better than that stereotype and be known, instead, for all the positive things you do for the community, Brown said. “Instead of living down to stereotypes, be the one to set a new standard.”

Who was Brown’s c-store hero?

Way back when he was a kid growing up in Muskegon, Michigan, Brown made money cutting grass, then headed straight to the local c-store, where owner Mr. Lack would not only sell him Red Hot Dollars penny candy and a Coke, but he always tossed some extra Eucalyptus candies in the bag, at no extra charge.

“That was my reward for going to a place where they knew me,” Brown said. “Mr. Lack was a hero.”

You can be one, too.

Visit for more information on how the NACS Show is transforming into a digital platform this fall.

Bruce Horovitz

Bruce Horovitz

Bruce Horovitz is a freelance journalist and national media training consultant. Contact him at [email protected]

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In India’s poorest rural families, goat rearing is an important source of income.

Inspiring acts

Incredible people caring for those in need during COVID-19.

When I was a kid, my image of a hero was largely inspired by my dad’s collection of early Superman comics. I read them all. A “hero” was somebody who had supernatural powers like flying, laser vision, or the strength to bend steel.

As humans, of course, we’re all pretty limited in our physical powers. We don’t fly. We can’t see through walls. But what’s unbounded in us is our ability to see injustices and to take them on—often at great risk to ourselves.

My work in global health and development has introduced me to many extraordinary heroes with this kind of superpower. And I’ve had the honor of highlighting many of them on this blog : An epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox . A doctor working to end sexual violence in Africa. A researcher working to end hunger with improved crops. Just to name a few.

Why do we need heroes?

Because they represent the best of who we can be. Their efforts to solve the world’s challenges demonstrate our values as a society and they serve as powerful examples of how to make a positive difference in the world. And if enough people hear about their actions, they can inspire others to do something heroic too.

If there’s ever been a time that we need heroes, it’s now. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented health and economic challenges, especially for the most vulnerable among us. The good news is that many people from all walks of life are doing their part to help them. Health care workers. Scientists. Firefighters. Grocery store workers. Aid workers. Vaccine trial participants. And ordinary citizens caring for their neighbors.

Here are portraits of a few individuals from around the world working to alleviate suffering during this pandemic. I hope their stories inspire you just as much as they have me.

To these heroes and heroes everywhere, thank you for the work you do!

1. One million bars of soap and counting

For the last four years, Basira Popul has been a dedicated polio worker in Afghanistan, traveling from home to home to help vaccinate children and bring an end to the crippling disease.

do we need heroes essay

Basira Popul knocks on the door of a house during home visits, distributing soap and educating families about the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, social distancing restrictions forced the polio workers to pause their vaccination campaigns. But that didn’t stop their efforts to improve the health of the communities they serve. Instead of vaccinating for polio, Basira and thousands of her colleagues are now distributing bars of soap and giving hygiene lessons to curb the spread of the virus.

do we need heroes essay

Basira demonstrates proper handwashing to children in the Surkh-Rōd District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.

do we need heroes essay

Basira speaks with a mother about proper sanitation, hygiene, and handwashing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They have raised awareness of the coronavirus throughout the country and given out more than one million bars of soap to help keep families in Afghanistan safe.

2. It’s a hot and uncomfortable job, but she loves it

As a COVID-19 tester in Bangalore, India, Shilpashree A.S. (Like many people in India, she uses initials referring to her hometown and her father’s name as her last name.) dons PPE, including a protective gown, goggles, latex gloves, and a mask. Then, she steps inside a tiny booth with two holes for her arms to reach through to perform nasal swab tests on long lines of patients.

do we need heroes essay

Shilpashree A.S., a COVID-19 tester and lab technician, tests a patient who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, from within a booth at the Jigani Primary Health Center in Bengaluru, India.

She has a critical job during this pandemic, but it comes with many hardships. “It’s hot and uncomfortable,” Shilpashree said of the hours she spends dressed in layers of protective gear inside the booth.

do we need heroes essay

Shilpashree and other health workers get organized to carry out tests on the side of the road in Bengaluru, India.

do we need heroes essay

Patients line up at the Jigani Primary Health Center for COVID-19 testing in Bengaluru, India.

The challenges continue after work. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, she is not allowed to have contact with her family. For the last five months she’s only been able to visit with them on video calls. “I haven’t yet seen my children or hugged them,” she said. “It is like seeing a fruit from up-close but not eating it.” Still, there is no other job she would rather be doing right now. “Even though this involves risk, I love this job. It brings me happiness,” she said.

do we need heroes essay

After a long day of testing, Shilpashree inputs the test results into a centralized database.

3. Trial benefits

Scientists around the world are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine. There are more than 150 vaccine candidates in development and dozens of trials underway. All these trials need volunteers willing to step forward and help test whether the vaccine is effective and safe. One of those volunteers is Thabang Seleke from Soweto, South Africa.

do we need heroes essay

Thabang Seleke plays with his youngest child in front of his home in South Africa after returning from the clinic where he is participating in Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial.

Thabang is participating in the first African trial of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 coronavirus vaccine, which was developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford. It is also undergoing trials in the UK, U.S., and Brazil. The South Africa trial involves 2,000 volunteers within the Soweto area of Johannesburg, and is being run by Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

do we need heroes essay

Thabang, who lives in Soweto, South Africa, takes a local taxi to visit the clinic where researchers will monitor his symptoms and immune responses during the vaccine trial.

do we need heroes essay

Thabang has blood and swab samples taken during each visit to the clinic to make sure he remains COVID-19 negative and there are no negative side effects from the vaccine.

do we need heroes essay

Thabang double checks his vaccine trial paperwork after finishing his clinic visit.

do we need heroes essay

Professor Shabir Madhi, who is managing the South African vaccine trial, shows Thabang how to fill in his diary card where he will log his symptoms and any side effects he may experience from the vaccine.

In South Africa, more than 600,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 13,000 people have died from it since March. Thabang heard about the trial from a friend and stepped forward to join to help bring an end to the coronavirus in Africa and beyond. This trial, Thabang said, “will benefit the whole world.”

do we need heroes essay

Thabang poses with his family outside their home in Soweto.

4. The best of humanity at a time of crisis

do we need heroes essay

Sikander Bizenjo, founder of Balochistan Youth Against Corona, smiles with children in an isolated tribal settlement in Naal, Balochistan, Pakistan, after distributing food assistance to the community.

When COVID-19 spread into Pakistan, Sikander Bizenjo knew where the pandemic would have the biggest impact: on the poorest areas of his country, including places like his home province of Balochistan. More than 70 percent of the population in this arid, mountainous region in southwestern Pakistan lives in poverty and struggles to gain access to education and health care.

do we need heroes essay

Balochistan Youth Against Corona volunteers pack ration bags for the food distribution drive.

do we need heroes essay

A young child stands inside their home after receiving a ration bag and soap from Balochistan Youth Against Corona.

Sikander had moved away from Balochistan to Karachi, where he is now a manager at a business school. But he knew he needed to do something to help his home during the pandemic. After reaching out to local government officials and aid organizations, he learned that many families lacked food and that health facilities had shortages of medical equipment. So he founded a group called the Balochistan Youth Against Corona, which raises funds for monthly food rations for 10,000 households in Balochistan as well of personal protective equipment, masks, face shields and hand sanitizers for frontline health workers.

do we need heroes essay

Sikander works on the distribution drive from his grandfather’s home in Naal, Balochistan.

do we need heroes essay

Sikander speaks to villagers about the importance of soap and handwashing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while distributing soap packets to them.

