Heroes — We Can Be Heroes, Just For One Day

Grey Swan Guild
18 min readJan 16, 2022

A Deep Exploration of Heroes : who are they?, where do they come from?, what type exist?, do we even need them? 15 facets to heroes in one tidy post.

Part of our six part Guild series on Heroes

News Wrap Edition #2a of Volume 2

Author: Sean Moffitt

Reluctant heroes. Unsung heroes. Antiheroes. Action heroes. Folk heroes. Culture heroes. Romantic heroes. Tragic heroes. Byronic heroes. Everyday heroes. Iconic heroes. Catalyst heroes. Epic heroes. Loner heroes. Mythic heroes. Post-classical heroes. Jukebox heroes.

We have so many varietals of hero classifications and characterizations, but do we have enough of them? Let’s explore.

In a world that seems to be physically, spiritually and mentally checking out of the real world and into themselves, we thought this week we would dive deep into one of the foundational pieces of society, culture and everyday life — Heroes.

Here are 15 facets of heroes and what we either now know about them or where our quest for knowledge has just begun:

  • A. Raison d’etre — Why tackle heroes as a News Wrap and Sensemaking discussion?
  • B. 2022 Pivotal Question — Why do we need heroes? or do we even need them?
  • C. Ontology — What four types of heroes exist?
  • D. A Litmus Test — Are these specific famous people heroes?
  • E. Factors — What influences our interpretation of heroes?
  • F. A Personal Hero Audit — Are these categories of people heroes?
  • G. Types of Heroes and Type 1 & 2 Hero Errors — What are the errors in diagnosing heroes in our modern context?
  • H. Universal Traits — What are the fifteen traits of heroes?
  • I. Person vs. Deeds— Can we distinguish the hero from the heroic act?
  • J. Heroes in Storytelling — What are the superhero stories?
  • K. Self-Acceptance — Do people even want to be called heroes?
  • Tapestry I — what are the top 20 song anthems? (B- separate post — published Sunday, January 16th)
  • News Wrap — The Great, The Good, The Grey Zone of Uncertainty, The Bad, The Ugly is -The Superheroes, Everyday Heroes, Anti or Reluctant Heroes, The Outlaws and The Villains this week (C- separate post — published Monday, January 17th)
  • Tapestry II — what are the top 49 superhero archetypes? (D- separate post — to be published Tuesday , January 25th)
  • Tapestry III — what are the 20 most authentic heroes we’ve surfaced? (E-separate post —to be published Thursday , January 27th)
  • How can we be more heroic on a daily basis? (F — separate post — to be published Saturday, January 29th)
Has the pandemic shone a new light on what a true hero is?

A. Raison d’Etre — Why tackle heroes as a News Wrap and sensemaking discussion?

I’ve been noodling on this topic for a long time, here’s seven reasons why:

  • It starts with David Bowie “Heroes” —can there be a better Bowie song with so many subtle listener interpretations for those trying to rise above it all? (with respect of course to Changes and Space Oddity).
  • Heroism is such a nuanced topic — my type of hero might be diametrically opposite to your type of hero, and there is so little research on the topic — a very juicy Grey Swan area of study emerges.
  • Worshipping the wrong heroes — I’ll state it upfront, throughout human history, we have had a very bad miss on which people we revere as heroes (Time Magazine once made Adolph Hitler Man of the Year in 1938)— it’s still happening today. Let’s turn the mirror on ourselves, in our current time.
  • The Many Flavours of Heroes — one issue may be the semantics of what is the DNA of a hero and can there be many types ? We say “yes”.
  • The Pandemic Casts a New Light — seen and unseen, we have seen remarkable feats and everyday commitments over the last two years that spotlights new elements of heroism — emergency front line workers, researchers, scientists and public health staff should get their day in the sun.
  • The World Needs More Heroes — if we just had 5% more heroes, or if each of us were each 5% more heroic , what would that mean for improving the state of the world? Governments don’t change the world. Companies don’t change the world. Peel the onion back and you realize, it’s up to people, oftentimes heroes, to change the world. It always has.
  • Personal Heroes — personally, with memories of my two recently deceased parents — with a level of self sacrifice, values and day-to-day work and parenting experience ethics I can only aspire to, I don’t have to look far to find my biggest heroes, I dedicate this post to them.

