Whenever there is a tragedy, undoubtedly there will be talks about heroism. Following the Aurora Theatre Shooting, news came out of a man who abandoned his girlfriend and 4-month-old baby while trying to escape the nightmare in the theater. This cowardly act was brought to my attention by a clip of an interview the guy did with Piers Morgan on CNN (July 20, 2012). While watching the clip and listening to the man, I realized that he had abandoned his family in the theater. I was rather shocked and thought to myself, ‘how could somebody do such a thing and then appear on television to talk about it’? I immediately posted the clip on Twitter and tried to get feedback from some of my followers. It turned out that at least one of my followers agreed with the actions of this man. Since this blog post is about the Psychology of a Hero and not Cowards, I will make no more mention of this man.
The Aurora Theatre Shooting produced news of men who gave their lives while protecting their girlfriends. One young man by the name of Jarrell Brooks took a bullet to the leg while trying to protect a stranger and her two kids. He succeeded in doing so, and they all escaped the horror of the theater shooting. This heroism is what I want to discuss in this blog post. What causes people to risk life and limbs often against their better judgment to try and save other people during times of tragedy? Is it an innate trait? Is it based on the relationship with the potential victim? Is it based on intelligence or character?
In the 1992 movie Hero, “A not-so-nice man rescues passengers from a crashed airliner, only to see someone else take credit.” Nobody believed that this man did or was capable of doing such a brave and selfless act.It’s a funny movie with a different take on heroism; I recommend you watch it.
Often when we see or hear the word “hero,” it is associated with people who have died during selfless acts. From a statistical point of view, heroes do not have a good track record of survival. The high probability of death makes their actions even more mind-boggling. I should note that when I speak of heroes, I am talking about the “average Joe or Jane,” the ordinary citizen. Persons who are trained professionals (police, soldiers, firefighters), etc., can also be heroes, but these people have already accepted that injury or death is a possibility in their respective fields.
There are two sides to heroism, the one that most people are familiar with is the one that is often broadcasted on the television and printed in newspapers. This side of heroism is where we praise someone for saving the property or life of another person. The hero in this case typically gets “15 minutes” of fame, does some interviews and has some articles written about them. Based on the extent of the heroism and the nature of the tragedy, the government might step in and reward this person. All of this sounds fantastic until we remember that often the “hero” does not survive. The second side of heroism is the side that the fanfare cannot replace – the loss of a loved one. We don’t often think about the fact that a family no longer has a father, a brother, a mother or a daughter or any other family member because of the hero’s selfless act. Whether we want to accept it or not, a family is left grieving because the “hero” placed the well-being of somebody else, above that of themselves and their family.
Take a minute and ask yourself if you would risk your life for somebody else? Would you be okay with the fact that your loved one died because they selflessly saved the life of someone else? I know a lot of persons will say that they would risk their lives for a family member, especially their mother or their child. Would you do the same for a stranger? I guess that is what makes a hero. I will never truly understand the psychology of a hero.