The support from other volunteers and donors has been overwhelming, he said. “I’ve seen the very best of humanity come out of this pandemic. People have been supporting us. People have been so kind and generous,” he said.

5. Tuning into better health with Sister Banda

If you have a question about COVID-19 in Zambia, you’ll want to tune into FM 99.1 Yatsani Community Radio. You’ll get advice on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from Catholic nun and social worker Sister Astridah Banda.

do we need heroes essay

Catholic nun and social worker Sister Astridah Banda prepares to record her COVID-19 Awareness Program on Yatsani Community Radio in Lusaka, Zambia.

Sister Banda is not a doctor, but she is a passionate public health advocate. When the coronavirus arrived in Zambia, she noticed that most of the public health bulletins about social distancing, masks, and handwashing were being written in English. While English is an official language in Zambia, many people speak one of Zambia’s seven local languages and they were missing out on this critical information. Sister Banda wanted everyone to have access. So, in March, she approached Yatsani Community Radio and asked to start broadcasts where she could translate health bulletins into Zambia’s local languages and provide other critical news on the coronavirus. Her show, which airs several times each week, is produced in a talk show format with various guests who discuss specific health topics and answer questions from callers.

do we need heroes essay

When she’s not on the air, Sister Banda gives lessons to community leaders in Lusaka, Zambia on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including good hand washing practices.

do we need heroes essay

Sister Banda (right) with Sister Christabel Kazembe preparing face masks for community distribution in Lusaka, Zambia.

It now reaches more than 1.5 million people, creating a community of listeners looking out for one another to get through this pandemic. “The whole pandemic has brought humanity together,” she said. “We realize that our life is actually short and we need to spend most of it building on what is important. And these are relationships. Getting in touch with one another, being there for each other.”

6. “The answers lie within each of us”

When the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, Ethel Branch grew alarmed that her community didn’t have what it needed to deal with the virus.

do we need heroes essay

A building near the highway depicting mask awareness in the time of COVID-19 on the Navajo reservation in Cameron, Arizona.

The Navajo and Hopi Reservations have many elderly people living without electricity or running water who would need support. She decided she should try to do something about it. Ethel, a former attorney general for the Navajo Nation, resigned from her job at a law firm. She created a GoFundMe page and built an organization called Navajo Hopi Solidarity to help bring relief to the elderly, single parents, and struggling families. To date, she has raised over $5 million. Other community members also found ways to help, including Wayne Wilson and his son, Shelvin, who deliver water to dozens of families in need.

do we need heroes essay

Ethel Branch, founder of Navajo Hopi Solidarity, a COVID-19 relief organization, poses with her 6-month old son in Flagstaff, Arizona.

do we need heroes essay

Many parts of the Navajo Nation don’t have access to water. Wayne Wilson and his son Shelvin bring water to vulnerable families throughout the reservation.

Ethel’s organization has assisted 5,000 families across the reservations. She works with young volunteers from the reservations to deliver food to those in need. “It’s been really amazing. The teamwork, people just stepping forward and making things happen,” she said. “The answers lie within each of us. Each of us has the ability to make choices and to take action and have a positive impact on our community.”

do we need heroes essay

Volunteers for the relief organization Navajo Hopi Solidarity deliver food to families in need in Chinle, Arizona.

7. A long journey to better women’s health

Even before COVID-19, Laxmi Rayamajhi’s job providing birth control services in the remotest areas of Nepal was never easy.

do we need heroes essay

Laxmi Rayamajhi hikes to provide family planning services at Bela, Panchkhal Municipality-10, Kavrepalanchok, Nepal.

As a community health worker for Marie Stopes International, she hikes for hours over hazardous terrain, crossing rivers and landslides to reach the villages she services. But the pandemic has created new obstacles. A national lockdown, supply chain disruptions, and overwhelmed health facilities have all made it more difficult to deliver sexual and reproductive health care services to women in Nepal. And many women won’t visit local health facilities to seek care because they fear they will be infected with the coronavirus.

do we need heroes essay

Laxmi talks to local women about family planning and reproductive health.

do we need heroes essay

Laxmi counsels one of her clients at a remote health post in Nepal.

These healthcare challenges are being experienced by women throughout the world. According to one estimate, if these disruptions continue, 49 million additional women in low- and middle-income countries will go without contraceptives over the next year, leading to 15 million additional unplanned pregnancies. Still, Laxmi and thousands of care providers like her are working tirelessly to overcome these obstacles.

do we need heroes essay

Laxmi inserts a long-lasting contraceptive implant in a client visiting a remote health post in Nepal. The implant prevents pregnancy for up to 5 years.

Laxmi continues to make her long journeys through Nepal to remote health posts to provide care to women in need. For those not comfortable seeing her in-person, she now provides phone consultations. “With my efforts, if women’s health gets better, and creates a healthy impact in our communities, I am grateful,” she said.

Meet more of my heroes in the field

do we need heroes essay

This year signaled the start of a new era. Here’s why I believe next year is an opportunity to shape the world’s next chapter for the better.

do we need heroes essay

What the biggest country in South America can teach the world about healthcare.

do we need heroes essay

I got to meet with amazing scientists working on the next big breakthrough while I was in Dakar.

do we need heroes essay

A city-dwelling mosquito threatening Africa sparks innovation in the fight against malaria.

This is my personal blog, where I share about the people I meet, the books I'm reading, and what I'm learning. I hope that you'll join the conversation.

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What Makes a Person Heroic?

Characteristics of a hero.

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

do we need heroes essay

Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker. She has co-authored two books for the popular Dummies Series (as Shereen Jegtvig).

do we need heroes essay

  • Definitions
  • Characteristics

What makes a person heroic? Is there a hero gene, naturally giving someone the characteristics of a hero? According to one study, the answer might rest in the type of heroism we are addressing.

In a paper published in 2010, researchers reported that people who engaged in one-time acts of bravery (like rushing into a burning building or rescuing someone from the path of an oncoming train) are not necessarily that much different from control groups of non-heroes.

By contrast, people who engage in lifelong heroism (such as professional nurses who regularly comfort the sick and dying) do share a number of important personality traits such as empathy , nurturance, and a need to live by a moral code.

Definitions of Heroism

The scientific study of heroism is a relatively recent topic of interest within the field of psychology.

Researchers have offered different definitions of exactly what makes a hero, but most suggest that heroism involves prosocial, altruistic actions that involve an element of personal risk or sacrifice. 

Researchers Franco, Blau, and Zimbardo suggest that heroism involves more than just this, however. In their definition, a heroic person is someone who:

  • Acts voluntarily for the service of others who are in need, whether it is for an individual, a group, or a community
  • Performs actions without any expectation of reward or external gain
  • Recognizes and accepts the potential risk or sacrifice made by taking heroic actions

Researchers also do not necessarily agree about the central characteristics that make up heroism. One study published in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that heroes have 12 central traits, which are:

  • Determination
  • Inspirational
  • Moral integrity
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Selflessness

The psychology of heroism might not be well understood, but many experts do believe that it is possible for people to learn to be heroes . The following are just a few of the major characteristics that researchers have ascribed to heroes.

Concern for the Well-Being of Others

According to researchers, empathy, and compassion for others are key variables that contribute to heroic behavior.   People who rush in to help others in the face of danger and adversity do so because they genuinely care about the safety and well-being of other people.

One study published in 2009 found that people who have heroic tendencies also have a much higher degree of empathy.  

People who engage in acts of heroism have concern and care for the people around them and they are able to feel what those in need of help are feeling.