B. 2022 Pivotal Question — Why Do We Need Heroes? And do we even need them?

CNN celebrates everyday heroes in an annual rewards ceremony (as much as I don’t like the channel, I’ve watched it, it’s very inspiring). They can act as important role models for the best among us, the shining lights of humanity.

Heroes and their actions may arouse strong emotions and positive triggers such as awe, gratitude, or admiration.

People may also experience positivity as result of merely being associated with their hero’s exceptional accomplishments; a term called basking in reflected glory.

Heroes motivate individuals toward being a better person by raising awareness of our ideal selves. They are emotional, physical and spiritual catalysts.

Heroes can direct people away from our own ambitions away from their “narrow, self-centered concerns” in support of prosocial impacts.

Heroes educate us through storytelling of their odysseys and human drama. Stories of heroes and heroic myth have educated us while entertaining us, since the dawn of recorded history. They are an effective way of celebrating and teaching through shared self-identification with hero protagonists, less guarded absorption of new perspectives and social influence; more effective than straight linear representations, rote memorization and repetition.

Heroic episodes may trigger a sentiment and period of external world, social connectedness, evoking a sense of positive communion with others, across cultures.

Heroes exemplify cherished values, display qualities we admire, show us how to overcome challenges — and call us to stand up for others. They help in better world building. Their actions can be contagious.

Heroes are especially important as we deal with crisis such as a global pandemic, war or extreme event, because they nurture hope and help us cultivate fortitude in this challenging time. They help build our own resolve and nourish our inner hero to care for ourselves and others.

For both good and bad, heroes help reinforce our preferred world views. Done with best intentions, they can reduce our cognitive dissonance, inculcate a sense of proper sense of right & wrong and prepare us for similar experiences in our own day-to-day lives. Used with poor intentions, heroes can be used as vessels for propaganda, can manipulate people into extreme or morally questionable points of view and can oversimplify the real complexity that exists in the world.

On the negative side, many sociologists have commented that our pursuit heroes is an outgrowth of rampant individualism that takes away from the lens of the group, the team and society. The Annales school of historians suggest we attribute way too much importance to heroes in our chronicling of major movements and world events, minimizing the complex interrelation of social and cultural forces.

Perhaps not in the definition of heroes, but the way we assign & determine them, merited challenges are offered to our perspectives on heroism through the prism of dominant culture, race or gender. In addition, we have seen military, authoritarian regimes and business charlatans use heroes as evidence and symbols of support for their less-than-socially-good motives.

A post-modern, attention-deficited, new media view would also indicate that the popularity of heroes has attracted narcissistic, media-savvy personalities who push themselves into faux-hero contexts for the sake of heightened eyeballs, clicks and fan support.

C. Ontology — What type of heroes exist?

When you explore the academic research (which is decidedly sparse), journalism, storytelling, Hollywood films, pop culture, fantasy & gaming lore and opinion takes, you begin to realize that there is a gumbo of different types of representations on heroes. I’ve decided that heroes can be put into wide umbrella of four core types:

Episodic Heroes — defined by their beyond-the-expected or ordinary acts, feats or accomplishments

Everyday Heroes — defined by their ongoing contributions, work and values

Generational Heroes — defined by their historically important and lifetime of accomplishments, famous successes, ideas or symbolism worthy of veneration

Civilization Heroes — defined by their legendary and mythic themes that oftentimes represent the symbolic & identifiable beginnings, transformations or aspirations of a society, or set or tribe of peoples

Oftentimes when we try to compare or categorize heroes, we may be talking about four very different types of heroes with different benefit halos.

These primary hero types can likely be sub-classified into different categories:

  • individuals, partners, teams and societal heroes
  • willing, unwilling, catalyst, flawed, tragic, anti-heroes and outcast heroes
  • mythic, superheroes, leader, ordinary and working/underclass heroes
  • real human, animal, fictional and legendary heroes (one question for the future will be can ‘Droids be heroic’?)

