I Need a Hero


“Well, that was great,” my friend began as we drove away from the newest Batman flick. “But now I have to go back to the real world, instead of the Batman world.”

I asked him what he meant. After all, Bruce Wayne and Gotham City aren’t real, but my friend here seemed to mean something more than that. He went on to explain that there are no heroes like that in the real adult world. In the real world, heroes just aren’t practical. In the real world, we must occupy ourselves with the gray repetition of maintaining our fragile lives. Optimism bows the knee to routine. In the real world, there’s no Batman.


Yes, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent and all their friends are mere stories, but why do we love them so much? Why is our culture so entranced with heroes? Is it wishful thinking, or is it a deeper awareness of the way things ought to be? We make movies about them, we write songs about them; even the mere word “hero” stirs emotion. Cynical politicians like good ol’ Stalin work tirelessly to set themselves up as the hero of their people, and pure-minded children look to the sky and wish Superman could be real. Meanwhile, news stories touch us all with the heroic acts of regular people who charge into fires or floods to save others.

Okay then, sure, we can all agree that those sorts of everyday heroes are real. In times of calamity our best selves can emerge: we put aside our self-interest and dive into freezing water to save a drowning infant. That is heroism. And yet, we secretly wish for even more. The colorful cape-wearing icons that enchant us don’t wait around for natural disasters to force them into heroism. What’s the difference? What is a hero, really?

A hero isn’t someone with a smashing costume. We all know that one. But we still like it whenever a movie hero dons his outfit, like a knight suiting up for battle, because the gaudy costume shows that he knows he’s a hero. A hero has to own it. He has to accept that he can be a hero. He has to carefully consider all the pessimistic naysayers, and still have a reason to choose to be a hero.

A hero isn’t just someone with astonishing gymnastic skills, who leaps across rooftops to punch criminals. Yes, their extreme skills and powers let them do great good, but that’s only because they have a desire to do good in the first place. A flying dude in a cape who doesn’t help anyone isn’t a hero. When someone dives into an icy river just because he’s tough, then that’s pretty cool, but it’s not heroic. Only when that tough guy dives into the cold to save someone else, only then is he being a hero. We enjoy watching super-powered heroes on the big screen because we like seeing people who have the desire to do good, as well as the ability to do it.

Alright then, if a hero is someone who wants to do good, who is able to do it, and who accepts himself as one who will do it…then why can’t we have more heroes?

I think that most of us want to do good. It’s the ability to do it and the self-acceptance that trip us up. Naturally, if we had the ability, then we’d quickly accept ourselves as a hero, right? No, I don’t believe so. Every single one of us has vastly more ability to do good than we realize. We must accept that first. The self-acceptance leads to the ability, not the other way around.

Each of us has been inundated with gray voices that tell us that we’re average. Normal. Ordinary. Unable to do the big things. We may even take pride in accepting our own ordinariness, telling ourselves that it’s humility. But there is nothing humble about artificially limiting oneself. And there is nothing egotistical about appreciating, enjoying, and celebrating the remarkable potential of every person, oneself included. It is the proud and the insecure who feel the need to pull you down, to tell you that you cannot be exceptional. Heroes free themselves, and they help free others, too.

As we do that, as we accept our own right to be heroic, as we acknowledge that we do have the potential to tackle the big things, as we give ourselves permission to look beyond ourselves and see the needs of those around us, then, like magic, the ability grows within us. It’s gradual, like everything in life, but that doesn’t mean it has to be slow. The speed of your growth is limited only by your acceptance of your ability to grow. The more you let yourself break your gray mold, the faster you will do it; and the faster you do it, the more easily you will let yourself do it, on and on in an upward spiral!

Heroes don’t wait around for criminals to pop up. The world needs a lot more help than mere crime-fighting. We don’t need gymnasts who can punch, we need unfit people who are willing to act. We need ordinary people who are willing to become extraordinary. A hero isn’t a buff guy who searches for trouble; a hero is anyone who looks beyond himself enough that he can see the needs all around him, and does whatever is necessary to help those needs. If that means he has to hit the gym, then he will, motivated by the needs he now sees in others. If, instead, it means he has to hit the books, then he will do that, spurred on by his heroic desire to help. It is his acceptance of his own ability to be a hero that leads him to gain the ability to help, not the other way around.

We all have our own needs. But as long as we look inward and rush to feed those needs, they will never really be satisfied. But when we look outside ourselves, when we ignore our own pain and instead seek to help others with theirs, then something remarkable happens: Our problems start to fix themselves. The pressing threats and dangers in our lives become less pressing and dangerous.