Understanding Other Perspectives

Researchers suggest that heroes aren't just compassionate and caring; they have a knack for being able to see things from the perspective of others.   They can "walk a mile in another man's shoes," so to speak.

When they encounter a situation where an individual is in need, they are immediately able to see themselves in that same situation and see what needs to be done to help.

Heroes Have Useful Skills and Strengths

Clearly, having the training or physical ability to deal with a crisis can also play a major role in whether or not people become heroes.

In situations where would-be rescuers lack the know-how or sheer physical strength to make a difference, people are less likely to help or are more likely to find less direct ways to take action. And in many cases, this approach is probably best; after all, people senselessly rushing into a dangerous situation can pose even more difficulties for rescue workers.

People who are trained and capable, such as those with first aid training and experience, are more ready and able to step up when their skills are needed.

Heroes Have a Strong Moral Compass

According to heroism researchers Zimbardo and Franco, heroes have two essential qualities that set them apart from non-heroes: they live by their values and they are willing to endure personal risk to protect those values.  

Their values and personal beliefs give them the courage and resolve to endure risk and even danger in order to adhere to those principles.

Heroes Are Competent and Confident

It takes both skill and self-confidence to rush into where others fear to tread. Researchers suggest that people who perform heroic acts tend to feel confident in themselves and their abilities.

When faced with a crisis , they have an intrinsic belief that they are capable of handling the challenge and achieving success no matter what the odds are. Part of this confidence might stem from above-average coping skills and abilities to manage stress.

Heroes Aren't Afraid to Face Fear

A person who rushes into a burning building to save another person is not just extraordinarily brave; he or she also possesses an ability to overcome fear. Researchers suggest that heroic individuals are positive thinkers by nature, which contributes to their ability to look past the immediate danger of a situation and see a more optimistic outcome.  

In many cases, these individuals may also have a higher tolerance for risk. Plenty of caring and kind people might shrink back in the face of danger. Those who do leap into action are typically more likely to take greater risks in multiple aspects of their lives.

Heroes keep working on their goals, even after multiple setbacks. Persistence is another quality commonly shared by heroes.

In one 2010 study, researchers found that people identified as heroes were more likely to put a positive spin on negative events.  

When faced with a potentially life-threatening illness, people with heroic tendencies might focus on the good that might come from the situation such as a renewed appreciation for life or an increased closeness with loved ones.  

"The decision to act heroically is a choice that many of us will be called upon to make at some point in time. 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," write heroism researchers, Zeno Franco, and Philip Zimbardo .  

A Word From Verywell

Researchers have found that in a lot of ways, heroes are not all that different from most people. However, there are a number of skills you can build that can boost your hero characteristics.

Building empathy, becoming competent and skilled, and being persistent in the face of obstacles are all abilities you can work on over time. By doing so, you can improve your ability to help others and come through in times of need.

Walker LJ, Frimer JA, Dunlop WL. Varieties of moral personality: beyond the banality of heroism .  J Pers . 2010;78(3):907‐942. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00637.x

Franco ZE, Blau K, Zimbardo PG. Heroism: A Conceptual Analysis and Differentiation between Heroic Action and Altruism .  Review of General Psychology . 2011;15(2):99-113. doi:10.1037/a0022672.

Kinsella EL, Ritchie TD, Igou ER. Zeroing in on heroes: a prototype analysis of hero features . J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015;108(1):114-27. doi:10.1037/a0038463

Staats S, Wallace H, Anderson T, Gresley J, Hupp JM, Weiss E. The hero concept: self, family, and friends who are brave, honest, and hopeful . Psychol Rep. 2009;104(3):820-32. doi:10.2466/PR0.104.3.820-832

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Hero in Modern Society Essay

Does the modern society admire and follow appropriate heroes or contemporary heroes are only shallow persons with the attractive appearance? To answer this question, it is important to focus on defining a hero in the modern world. Today, people do not need their heroes to fight with evil gods and perform the feat, but they need someone to follow when the real life seems to be cruel (Dubose 916).

Many people view a hero as a man who has no fears, whose qualities are prominent, and whose virtues are remarkable. This person is strong physically and mentally, and he is ready to sacrifice his life to other people (Alexander 2).

The modern hero should be discussed as a person who has the same attributes and proclaiming the same values, but who uses the other means to achieve his goals. A hero can be defined as a person who is just and self-sacrificing because he can serve his life for protecting the principles of justice in the world; however, this hero needs to focus on patience and tolerance rather than on force and fight.

One of the main attributes in heroes is their feeling and understanding of justice. Heroes are often chosen by the audience for protecting the people’s interests. When the society cannot oppose the unfairness and oppression, they choose heroes who can protect their values and interests.

According to Mike Dubose, a researcher specializing in American Culture Studies, heroes reflect other people’s fears and make their “quest for justice”, ensuring that every barrier can be overcome successfully (Dubose 925). In this context, heroes become the reflections of the society’s hopes and expectations. Those virtues that are attributed to heroes by the public are expected to be the main social values during the certain period of time.

Real heroes are self-sacrificing, and the social status can mean nothing for them. The problem of the social status is discussed by Quinonez in his book Bodega Dreams . The characters of this book act like heroes, while opposing the life challenges daily, but their status is not high enough to speak about them as heroes from the traditional perspective (Quinonez 178).

The public prefers to find heroes among famous people, but not all of them are prominent to be regarded as heroes. The intention to serve and protect the other people is not typical for ordinary people in spite of their status in the society.

People admire heroes’ actions and judgments because these men are often tolerate and virtuous. Such virtues as patience and wisdom are typical for mature heroes. In his essay “The Train from Hate”, Franklin discusses the example of such a patient female hero who succeeded in teaching her children how to live according to such values as respect, integrity, and fairness; how to view the life situations with wisdom; how treat oneself with dignity; and how to be tolerant toward other people.

Thus, Franklin cites the words of a woman who became a hero for her children and taught them how to consider the racial separation. Franklin notes in the essay, “Under no circumstances, she said, should I be upset or distressed because someone sought to demean me. It took too much energy to hate or even to fight intolerance with one’s emotions” (Franklin 224). These words can change the man’s life more significantly than any other words spoken by authorities and prominent people.

It is important to state that heroes reflect the values of the society in which they appear and act, attracting the attention of the public or serving the other people’s needs. The image of Hard Rock from Knight’s poem “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” is illustrative in terms of demonstrating how actions of a hero, even if he is not accepted, can influence the vision of other people.

When ordinary people only dream about changing something in their perception and behaviors, the heroes change and motivate other people to follow them, as is it is reflected in the words by Knight’s character, “We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do, / The fears of years, like a biting whip, / Had cut deep bloody grooves / Across our backs” (Knight 194). Heroes are usually respected because of their firm position and worldview, according to which there is no place for injustice, discrimination, and pain.

However, there is also an opinion that modern heroes are those celebrities who are familiar almost to everyone because modern generations live in the era of media impacts. The image of celebrities is often associated with the idea of triumph, and this image is usually misinterpreted with the focus on classical heroes’ feats.

Following Alexander, a researcher from Fordham University, a celebrity is not a hero because he is “distinguished by his lack of identifiable qualities”, and he is “a fabrication” (Alexander 6). If people hear about the courage of a person who saved the life of another person or protected someone from the danger, this person become treated like a hero because of demonstrated sacrifice, virtue, and fearlessness.

This hero can also become the media person, but this popularity is reasonable. In cases when celebrities are treated as heroes only because they are famous, it is almost impossible to speak about the true heroism. In contrast to celebrities, heroes do not need the public’s admiration.