D. A Litmus Test — Are these specific people heroes?

Let’s give it a try. We wanted to know whether you believe these 100 people (and some animals and fictional characters) should be described as heroes. We’re calling it “Heroes or Not”.

Hopefully we’ll determine how big of a range of people and what type of people make up your worlds. Here’s our survey link: https://bit.ly/heroesornot

Take our Heroes Litmus test: https://bit.ly/heroesornot

Take the Heroes or Not survey below and we’ll share the results back to you https://bit.ly/heroesornot

E. Factors — What influences our interpretation of heroes?

Part of our “Heroes or Not” question and survey (above) tries to get why who we are and what we believe determines why we celebrate, ignore or vilify certain heroes. We think there are 10 big influences:

Temporal Bias — some of us believe some amount of history needs to pass before identifying people as heroes; others have a recency bias.

Gender Bias — some people have hero leanings that skew male, female or other bias, based on how they identify or what they believe.

Political Bias — some people skew with who they celebrate as heroes based on their political and economic values and beliefs.

Cultural Bias — some people skew their view of heroes based on their values and mores, and whether heroes are part of the establishment/leader or radical/underdog class

Geographic Bias — some people only identify with heroes from their part of the world, from their nations, or those they locally identify with.

Personal Inspirations and Interests — some people identify with heroes that are most like them or have similar interests or professions.

Age Bias — some people believe in younger or older heroes based on their own age, or the benefit of youthful traits (e.g. energy, rebelliousness and activism) or older traits (experience, wisdom and longer track record).

Veneration Bias — some people have a very expansive view of what constitutes a hero; others have a very restrictive view.

Racial/Religious Bias — some people identify with predominant culture or minority classes; others have a proclivity to identify with heroes from their own backgrounds.

Process vs. Outcome Bias — some heroes are worshipped for how they went about their heroism; others are worshipped for what they ended up achieving.

In attempting to ground our study of heroes and heroism, we realize opinions are coloured by a litany of these biases. Can heroism be objectively studied as a science? It’s an interesting question — at minimum, there are a few boulders to move before we get at the essence of heroism.

F. A Personal Hero Audit — Are these categories of people heroic?

Two-thirds of us admit that we have personal heroes. Some types of these personally important family members, occupations and celebrities are not like the other? Tell us how they are different as prospective heroes.

Take the 5 minute survey: https://bit.ly/gsgspersonalheroes

Take The Personal Heroes Audit — https://bit.ly/gsgspersonalheroes

Let us know thoughts on this survey: https://bit.ly/gsgspersonalheroes

G. Heroes & Villains and Type 1 & 2 Hero Errors — What are the errors in diagnosing heroes in our modern context?

I am very cognizant that our view of heroes is shifting, and quickly. In a world of near-perfect connection, we can find out about people and their flaws rather easily that we might have welcomed as heroes unquestioned in our previous lives. We lionize people that don’t deserve our accolades. Plus, in a cancel culture world, we find comfort now in desecrating real heroes for perceived flaws that should be idolized.

The word “Hero” is thrown around a lot in media these days. To me, it can be nauseating to see every man, woman and child having some popular platform, wearing some uniform, doing something above normal, scoring a winning basket, simply doing their job or offering a helping hand being called a hero.

In truth, there are many flaws in who we find as heroes and who we don’t, here’s a lens and lexicon on how we can view these type one (false positives, in gold below) and type II errors (false negatives, in grey below).

The Good People

True Heroes, under-celebrated (false negatives, type two errors):

  • Flawed Heroes —sometimes also called tragic heroes, these heroes exhibit heroic values and perform heroic acts despite character flaws that make them less celebrated e.g. Edward Stark (Game of Thrones).
  • Martyrs — a person who suffers persecution , sometimes death for advocating, renouncing, or refusing to renounce or advocate, a belief or cause by the ruling system, often honoured posthumously but looked down on in their lifetime e.g Samuel Paty.
  • Outlaws — has a clear sense of right and wrong but operates above the law, with their own private moral standards, they accomplish noble ends despite their means e.g. Robin Hood.

