Taking Back the Word Hero for the Heroes

Matt Langdon - The Hero Workshop

Matt Langdon - The Hero Workshop

Matt Langdon is the founder, creator, and visionary of the Hero Workshop, a fascinating project-turned-organization who’s aim is “to show young people that by doing the little things every day they can become heroes. Far from having to perform miraculous deeds, they are provided with an attainable goal.”

I’ve asked Matt to write a post for this blog because (a) he’s a fantastic guy doing fantastic work and deserves every bit of credibility and press he can get on this subject and (b) projects like this are typically underfunded, under-noticed, and talked about less than they should be. These things and people need to be at the forefront of entrepreneurs minds. Entrepreneurship does not equal monetary capitalism. This is true innovation and vision – something both established and up and coming entrepreneurs could learn a thing or two about.

Listen to this man’s vision. Join with him if you feel so led. Hanging out with people like this is like learning and being in the shadow of giants (in a great way).

There are too many heroes in the world.

You won’t hear that complaint too often. But I’ve had enough of the guitar heroes, comeback heroes, 4th quarter heroes, and 9/11 heroes. The mass media world has stolen the word from the real heroes and I want to give it back to them. I do want the world to be filled with heroes, but not the heroes they provide us.

What is a hero anyway? Lovelace said it best in ‘Happy Feet’: “Mumble Happy Feet, I’m going to be telling your story long after you’re gone.” Heroes are the people whose stories we keep telling. We tell those stories because they contain lessons for us; lessons to help us be better people. Now, obviously this doesn’t exclusively define heroes because we tell villain’s stories for the same reason – lessons.

There are three things that define a hero and give us reason to keep telling their stories. They must take action for the greater good, and accept any risk involved. Doing only two of them makes them altruistic, a daredevil, or a philosopher.

Taking action is obvious. If you don’t do anything you’re a bystander. The bystander is the enemy of the hero – not the villain. When the hero sees something that disrupts their internal value system, they act to rectify the situation. The bystander shakes their head, or thinks someone else will do something, or figures the risk is to great. The bystander lets the bad thing happen. We see bystanders in the school yards and office buildings allowing bullying to thrive. In fact, we see them enable bullying. Bystanders are common and that’s why we celebrate heroes – they’re not.

I’m not talking about any old action though. It’s not sinking a last minute basket or scoring a hattrick. It’s not getting to the final of a reality TV show. It’s not escaping certain death or surviving cancer. The hero acts for the good of others. This act may benefit the hero in the end, but that benefit is not the reason. Again, the action comes from a disruption of what the hero sees as right.

So far I’ve defined an altruistic person. Risk is where the nice person becomes a hero. Sacrifice fits here too. This risk or sacrifice needs to be perceived. There’s no heroism in being struck by lightning while you were helping get a cat out of a tree. That’s just bad luck.

With all three ingredients, we have a hero. The hero doesn’t need to be famous and the act doesn’t need to be enormous. The girl who offers help to a bullied boy by befriending him risks alienation or bullying. The coworker who calls out the derogatory language risks losing friends at work or facing ridicule – “I mean, who really thinks calling something gay is harmful?” Corazon Aquino was a hero to millions, but she’s just as important as the girl at school who is a hero to one scared little boy. Each story will continue to be told for the lessons they contain.

Frequently we attach the word hero to other types of situations. Our aunt who inspired us by surviving cancer is an inspiration, not a hero. The majority of the people who died on 9/11 were victims, not heroes. Our favorite singer or athlete is talented, not heroic.

So let’s take the word back from the news channels, newspapers, and magazines. Let’s bestow it on those that deserve it, whether big or small. Let’s make them feel proud and when we find ourselves in a situation that needs a hero, maybe we’ll be ready to act for the good of others despite the risk.


The Hero Workshop

The Hero Workshop

The Hero Workshop
– Finding The Hero Inside


Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

3 Comments on "Taking Back the Word Hero for the Heroes"

  1. nate says:

    I find this post by John Maxwell along the same lines: Stepping out against fear. It is a short article that tells a great story about a man who became a leader of a great revolution against a great tyranny, simply by starting to walk. His walk was symbolic, but his message was clear and the results almost killed him (as he expected). But by the end of the walk, 15,000 people joined him and started one of the greatest movements in U.S. history.

  2. Justin VB says:

    Thanks, Nate, for giving Mr. Langdon free press. This is great! Hopefully I’ll run into you over the next few days while you’re visiting town.

  3. Sara Pall says:

    Hey what a great post man There are too many heroes in the world and i think it is true man……you have defined the real meaning of the word hero and we are just insulting the word hero by saying anyone a hero or hero’s man..well great thought indeed.

  4. Cheo says:

    Awesome definition. I agree.

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