Heroes in the modern society can be discussed as persons who are expected to embody all virtues that are meaningful for people at the certain stage of the social development. Therefore, real heroes are not always fearless and powerful, and they can also be just, patient, and self-sacrificing.

If a person wants to be treated like a hero, he or she should ask a question for reflection on what origins of this desire can be. The reason is that real heroes do not strive for publicity and fame because they choose to suffer for someone instead of being promoted with the help of the media.

Works Cited

Alexander, Cuthbert. “Community Journalism: Hope for a Society without Heroes.” Proceedings of the Media Ecology Association 6.1 (2005): 1-9. Print.

Dubose, Mike. “Holding Out for a Hero: Reaganism, Comic Book Vigilantes, and Captain America.” The Journal of Popular Culture 40.6 (2007): 915-935. Print.

Franklin, John Hope. “The Train from Hate.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument . Ed. Missy James and Alan Merickel. New York: Longman, 2013. 223-224. Print.

Knight, Etheridge. “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument . Ed. Missy James and Alan Merickel. New York: Longman, 2013. 194. Print.

Quinonez, Ernesto, “Bodega Dreams.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument . Ed. Missy James and Alan Merickel. New York: Longman, 2013. 178-180. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2023, November 2). Hero in Modern Society.

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Essays About Heroes: 5 Examples And Topic Ideas

Here, we’ll look at examples of essays about heroes and questions that can be used as topics for essays about an imagined or real hero.

A few different images likely come to mind when you hear the word hero. You may imagine Superman flying above the world with his superpower of flight. You may imagine a personal hero, a real person who has made a significant impact on your life for the better. You might think of a true hero as someone who has shown heroic qualities in the public eye, working to help ordinary people through difficult situations.

When writing an essay about your life hero, it’s important to consider the qualities of that person that make them stand out to you. Whether you choose to write an essay about how your mom got you through tough times and became your role model or about a political figure who made a difference in the lives of people in history, it’s key to not just focus on the person’s actions—you’ll also want to focus on the qualities that allowed them to act heroically.

Here, we’ll explore examples of hero essays and potential topics to consider when writing about a hero.

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Examples Of Essays About Heroes

  • 1. These Are The Heroes Of The Coronavirus Pandemic By Ruth Marcus
  • 2. Why Teachers Are My Heroes By Joshua Muskin
  • 3. Martin Luther King Jr.—Civil Rights Activist & Hero By Kathy Weiser-Alexander

4. Steve Prefontaine: The Track Of A Hero By Bill O’Brian

5. forget hamilton, burr is the real hero by carey wallace, topic ideas for essays about heroes, 1. what makes a hero, 2. what are the most important characteristics of heroes in literature, 3. what constitutes a heroic act, 4. is selflessness required for heroism, 1.  these are the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic  by ruth marcus.

Examples of essays about heroes: These Are The Heroes Of The Coronavirus Pandemic By Ruth Marcus

“Is this what they signed up for? There is some danger inherent in the ordinary practice of medicine, but not this much. I confess: I do not know that I would do the same in their circumstances; I am not sure I am so generous or so brave. If my child were graduating from medical school, how would I deal with her being sent, inadequately protected, into an emergency room? If my husband were a physician, would I send him off to the hospital — or let him back into the house in the interim?” Ruth Marcus

Healthcare workers have had no choice but to go above and beyond in recent years. In this essay, Marcus discusses the heroism of those in the healthcare field. He delves into the traits (including selflessness and courage) that make doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers heroes.

2.  Why Teachers Are My Heroes   By Joshua Muskin

“Teachers are my heroes because they accept this responsibility and try extremely hard to do this well even when the conditions in which they work are far from ideal; at least most do. Our jobs as society, education systems, and parents is to do our best to be strong allies to teachers, since their success is essential to ours.” Joshua Muskin

In this essay, Dr. Muskin discusses the many challenges teachers face and what parents, administrators, and education researchers can do to help teachers support students. Muskin explains that most teachers go above and beyond the call of duty to serve their classrooms.

3.  Martin Luther King Jr.—Civil Rights Activist & Hero   By Kathy Weiser-Alexander

“During this nonviolent protest, activists used boycotts, sit-ins, and marches to protest segregation and unfair hiring practices that caught the attention of the entire world. However, his tactics were put to the test when police brutality was used against the marchers, and King was arrested. But, his voice was not silenced, as he wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to refute his critics.” Kathy Weiser-Alexander

In this essay, Weiser-Alexander details both the traits and the actions of Dr. King before and during the civil rights movement. The author touches on King’s commitment to justice, persistence, and willingness to stand for his beliefs despite difficult circumstances.

“I remember this so vividly because Prefontaine was a hero to me, a hero in a way that no one was before, or really has been since. A British commentator once called him “an athletic Beatle.” If so, his persona was much more Lennon than McCartney. Actually, I thought of him more as Mick Jagger — or ultimately James Dean.” Bill O’Brian

A hero to many in the running world, Prefontaine’s confidence, unique style, and unmatched athletic ability have been heralded for decades. In this essay, O’Brian shares how he, as a distance runner during the era of Pre, related to his struggles and ambition.

“Burr fought against an ugly tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in the young republic, led by Hamilton’s Federalist party, which suggested that anyone without English heritage was a second-class citizen, and even challenged the rights of non-Anglos to hold office. In response, Burr insisted that anyone who contributed to society deserved all the rights of any other citizen, no matter their background.” Carey Wallace

In this essay, Wallace explains why Aaron Burr, the lifelong nemesis of founding father Alexander Hamilton, should be considered a historical hero. This essay exposes someone seen as a villain but much of society with a different take on their history. 

It can be interesting to think about your definition of a hero. When describing what the term hero means to you, you may want to choose a person (or a few people) you look up to as a hero to solidify your point. You might want to include fictional characters (such as those in the Marvel universe) and real-life brave souls, such as police officers and firefighters.

A word of caution: stay away from the cliche opening of describing how the dictionary defines a hero. Instead, lead-in with a personal story about a hero who has affected your life. While talking about a public figure as a hero is acceptable, you may find it easier to write about someone close to you who you feel has displayed heroic qualities. Writing about a family member or friend who has shown up as a heroic main character in your life can be just as exciting as writing about a real or imagined superhero.

From Beowulf to Marvel comics, heroes in literature take on many different traits. When writing an essay on what trait makes a hero come alive in a short story, novel, or comic, choose a few of your favorite heroes and find common themes that they share.

Perhaps your favorite heroes are selfless and are willing to put themselves last in the name of sacrifice for others. Perhaps they’re able to dig deep into the truth, being honest even when it’s hard, for the greater good. There’s no need to list endless heroes to make your point—choosing three or four heroes from literature can be a great way to support your argument about what characteristics define heroism in literature.

When someone is named a hero in real life, we often picture them saving people from a burning building or performing a difficult surgical operation. It can be difficult to pin down exactly what constitutes a heroic act. When writing about what constitutes a heroic act, think about people who go above and beyond, performing feats of courage, honesty, and bravery to support themselves or others. When writing about what constitutes a heroic act, discuss real-life or literary examples of heroes at work.

To many people, being a hero means giving back to others. While giving something away or trading in one’s well-being for others can certainly be seen as a heroic act, many people wonder if selflessness is required for heroism or if a hero can serve the greater good in a way that also supports their happiness. When writing about whether selflessness is required for heroism, choose examples from literature and real-life to support your point.

Tip: If writing an essay sounds like a lot of work, simplify it. Write a simple 5 paragraph essay instead.

