The year 2020 highlights Charles Dicken’s astute observation of duality of human experiences: “best of times” (heroes and she-roes in the pandemic) and “worst of times” (multiple COVID-19 surges, unbearable losses of human life, strained health care system, attacks on science and medicine which guide public policy, political turmoil, economic crises, rising rates of homelessness and hunger). This is a season of mourning and loss. It is hard to think of this dark winter period as a holiday season. I do not want to promote toxic positivity or demonstrating an expansive and overly optimistic attitude during times of extreme difficulty. Samara Quintero and Dr. Jamie Long write about the negative aspects of Toxic Positivity which may include minimization, denial and suppression of authentic feelings of despair, sorrow, and anguish which arise when facing difficult times. In a season of mourning, negative feelings of anger, fear, grief, loss and groundlessness abound.
Without promoting toxic positivity in these worst of times in the pandemic, there are examples of the best of humanity, such as sacrifices, selflessness, and acts of heroism in this season. This is when the Divine Spark in people shine with radiance and generate hope that we will get through this pandemic. I love Dr. Maya Angela’s quote “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” . The purpose of this post is to create a space to celebrate and honor our heroes and she-roes around the world in the midst of the pandemic. This post will also explore psychological and spiritual aspects of ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things.
Who are the Everyday Pandemic Heroes and She-roes?
These are ordinary people, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, teachers, and grandparents who step in with courage to help others, raise families, volunteer, and do the best they can to make the lives of their loved ones and communities better and safer. Countless heroes and she-roes. Some of their stories are covered in the media, but, the vast number will remain nameless people who work tirelessly day in and day out. Heroes and She-roes are essential workers -frontline health care workers in hospitals and medical clinics, scientists working on developing vaccines, people who participated in the trials to test the efficacy of the vaccines, mental health professionals, especially those working telephones networks taking crisis calls, and crisis clinics, preachers, healers, grocery store workers, pharmacists, first responders, police men and women, fire fighters and paramedics. The heroes and she-roes show us the best of humanity and create rays of hope in a struggling world.
What is a Hero or She-roe?
Prominent social scientists, such as Phillip Zimbardo, Ari Kohen, and Carl Jung (psychologists) and Joseph Campbell (mythologist) ,have written about what makes a hero or she-roe.
Phillip Zimbardo, a well renowned social psychologist, who started the Heroic Imagination Project, defines four characteristics of heroism. I summarized them to the best of my understanding .
- Heroic acts are demonstrated to serve others or defend an defend an ideology.
- Act of heroism is voluntary
- Person engaging in heroic act knows there is potential physical or psychological risk to self because of heroic action and persons realizes that self sacrifice is involved.
- Person has no incentive for external gain or reward
Zimbardo makes an excellent point in differentiating heroism from altruism. When a person does altruistic actions, there may be an ego investment that they may gain positive emotion from the altruistic behavior. However, in heroism, the action is not based on the person’s ego gaining something. In heroism, the action is geared towards something bigger than oneself (non-egoic). I love Zimbardo’s comment that heroes or she-roes are everyday ordinary people, who carry the life force of goodness in humanity in their blood and we need more heroes and she-roes in this time than ever before.
Ari Kohen et al. (2017) argue that heroes are not born, but, made. Kohen et al. (2017) describe some the key characteristics of heroes. I will argue that their findings also apply to she-roes.
- Expanded Empathy. This is where the person is able to take the perspectives of others, not just people, who are like him or her ,but, also people considered as “others” in a divisive respect.
- Imagination of heroism. These are people who have capacity of prosocial imagination of heroic action in their particular lives.
- Habitual Helper. This refers to heroes being people who have history of doing things to help others throughout their lives.
- Special Training. Heroes are people who have the training to intervene when the opportunity arises to help others.
Carl Jung has also discussed the concepts of collective unconscious and archetypes in his analytical psychology movement. The collective unconscious refers to the universal unconscious material which carries certain themes or primordial symbols inherited by every person, across different cultures. Carl Jung defined various archetypes, such as, mother, wise elder. Jung defined a hero archetype in the unconscious mind of every person. In this post, I will refer to hero/she-roe archetype. According to Jung, heroic action by a person, involved the unconscious hero archetype emerging from the depths of the unconscious to conscious mind of the person.
Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist who was influenced by Jung’s work, discussed the archetype of hero found in myths across cultures. The hero’s journey can be divided into three basic parts :
- person departs from his/her ordinary circumstances and encounters an immensely different and challenging series of circumstances,
- the person is initiated into the adventure through hearing a call, receiving special assistance from guides and fighting the trials of the extraordinary world. The person finally encounters the crisis point where he/she has to face his or her ultimate nemesis, and vanquishes the enemy and emerges victorious.
- Then, the person returns to his/her ordinary world, a transformed human being, bringing his or her wisdom or knowledge to nurture his or her fellow human beings.
Spectacular People: Heroes and She-roes
In applying the framework of Jung’s archetype of hero and Joseph Campbell’s discussion of the hero’s journey, the emergence of the pandemic of COVID-19 is an unprecedented collective trauma experience, where entire humanity departed from the comforts of ordinary life and encounters a dangerous, unknown and uncertain world. This new world is where the unseen corona virus is a lethal killer, destroying families and communities, contributing to economic crises, straining the health care system and stealing regular freedoms, such as walking through the malls, going to movie theatres, family and social gatherings, that we took for granted in the pre-COVID-19 era. In the encounter with the pandemic, many heroes and she-roes have fought their fears, worries and met the demands of the crises. Everyday heroes and she-roes have endured day in and out to care for their loved ones and communities. Essential workers demonstrate courage and bravery in taking care of ill people despite their exhaustion and burn-out. Health care workers and first responders walk into hospitals knowing their lives are in danger every day, embodying Phillip Zimbardo’s definition of a hero. Dr. Joseph Varon hugging an elderly patient in a hospital , as the patient cries to be with his wife during Thanksgiving, epitomizes ‘herohood”. This picture is more powerful than a thousand words. Dr. Varon reported that he was hugging to sooth the elderly patient, but, did not know he was being photographed. He also talked about the importance of safety measures, such as masks and social distancing to prevent the rise of COVID-19 surges.
Dr. Taylor Nichols , a Jewish doctor’s, poignant depiction of an instant of hesitation in treating a patient with Neo-Nazi tattoos is powerful and human. However, Dr. Nichol’s and his team, including an African-American nurse and an Asian nurse, witnessing the intense suffering and fear of dying of this patient, and deciding to provide effective and compassionate care for the patient, demonstrates the principle of expansive empathy (Ari Kohen et al., 2017) of heroes and she-roes. Dr. Nicholson and his team demonstrate the powerful aspect of being hero/ she-roes, which is serving selflessly with their knowledge and training to help people, who are part of “others” -others who promote hatred and violence towards them. This also demonstrates Zimbardo’s comment that heroes represent the life blood of goodness which is part of humanity. I believe that this call for practice of expansive empathy, compassion and understanding of perspectives of others, especially those who are deemed as the “other”, politically, religiously, linguistically, culturally is critical for us to work together in a divided nation.
Another example of everyday heroes and she-roes is demonstrated by a social experiment staged by Mathew Bandeira. Bandeira staged a child actor posing as homeless child on the streets seeking for help and called the scenario “Would you help a homeless child left on the street?”. This video was posted two years ago (pre-COVID-19) era. It is heartbreaking to see different people walk by the child. Some of the people who walked by gave the child change in coins. However, the person who offered food and help to the child is another homeless woman. This demonstrates the power and goodness of everyday she-roes.
There are countless heroes and she-roes in this pandemic. They represent the best of humanity. I believe they act on the Divine Spark within. The placement of heroic action is also based on heroes and she-roes placed in the right place and right time. I believe that is Divine Planning, as summarized by the statement, “God is in the timing“. One of my colleagues called heroes and she-roes in her life as “God in Skin”, or “Divinity with Skin“. Heroes and She-roes appear at the right time and right place to save lives and change the trajectory of people’s lives.
Dear Readers: Please feel free to post comments and honor and celebrate the heroes and she-roes in your lives. Thank you very much.