Anonymous asked: Confession: I haven't read the book - yet. I'm going to. But I have been inspired by a question from your recent posts. I have undoubtedly done heroic things. I was raped and in the immediate aftermath of that saved someone else from same. Classically heroic - although, it wasn't. It was just obviously the only thing to do. The only thing to feel like heroism is recovering from that night. I struggle to save my own life every day - eating disorders & et al. But I doubt that fits any definition?
First of all, thanks for this question. It’s another great example of why I continue to allow anonymous questions despite my reservations regarding internet anonymity. For every three weird or rude anonymous question I get, there’s one serious and important one.
As to your question, I should say that I think you’ll find whole chapters of my book that validate your thinking about heroism in your own life. I’m thinking specifically of the chapters on the suffering of Odysseus and also the chapters on the Socratic other-regarding heroism, as both seem like they could aptly describe some of the experiences you reference here.
The lesson we should take away from reading the Odyssey and thinking about the life of its hero, for example, is that “life is full of toil and suffering, but man should be able not only to endure but also to transform this toil and suffering into supreme achievement. ‘To make of this suffering a glorious life’,” as Hercules says in one of the plays of Sophocles.
Finally, I’d also note that your comment that “It was just obviously the only thing to do” is something we hear time and again from people who act heroically. My own thinking on the matter is that people who put themselves at risk, especially on behalf of others, have done a lot of the most difficult work of heroism ahead of time — that is, preparing themselves for the possibility that they’ll need to act at some point in their lives — and so, when they act, it seems to them as if their action was the only possible choice to make. We know, however, from numerous studies of bystander behavior, that heroes are actually acting in ways that are extraordinary; despite what they say, their actions are really quite different from what is “obviously the only thing to do.”