If you’re still stuck, check out our available resource of essay writing topics .

do we need heroes essay

Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Hero — Heroes

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Hero Essay Examples

Hook examples for hero essays, anecdotal hook.

Picture this: a lone figure standing in the face of adversity, unwavering and resolute, ready to sacrifice for the greater good. Such is the essence of a hero's journey. Join me as we explore the extraordinary stories of those who inspire and uplift us.

Quotation Hook

""A hero is someone who has given their life to something bigger than oneself."" These words from Joseph Campbell encapsulate the profound essence of heroism and selflessness that we encounter in the tales of heroes throughout history.

Heroic Archetypes Hook

Heroes come in many forms, yet they often share common characteristics. Delve into the world of heroic archetypes and explore how these universal traits shape the heroes we admire.

Real vs. Fictional Heroes Hook

Heroes exist not only in the pages of literature but also in the real world. Analyze the distinctions and similarities between fictional heroes and the heroes who walk among us in everyday life.

Heroic Acts of Courage Hook

What does it take to perform acts of extraordinary courage? Explore the moments of heroism that define individuals and alter the course of history, from firefighters battling infernos to everyday people facing life-altering decisions.

Unsung Heroes Hook

Not all heroes wear capes or stand in the spotlight. Some heroes quietly make a difference in the lives of others without seeking recognition. Discover the stories of unsung heroes whose contributions often go unnoticed.

Heroism in the Face of Adversity Hook

Adversity has a way of revealing heroes among us. Analyze how individuals rise to the occasion in times of crisis, demonstrating remarkable heroism in the midst of challenges and turmoil.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

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How Everyday People Can Be Heroes

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Why Do We Need Heroes and Villains?

Throughout your life you’ve walked past thousands of people. Who knows there could’ve been a chance you passed someone who committed a crime and never got caught or on their way to commit a crime. You could’ve walked by a person who just saved someone‘s life. There’s no clear way of knowing who people are. In the books we have read this six weeks we can come to a closer understanding of people and who they are. The classifications for heroes and villains are what choices the characters and people in society choose. Do you want to murder people and think you can get away? Or do you want to show courage and integrity to stick up for yourself and what you love? Heros are described as selfless to an extent. In Twilight, Edward is selfless when it comes to Bella and her needs, but he also shows selfish traits when it comes to dealing with others, This human trait is seen in most heros.

They are selfish and selfless at the same time when it comes to certain circumstances. “Not all heroes wear capes”, the survivors of Ted Bundy’s shenanigans are very much heros. They were there for each other after everything happened with Bundy. The accomplishment of knowing he was in prison, finding out that he had gotten the death penalty. While on the other hand Villains are seen as corrupt and degenerate. This was shown in Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Bundy and Dahmer were elusive in keeping their crimes secret for years. Bundy was an attractive man who picked off girls. They trusted him because he looked like a nice guy. On the other hand Dahmer was a “scary” man. There were stories about him picking off and drugging guys and taking them home. Both of them were serial killers but only one would have even come close to looking like a suspicious person on the street.

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In Twilight there are also “villains”. James is seen as an antagonist who is known as the villain in a book, he did everything in his power trying to capture Bella. James ended up paying the price and ended up being deceased. Most people can partake in both roles (hero or villain). They may be the best citizen in the world. but on the other hand they could be having a crisis and just feel like being the “bad guy”. In society if you do something substandard and get caught you’ll more than likely pay the price. Notice how malefactors will do the most just to get thrown in prison. While the heros prosper and end up winning in the end. It doesn’t have to be a book or movie because it happens in everyday life. Also, another example of heroes and villains are God and Satan. God, to believers. is a savior and Satin is known as a manipulator and so on. God sentJesus to save humanity from our sins. While the devil was pushing us to sin more. In most ways there’s always a protagonist and antagonist.

They both complaint each other. Another example is from the movie Hercules. Hercules is the son of Zues so he was automatically supposed to be a hero. In the movie Hades is introduced, his role was the villain. Hades’ mission was to make Hercules a mortal so he could kill him and take over Olympus. While he failed at that, he wasn’t very precise with his plan and ended up failing. Like always villains lose because they never get anywhere in life. In today’s society we can equate our first responders. firemen, and along with our military as our everyday heroes. In addition, the criminals represent villains simply because they break the law and what not. Without our heroes cities would crumble and there would not be no one to protect us. Honestly. without heroes 0r villains there wouldn’t be any plot in life. No one would get in trouble so there wouldn’t be a need for responders.

There are many different situations where heroes and villains are accommodated, but why? We need heroes to protect us and all that jazz but why do we need villains? In my opinion | feel like they just fit in, in a way. Without villains heroes wouldn’t have a purpose. Yes they would still be there but for what? The way our world works is: there’s people who protect and people who put others lifes in jeopardy. Another example is Batman and the joker. Batman does his best to appropriately deal with all the criminals in Gotham city Mr.bat’s main task is the joker because of all the mischief he does. Without Batman in Gotham that city would literally crumble. Not every hero is able to save the day 24/7 which would kind of be hard even for the best of the best. It’s the thought that matters which is why heroes are so important to humanity. They keep everything running in this horrific simulation.

For me I’m my own villain. and my sister is my hero. Allison (sister) has saved me in unimaginable ways. For example, there have been times where my thoughts have overpowered my mind and I’ve thought about giving up. Because, I felt as if everyone had given up on me. Which wasn’t the case. All of the conversations she has given me to help me not overthink as much. Now we do everything together, our relationship is better than mine and my mothers. Which has helped me become more of a hero and try and save someone‘s life like she’s saved mine. In life you have a decision. Do you want to be there for people or do you want to go against people? With this, heroes don’t necessarily need superpowers to qualify as a hero. Villains don’t need to be evil and try to hurt everyone. You can be someone’s hero or someone’s villain.

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Epstein Documents Naming Prominent Figures Expected to Be Released Soon

The documents, related to a lawsuit involving Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, are anticipated to include names previously redacted.

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Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell standing next to each other at what appears to be a party. Mr. Epstein has his left arm around Ms. Maxwell’s shoulders and his left cheek pressed against the side of her head. She grins widely.

By Maggie Astor

Court documents related to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein are expected to be released soon with many names that were previously redacted, and prominent figures on the right are holding up the impending disclosures as evidence of wrongdoing by Democrats despite a lack of concrete information about what they will show.

Most of the names being made public — currently cited in the documents as John Does — have previously been identified in other court documents or in news reports as having been associated with Mr. Epstein.

A longtime friend of powerful people, including politicians, business executives and royalty, Mr. Epstein was accused of preying on girls as young as 14, bringing them to his homes and paying them for sex acts. He died at 66 by suicide in jail in 2019 , before he could stand trial in Manhattan on federal sex-trafficking charges, but his associate Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted in 2021 of conspiring with him and sentenced to 20 years in prison . Mr. Epstein’s estate has since paid out about $150 million in settlements to more than 125 women.

It is in connection with a defamation lawsuit against Ms. Maxwell that the documents are being released. That lawsuit was brought by one of Mr. Epstein’s and Ms. Maxwell’s victims, Virginia Giuffre. Previously, many of the names in the documents were sealed, but a New York judge ruled in December that some of them could be unsealed.

Multiple news reports have said that former President Bill Clinton will be among those named, a fact conservative commentators have jumped on, though there is no indication that it will be in connection with allegations of wrongdoing, and Ms. Giuffre has not accused Mr. Clinton of any misconduct. His office said in 2019 that he had flown on Mr. Epstein’s private plane but had no knowledge of Mr. Epstein’s crimes, and a spokesman pointed to that statement on Tuesday.