Are you having trouble paying your bills? Look outside yourself. It’s a leap of faith; heroism always is. Look outside yourself and open your eyes to the needs of others, and if you seek to help them, then, as if by magic, the help that you need will seem to pop out of the ground at your feet. Are you lonely? Look outside yourself, find someone else who needs comfort, and give them the help that you wish others would give you. Once you give what you need to others who really need it, it will come back to you. Your wounds will heal, your broken heart will glow, and you will find yourself ever more able and excited to be a better hero for the world.

You can be a hero. Don’t be ashamed to get excited when you hear a song about heroes. You know you, the real you that the gray voice may have buried, and you are more than a mere cog. You are meant to be active, not passive. You are meant to soar.

You can do it. Let it be gradual, and let it be fast. Let it be exhilarating! Look outside yourself, and see all the heartache and need. You can help. Look at the needs of your own family, your own friends, but don’t stop there. Don’t shy away from the big questions. When you see the big problems in the world, don’t listen to the pessimism that tells you you’re too small to do anything about it. Ability comes only after acceptance of your own potential to be heroic.

Our world needs more heroes. We don’t need people to literally wear costumes, but we do need people to don their own superhero outfits by accepting their vast heroic potential. We need more heroes.

Photo by Eneas

17 thoughts on “I Need a Hero”

  1. Be the change that you want to see in the world. I always remember this quote when I perceive something is lacking in my life. I share the same beliefs as you. When you help another you help yourself.

    1. Exactly! I think that if more of us like-minded people can get together on places like this, then we can encourage each other when it gets hard to be the change we want to see in the world. It is so hard, sometimes, and we need each other’s encouragement and help. But if we who think beyond the normal, beyond the gray, beyond the pessimistic, can all help each other, then we’ll be helping bring about the change we want to see!

  2. Hi Justin,
    “We can be heroes, even if just for one day…..” David Bowie
    Step outside of our self imposed boundaries and be our own ‘hero’…..it can be done. Thanks for the inspiration.
    be good tp ypurself

    1. I’ve started following Srinivas’s blog over at http://theskooloflife.com, and he talks a lot about self-imposed boundaries, and especially the boundaries that other people get us to impose on ourselves due to their expectations of us. You’re right, it can be done, we can be heroes, so don’t listen to anyone’s pessimism disguised as “realism.”

      Realistically, little people have often done great things that seemed impossible in the moment. Realistically, individuals are stronger than crowds because individuals have initiative. Realistically, there have always been naysayers, saying the same things in every era, and heroes have still proven them wrong, but only when the heroes have been willing to stick with it in spite of all the opposition.

      We all have such different lives, and different personalities and talents, and we all can be heroes in such different ways. So ya, I hope that some inspiration can help you during the hard times of being your own kind of hero!

    1. Wow, that looks like it could be really great! We need as many projects like this as possible! I love their focus on training people to get involved when they see a problem rather than waiting for someone else to fix it. The more active initiative we can have in this world, the better off we’ll all be.

      The pull of culture is so strong, that it’s hard to not just go with the flow, even if we want to do more. And change is scary, and it requires deep personal change to break old habits, break with cultural normalcy, and become a hero rather than a bystander.

      Too often, I think, we see some new game or project or invention or whatever, and we hear someone say, “Hey, I was going to do that!” But were they really going to *do* it? For every project that actually takes form, there are thousands of people who had the same idea but didn’t undergo the hard journey to make their idea a reality. It’s the sacrifice, the risk, the willingness to fail and fail and fail again for years and still bounce back, it’s that heroic tenacity that is almost always *required* to turn an idea into a reality, and it’s worth it!

      The simple truth, I think, is that heroic tenacity takes sacrifice, failure, and above all it takes growth. It’s hard. That’s why most people choose to go with the flow, do the default cultural thing, and stay a bystander. That’s a harsh assessment, I know, but *everyone* has the capacity to change that in themselves. And when we do choose to become heroes, then all the difficulty makes it all more rewarding! Every hardship or failure that we overcome grows our perspective, our joy in life and our love of ourselves and all around us. We come to treasure the battles we’ve endured because we find that they’ve made us the hero we love. But if we stay as bystanders, waiting for someone else to fix the problems we complain about, then we leave that heroic joy out of our reach.

      We need more projects like the Heroic Imagination Project! We need more heroes instead of bystanders. The more we like-minded people can share what we believe, help each other, and build each other, the more of an effect we can have.