“President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York,” the 2019 statement said, acknowledging trips and meetings with Mr. Epstein in the early 2000s. It added, “He’s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade.”

Being named in the documents does not necessarily indicate that a person participated in or was aware of Mr. Epstein’s or Ms. Maxwell’s actions, and it was already known that Mr. Epstein was friendly with Mr. Clinton — as well as countless other celebrities and officials , including Donald J. Trump. It remains to be seen if the documents will say anything significant about Mr. Clinton or any other person.

But right-wing officials and commentators have seized on the impending release without caveats.

“For some us, it’s no surprise at all that Bill Clinton will be named in the Jeffrey Epstein files. We said it a long time ago but they labeled us conspiracy theorists,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, wrote on X , adding, “Pedophiles belong in jail not on secret government lists.”

Ms. Greene’s comment adopted some conservatives’ description of the coming documents as a “list” of Mr. Epstein’s associates, but according to a person briefed on the documents, many of them are depositions taken from victims of Mr. Epstein and related court filings.

Others playing up the documents included the far-right commentator Benny Johnson; Graham Allen, a right-wing video streamer; and Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America.

One name expected to be included in the documents is that of Prince Andrew, who in 2022 settled a lawsuit filed by Ms. Giuffre accusing him of sexual abuse.

Matthew Goldstein and Benjamin Weiser contributed reporting.

Maggie Astor covers politics for The New York Times, focusing on breaking news, policies, campaigns and how underrepresented or marginalized groups are affected by political systems. More about Maggie Astor

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Jeffrey Epstein contact names revealed in unsealed documents. Here are key takeaways from the files.

By Cara Tabachnick, Allison Elyse Gualtieri

Updated on: January 9, 2024 / 12:23 PM EST / CBS News

Documents that include the names of more than 100 people connected to Jeffrey Epstein , including business associates and accusers, among others, have now been made public, following a federal judge's December ruling that the information be unsealed . 

More than 900 pages of mostly unredacted documents were released Wednesday, Jan. 3. A second batch of documents was released Thursday, Jan. 4, a third batch the day after that  and still more in the days that followed.

Much of the information has been previously reported, and many of those whose names are mentioned are not accused of any wrongdoing.

Though the unsealed court documents don't contain an actual list of associates, the names were expected to include some that also appeared on the flight logs of Epstein's private jet, nicknamed the "Lolita Express," which he often used to fly to his private island in the Caribbean. Those manifests and other documents, such as his private calendar, had previously been made public, including as part of legal proceedings or public records requests. Many of those who had business or social ties with Epstein, a convicted sex offender, have denied any misconduct or involvement in his activities.

The release of the names stems from a now-settled defamation lawsuit brought in 2015 by Virginia Giuffre, who accused British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell of enabling her abuse by Epstein. 

Maxwell was found guilty by a New York jury in 2021 on conspiracy and trafficking charges related to Epstein, her longtime friend and sometime romantic partner, and her role for a decade in the abuse of underage girls. 

What is in the Jeffrey Epstein-related court documents?

Court documents list 184 "J. Does," starting at J. Doe #3 through J. Doe #187. Some names are repeated twice. A small number are the names of minors or sexual assault victims, which the judge specified won't be released. 

According to a court record released Jan. 3, documents for two Does — 107 and 110 — will not be immediately released. One was granted an extension until Jan. 22 for her appeal about the release and the other's appeal is still under review.

In many cases, the names in the documents "really are of innocent people. It's people who may have been employed, it's people who may have gone to dinner or to a cocktail party at Jeffrey Epstein's home," said CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman. "It is not necessarily naming people who have engaged in actions that were anything like the deplorable actions of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell."

One of the documents released Thursday includes a lengthy list of names of people Giuffre's attorneys wanted to depose in her lawsuit against Maxwell.

The documents released by the court mention some well-known figures whose contacts with Epstein have been reported in the past, such as Britain's Prince Andrew . The prince settled a lawsuit in 2022 with Virginia Giuffre, who accused him and Epstein of abusing her as a teen, an accusation Andrew denied. In a court filing at the time, his attorneys said, "Prince Andrew regrets his association with Epstein, and commends the bravery of Ms. Giuffre and other survivors in standing up for themselves and others."

A deposition from Johanna Sjoberg in the suit includes previous accusations alleging she was groped by Prince Andrew in 2001, when she was 21. BBC News reports Buckingham Palace previously called her allegations "categorically untrue." The newly released documents include questions to Maxwell about Sjoberg.

Bill Clinton, also among the people whose names appear in the documents, had allegedly been described by Epstein as "a good friend," one Epstein accuser recounted in 2019. The former president's name had also appeared on manifests for the private jet, on which he said he had taken four trips "in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation." He has not been accused of wrongdoing. A spokesperson told CBS News it's been nearly 20 years since Clinton last had contact with Epstein, and referred CBS News to a 2019 statement denying Clinton had any knowledge of what he called Epstein's "terrible crimes." 

Clinton's name also came up in Sjoberg's deposition. She did not accuse him of any wrongdoing, but said that Epstein told her "one time that Clinton likes them young, referring to girls."

In another of the documents, Maxwell testifies that Clinton never had a meal on Epstein's island and that she does not know how many times Clinton flew on Epstein's plane. 

In the filing, Maxwell's team attempts to debunk an article by journalist Sharon Churcher of the Daily Mail, who described a dinner on Epstein's Little St. James island allegedly attended by Clinton "shortly after he left office." Maxwell's team claims, "Former FBI Director Louis Freeh submitted a report wherein he concluded that President Clinton 'did not, in fact travel to, nor was he present on, Little St. James Island between January 1, 2001 and January 1, 2003'," and goes on to say Secret Service assigned to the former president would have been required to file travel logs.

Also named in the documents is Sarah Kellen, a former Epstein employee who has been accused by one adult victim of knowingly scheduling her flights and appointments with the financier and Maxwell.

Kellen's spokesperson had said in a 2020 statement to CBS News that Kellen scheduled those appointments at the direction of Epstein and Maxwell, and was herself "sexually" and "psychologically" abused by Epstein "for years." The statement noted Kellen "deeply regrets that she had any part in it."

What happened in the Jeffrey Epstein case?

Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting numerous teenage girls, some of them as young as 14 years old, according to prosecutors. Over many years, he allegedly exploited a vast network of underage girls for sex at his homes in Manhattan ; Palm Beach, Florida; and his private island near St. Thomas.

Epstein had pleaded not guilty to charges brought in 2019 by federal prosecutors in New York of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking with underage girls. His death in prison before facing trial was ruled a suicide .

Epstein had cut a deal with federal prosecutors in Florida in 2008, reaching a non-prosecution agreement on allegations he sexually abused underage girls, in return for pleading guilty to lesser state charges and serving 13 months in jail, much of the time on work release. He also had to pay settlements to victims and register as a sex offender. 

That agreement, which had not been disclosed to his victims, was under investigation at the time of his death .

Among the documents released Thursday is a 2016 deposition from Joseph Recarey, a former detective with the Palm Beach Police Department who led the investigation into allegations against Epstein of sex abuse and trafficking that culminated in the 2008 plea deal. 

In the deposition, Recarey states that he interviewed around 30 girls who were either asked to or gave massages at Epstein's home. 

"When they went to perform a massage, it was for sexual gratification," Recarey testified. And of the 30-33 young women he interviewed, he said, only one, whom he described as "older," had massage experience, and "the majority were under" 18. Some told him they were recruited with the prospect of becoming a model for Victoria's Secret, Recarey said. He also said the young women told him they were offered money to recruit more girls. The 18-page released deposition has large gaps where pages were not included.