    1. Lol, this is also from the Heroic Imagination Project, isn’t it? I love the focus on not just waiting for someone else to solve problems we see. There are so many problems, after all, that we need not wait for something awful to happen around us in order to dive in and be a hero…we need only open our eyes, and see how broken the world really is. And really, it is. Regardless of what you personally believe, we can all get together against basic things like abuse, rape, starvation, crushing poverty, and the numerous ways that people’s lives get ruined every day. But we can’t see that, can’t fix it, and can’t prevent the awful effects of present trends if we’re focused only on our own lives.

      We often don’t want to talk about how bad things are, because we think it’ll just be a downer. We don’t want to talk about what awful things happen in our own country, wherever we may live. We don’t want to talk about the kid who goes to prison for kissing a classmate and is labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life. We don’t want to talk about the woman who commits suicide because her churchmates told her she was evil. We don’t want to talk about depressing things like homelessness, shootings, or lives that were ruined by unjust legal action. We may even try to tell ourselves that such “downers” are the fault of the person suffering in them, therefore we don’t need to worry about it.

      But these things are only downers when we choose to be bystanders. If we are willing to pay the personal price that it takes to get involved, then downers become hope, the hope of a problem solved, a person rescued, a life repaired. We can put ourselves on the line, take a risk, and when we do fail, get back up. We may lose friends, finances, reputation…I have. But people need our help. Isn’t that worth the sacrifice? And whatever we may have to *temporarily* lose in the epic of becoming a hero, we will gain such a strength and joy in ourselves that can never be taken from us.

      Every other sacrifice can be repaired, but we can never be our true selves until we undergo our own personal heroic epic. We can start whenever we choose, and if we’ve stopped, we can get off the bench and start again. We don’t need to be bystanders, waiting for someone else to do something. The world needs us. Right now, while you’re reading this, there are people suffering in hopeless situations. Downer? Not if you take it as an opportunity to find your own way to help!

  3. We all want to be heroes in life. Heroes are so lovable beings. When we love what we do and excel at it, we amass behind us a group of followers which things us to be their heroes, their role models. We all need a hero, but that in fact means, we want ourselves.. The answer to unlock the hidden hero in us is to become lovable beings :)

    1. Precisely! We all dream of heroes, and wouldn’t we each love to be a real hero? And not just a little hero either, but more? We can, but it takes sacrifice, and that’s hard. But it can be done, as long as we accept ourselves as having a right to try it :)

      Even if we don’t amass followers at first, that’s fine, because we will know our own heroism. We need not say, “ah, there go my people, I must find out where they’re going so that I may lead them!” That’s not real leadership. A real leader is a leader even if no one chooses to follow him yet. A true hero is a hero even if no one else notices. Yet if we each find our way of being a full-out hero, then I think we’ll find people who will recognize our heroism, sooner or later ;) People may not love us at first, but we can work to be lovable and good. Some of the most lovable people in history have been quite hated, but with time, patience, and endurance, a lovable person can win over most of their enemies, making them into friends.

  4. Hi Justin
    thank you for the post :)
    this post reminds me of a one that i wrote with the title who are the real heroes where said that every person can become a hero
    real heroes can be people who seem so normal from the outside but when it comes to their contribution to the world they are found to be heroes

    1. Hey, I assumed you were talking about a post here on the Change Blog, but I couldn’t find it :P Feel free to leave a link! Sounds like a good one. Every person can become a hero. That’s what’s so great about heroism! It’s not about being bitten by a radioactive bat from the planet Krypton, no, it’s something that we all can become. Nor is it about only “small time” heroism; we need not limit ourselves by what we *think* we can do, because we most certainly can rise to do things we never imagined before.

  5. This is a great post.

    I think we could all learn something from watching superhero movies and reading the occasional comic (although admit to no longer reading these) is that our true enemy in life is the alter ego which often disconnects our true power within.

    Superheros in comics always win the day once they have gotten over their belief limitations and re-connect to their true purpose. I think that heros inspire people because they represent someone who applies their unique skills and talents to overcome challenges with strength.

    We all inspire to have heroic abilities, and there is a particular path a typical Superhero has to follow in order to succeed which involves; being clear on the mission, learning from the challenges, using their unique abilities and strengths and taking massive action to achieve what they want.

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post and so I am off to continue my hero’s journey.

  6. I’m late to the party, but I want to add- what a great post.

    I particularly liked your explanation of humility. Heroes have to be humble and you’ve brilliantly solved the dilemma of how a hero can be deliberate while still being humble.

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