Who else's names are among those released in the Epstein-related documents?

A name's inclusion in the documents does not indicate the person has committed or has been accused of any wrongdoing. In addition, some of the people whose names appear are witnesses who were staff members, provided medical care or were in law enforcement, for example.

  • Juan Alessi and Alfredo Rodriguez : Alessi , a longtime manager of Epstein's Palm Beach estate, and Rodriguez, his former butler who died in 2015, are both named in the documents as having offered testimony.
  • Jean-Luc Brunel : A onetime close friend of Epstein, Brunel was found dead in a French jail in 2022 while being investigated by that country's authorities. He was accused of helping procure women and underage girls for Epstein and was also alleged to have raped and assaulted women he knew from the modeling world. In the documents, one witness mentioned in a deposition asking him for a job, and several others were asked about him.
  • Bill Richardson: The former governor of New Mexico, Richardson died in September. He had been previously reported to have visited Epstein's sprawling Zorro Ranch in New Mexico at least once. Richardson denied accusations made by Giuffre, who in a previously unsealed deposition said that she was directed to have sex with him. He called the accusation "completely false" and said he had never met Giuffre.
  • David Copperfield: In her deposition, Johanna Sjoberg said she had dinner with magician David Copperfield at Epstein's home. Copperfield is not accused of any wrongdoing. Sjoberg said Copperfield asked her "if I was aware that girls were getting paid to find other girls," but testified he told her no specifics about that.
  • Donald Trump : A witness said in a deposition that Epstein mentioned calling Trump and said the group would go to his casino when a storm forced his jet to land in Atlantic City during a 2001 trip. The witness was asked if she gave Trump a massage, but said no. Newsweek reported a Trump spokesperson said claims regarding Trump's relationship with Epstein were "thoroughly debunked." Trump said in 2018 that he knew Epstein "like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. … He was a fixture in Palm Beach." Trump said at the time, "I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan." 
  • Alan Dershowitz : Attorney Alan Dershowitz defended Epstein in the 2008 criminal case . In one of the documents, lawyers discuss sworn testimony by two household employees, one of whom said Dershowitz visited Epstein's Florida mansion "pretty often" and allegedly got massages while he was there. According to the court document, the other employee testified Dershowitz visited Epstein's home without his family when young girls were present. Dershowitz has previously denied wrongdoing. Ahead of the documents' release, Dershowitz warned against inferring anything about their contents in a livestream on his personal YouTube channel Tuesday, saying "the important thing is not to assume guilt by association or guilt by accusation." He said in the half-hour livestream that, as Epstein's lawyer, he had been on the plane many times and he had been to the island once, with his wife and daughter, when no young people were present.
  • Michael Jackson : In a deposition released Jan. 3, Sjoberg is asked if she's met anyone famous when she was with Epstein, and she said she met Michael Jackson at Epstein's house in Palm Beach. She said she did not give him a massage and did not accuse him of any wrongdoing.
  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Alessi testified in his witness deposition, released Jan. 5, that he saw Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. at the house, but did not specify when. The independent presidential candidate, who is not accused of wrongdoing, has previously said that he traveled twice on Epstein's plane with his family.
  • Leslie Wexner: Among the handwritten phone messages from Epstein's staff, also released Jan. 5 , were notes that Leslie Wexner or his office had called. Epstein had for years worked as the personal money manager and business adviser for Wexner, the founder and CEO of Victoria's Secret parent company L Brands. Wexner has said he regretted ever crossing paths with Epstein and denied knowing about Epstein's misconduct.
  • Ghislaine Maxwell
  • Jeffrey Epstein

Cara Tabachnick is a news editor and journalist at Cara began her career on the crime beat at Newsday. She has written for Marie Claire, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. She reports on justice and human rights issues. Contact her at [email protected]

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U.K. Leader Rishi Sunak Announces New Law to Overturn Convictions in Post Office Scandal

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has proposed a new law that would exonerate victims of the Post Office scandal, in which hundreds of employees were wrongfully accused after faulty software showed discrepancies in the company’s finances. The new legislation has not yet been published and voting timelines are unclear, but Sunak says former Post Office workers who were part of the group litigation in 2019 would be eligible for an upfront payment of £75,000 ($95,000).

“This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history. People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation,” said Sunak.

“Today I can announce that we will introduce new primary legislation to make sure those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated.” 

Sunak’s announcement during the Prime Minister's Questions comes after the Metropolitan Police confirmed they are  investigating potential fraud offenses related to the years-long scandal where the Post Office wrongfully convicted its employees because of faulty software. The saga is at the forefront of the public’s mind once again, following the TV series Mr Bates vs the Post Office airing on U.K. TV. The show, and the attention surrounding it, has brought forward new potential victims.

The Met Police had already been looking into potential offenses of perjury and perverting the course of justice related to prosecutions and investigations carried out by the Post Office. The force opened an investigation in January 2020 into matters concerning Fujitsu Horizon, the name of the company and its software, and the Post Office following a referral from the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Met Police tells TIME in an email. 

The potential offenses come from investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office, for example money recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of the office’s prosecutions or civil actions, the law enforcement agency says. Two people have been interviewed in the investigation as of Saturday, police say. 

TIME reached out to the Post Office for comment. 

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has called the scandal the “most widespread miscarriage of justice the CCRC has ever seen and represents the biggest single series of wrongful convictions in British legal history.”

The ongoing fall-out resulted in former Post Office boss Paula Vennells returning her CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) on Jan. 9. Vennells received the royal title in 2019, the same year she stepped down from her role. Following the premiere of the TV series based on the scandal, more than 700,000 people signed an online petition to strip Vennells of her CBE—compared to 1,000 signers before the TV show aired, Sky News reported.

"I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system,” Vennells said in a statement shared by PA News Agency. She handed back the CBE honor on Tuesday with immediate effect.

Here’s what you need to know. 

What is the Post Office scandal involving Horizon IT?

Japanese tech company Fujitsu Services developed and began operating the Horizon IT financial software services for the Post Office in 1999. Employees said they reported issues with the software from the start, but claimed the Post Office brushed off their concerns or said the issues were the fault of the individual branch managers.

CCRC, which reviewed the wrongful convictions, said that “Horizon appeared to have significant bugs which could cause the system to misreport, sometimes involving substantial sums of money which sub-postmasters found difficult to challenge as they were unable to access information about the software to do so.” 

As a result, between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 sub-postmasters were accused of wrongdoing, leading to prosecutions, criminal convictions and, in some cases, prison sentences, the BBC reported. Postmasters found guilty were ordered to pay the Post Office for the money they were accused of stealing, leading in some cases to bankruptcy and financial ruin. Victims and their families have reported that wrongful convictions contributed to addiction, illness and suicides. 

Computer Weekly first reported issues with the Horizon software that caused it to incorrectly state the amount of cash on the premises of a post office in 2009, the same year aggrieved employees formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance Group to fight for justice. 

In 2016, sub-postmasters initiated civil proceedings against the Post Office, which more than 500 employees eventually joined . The group won its case in the High Court in 2019 and the Post Office agreed to pay damages. To date, 93 convictions have been overturned, per the BBC .

As of December, the government has paid out £124.7 million ($158.6 million) in compensation to wrongfully convicted postmasters. The number of individuals with overturned convictions who have received full and final compensation is 25, according to the Post Office.  

In September, the government announced it was raising its compensation to £600,000 ($763,500) for every victim. Offers have been made to all 2,417 current or former postmasters under the Horizon Shortfall Scheme . 

In an interview on BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on Jan. 7, ahead of his announcement of a new proposed law, Sunak said “it’s important that those people get the justice that they deserve, and that’s what the compensation schemes are about.”

What’s the TV show and its impact?

The TV show, starring Toby Jones as former sub-postmaster Alan Bates, who led the campaign for justice at the High Court, aired from Jan. 1 to Jan. 4. Following the premiere of the mini-series, 50 new potential victims have come forward, Neil Hudgell, a lawyer on behalf of claimants, told the BBC. 

Post Office Chief Executive Nick Read said in a statement on the agency’s website that he hoped the TV show “encourages anyone affected who has not yet come forward to seek the redress and compensation they deserve.”

The series, aired on U.K. channel ITV, has grown public sympathy for victims as well as demands for accountability.  

In an interview with the BBC, Lee Castleton, a former sub-postmaster who says the Post Office ruined his life, shared that he is “really, really angry” over the ongoing situation.    

Speaking about the impact of the ITV drama, Castleton said he hoped “that pressure comes to bear. That’s what we’ve tried to do for years. It's been very difficult to try to push our cause.” 

“We’re just people from your village shop or your local post office,” he continued. “And it's been really hard to drum up support, it's been very difficult to get people to believe.” He said he hoped those listening would put pressure on those in power to help their cause.

Who’s been held responsible?

Nobody from the Post Office or Fujitsu had been held accountable as of last year. 

The Post Office still retains a role in the appeals process for the prosecutions it brought forward, the BBC reported. In Sunday’s interview, BBC journalist and show host Laura Kuenssberg asked Sunak if Justice Secretary Alex Chalk would look at removing the Post Office from that role or exonerating everyone convicted.

“Obviously, there's legal complexity in all of those things but he is looking at exactly those areas that you've described,” Sunak responded. “It is right that we find every which way we can do to try to make this right for the people who were so wrongfully treated at the time.” 

In 2019, the High Court ruled that the original Horizon system had encountered a number of bugs and errors. When handing down his judgment, Mr. Justice Fraser shared that he would be expressing his “grave concerns” over the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP forwarded Mr. Justice Fraser’s letter to the police, who are responsible for investigating potential crimes.

An official inquiry into the scandal has been ongoing since 2020, led by retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams. The Met Police tells TIME their investigation is “considering the actions of individuals connected with Fujitsu and the Post Office” and that they are an “interested party to the public inquiry and are monitoring and gathering the evidence it hears.” 

After the High Court ruling, the Post Office’s then-CEO Paula Vennells said in a statement that she was "truly sorry for the suffering caused.” 

Since the scandal, the government extended its contract for Horizon with Fujitsu .

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Apex Legends™ summons FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH to the Outlands for its first-ever Crossover Event, proving limits are made to be broken! A new event joins the party, as FINAL FANTASY™ VII Takeover replaces unranked BR. Defy destiny with the Buster Sword R2R5, with new abilities and a devastating Limit Break. Find Materia Hop-Ups that add effects like Lightning and more. Collect FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH-inspired skins for Wattson, Crypto, Wraith, and other Legends, kupo!

Plus, collect 36 Event items including a new Death Box and the Mythic Buster Sword R5 Melee cosmetic—equippable by any Legend, in any mode. Unlike a Collection Event, there's a chance to get the Buster Sword R5 in every Event pack† you open. The Apex Legends & FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH Event brings two gaming icons to the same universe from January 9-30, 2024. So gather your crew and drop in, merc. Let’s mosey.


Worlds collide in our new BR Takeover featuring content that will be all too familiar to FINAL FANTASY™ VII  fans. Wield the power of a Buster Sword R2R5, which will have gameplay abilities and can be picked up and used as a weapon as a part of the Takeover. Get access to light and heavy attacks, blocking to reduce damage taken and dash to close the gap, and fill your meter to use the quintessential Limit Break. The more you deal, take, and block damage, the faster your meter will fill. If you don’t find a Buster Sword R2R5 hot off your drop, keep an eye out for them in Care Packages and around the map.

While you’re on the hunt for the ultimate weapon, look for Materia Hop-Ups for increased effects and/or bonuses. Each Materia Hop-Up has its own impact and will only attach with select weapons, and can spawn in the world and event-limited Cactuar Ticks!


Collect 36 items inspired by this first-ever crossover through dedicated Apex Legends & FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH Event packs † , with Iconic skins for Horizon and Newcastle, sticker sets, and more! Get a Four-Pack † for a guaranteed Legendary or Iconic item until all of those rarities are obtained.

All 36 items (including the Buster Sword R5 Melee Cosmetic) will be randomly awarded via event packs † with no duplicates of event items. The Buster Sword R5 (unlike the Takeover’s Buster Sword R2R5) is a Universal Mythic Melee Cosmetic that has no gameplay abilities and can be equipped in place of your heirloom or fists. The sword will not be coming to the Mythic Shop after the event ends, so unlock it while you can! 6 Iconic Legend skins will also be available for direct purchase via the store. As you continue to collect items, keep an eye out for Milestone Rewards, given after each milestone on the event packs page is hit. 

Full Apex Legends & FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH Event packs† probability, Four-Pack guarantee, and pricing details available in-game.

Complete your Apex Legends & FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH collection before the event ends and you’ll automatically receive the One-Winged Angel Death Box—a brand new cosmetic item to Apex Legends. Equip this with any Legend via the new Lobby Melee tab to transform the Death Box for every enemy you eliminate.


Earn Gil, an event currency, while playing the event mode and completing challenges to use in the Rewards Shop to unlock event-limited items. The Reward Shop will rotate inventory weekly and feature select event items, badges, and more. Keep an eye out for event packs to help with your crossover collection.

You can also use Gil to earn additional Battle Pass Stars to continue your seasonal progress. Challenges refresh daily and you'll want to complete as many as possible to earn the full amount of Gil.

6 Iconic Legend skins will be available via the store as well as the Apex Legends & FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH Event packs † , including Wraith, Horizon and Crypto skins.


Tune in to select Twitch streams between January 12-30, 2024, to earn stickers while watching your favorite streamers dominate. 

Connect your EA account with your Twitch account, and tune in during the dates below to unlock the corresponding items. Instructions on how to link your EA account can be found here .

Play Apex Legends for free * now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC via the EA app and Steam.

Follow Apex Legends on X  (formerly known as Twitter) and Instagram , subscribe to our YouTube channel , and check out our forums .

Sign up for our newsletter today to receive the latest Apex Legends news, updates, behind-the-scenes content, exclusive offers, and more (including other EA news, products, events, and promotions) by email.

This announcement may change as we listen to community feedback and continue developing and evolving our Live Service & Content. We will always strive to keep our community as informed as possible. For more information, please refer to EA’s Online Service Updates at .

*Applicable platform account and platform subscription (sold separately) may be required. A persistent internet connection and EA account required. Age restrictions apply. Includes in-game purchases. 

† Not available in all territories.


FINAL FANTASY™ VII REBIRTH is the highly anticipated new story in the FINAL FANTASY™ VII remake project, a reimagining of the iconic original game into three standalone titles by its original creators. 

In this game, players will enjoy various new elements as the story unfolds, culminating in the party’s journey to “The Forgotten Capital” from the original FINAL FANTASY™ VII.

After escaping from the dystopian city of Midgar, Cloud and his friends set out on a journey across the planet. New adventures await in a vibrant and vast world – sprint across grassy plains on a Chocobo and explore expansive environments.

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