Inauthentic Heroes and Near Villains (false positives, type one errors):

  • Fake Hero — we know deep inside that these heroes are false, and yet many still follow and venerate them in the vain hope that maybe it’s us that’s wrong. or until such time they are revealed to be non-heroes e.g. Kobe Bryant.
  • Anti-Villain —people with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues who are ultimately villains. Their desired ends can be mostly good, but their means of getting there range from evil to undesirable. Alternatively, their goals may be selfish or have long-term consequences they don’t care about but they may be good people e.g. Jacob Zuma.
  • Propaganda Hero — peoples who arise as heroes deliberately or spontaneously usually as a representation for something to believe in, and resort to their own mythmaking but really are people of little noble means or ends e.g. Lei Feng.

The Nebulous camp:

  • Anti-hero — although they may perform heroic actions or feats of courage, they lack conventional heroic qualities like idealism, noble purpose or morality e.g. Detective “Dirty Harry” Callaghan

The Bad People:

  • Villains — a malicious person who is involved in/devoted to wickedness or crime and defined by their acts of selfishness, evilness, arrogance, cruelty, cunning and displaying immoral behavior e.g. Hitler

H. Universal Traits — What are the traits of heroes?

Heroism has altruism at its core but that doesn’t fully define it.

Heroism has leadership as a component but some heroes may be loners, so that doesn’t define it.

Heroism has a strength involved — but increasingly those feats of strength in a 2022 world are less physical in nature, and more moral and humanistic.

It’s not widely accepted what constitutes a hero. Classical heroes usually have been defined in literature as having some great talent, important calling, quest for glory & valor and/or feat of strength. With new times and values, we recognize these are more refined and subtler distinctions in 2022.

Vantis Life recently looked at heroism in occupations and landed on seven important attributes (percentage shown represents respondents who believed trait defined heroism):

  • Pursuing Societally Good Outcomes & Making The World a Better Place— Saving someone’s life: 80%
  • Putting Yourself in Peril for Others — Risking your own life: 77%
  • Shared Values & Just Ideals — Standing up for other people: 75%
  • Role Modelling & Inspiration to Others — Being a role model: 68%
  • Leadership & Catalyzing Other People — Being a good leader: 55%
  • Risk-taking Beyond the Norm — Taking risks: 54%
  • Self Sacrifice & Selflessness — Spare time for no extra pay: 47%

Beyond this list, to cover off the traits of our four types of heroes, we would add:

  • Consistency — they provide some regular reinforcement of their values and deeds
  • Compelled to Action — overcoming bystander effects, to live out and act on praiseworthy values
  • Resilience — willing to go through the toughest of times and setbacks, sometimes repeatedly, for the greater good.
  • Lack of Expected Return — performing actions without any expectation of reward or external gain
  • Conviction — constancy and solidity of belief in principles and actions, even though others may waver around them
  • Moral Compass — live by their values and are willing to endure personal risk to protect those values
  • Optimism — confident in themselves and their abilities to achieve a positive end result, usually accompanied with good coping skills and stress management
  • Empathy — being able to consider another person’s point of view or plight, particularly a disenfranchised one

Which attributes do you believe are most important to heroes?

Source: Vantis Life — Heroism vs. Importance in Occupations

I. Person vs. Deeds — Can we distinguish the hero from the heroic act?

“Even people who have led less than exemplary lives can be heroic in a particular moment. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, a young man named Jabar Gibson, who had a history of felony arrests, did something many people in Louisiana considered heroic: He commandeered a bus, loaded it with residents of his poor New Orleans neighborhood, and drove them to safety in Houston. Gibson’s “renegade bus” arrived at a relief site in Houston before any government sanctioned evacuation efforts.” Zeno Franco & Philip Zimbardo, Greater gooid Magazine

Amidst the high profile toppling of historical statues of generals and leaders in our more sensitized worlds, Scott Allison writes that heroic actions should be celebrated, and are more likely to transcend human time periods than heroic people.

There may be a recognition that all humans are flawed and perhaps not deserving of our adoration, yet a morally sublime act is pure and transcendent. This also supports the theme of our News Wrap, we can ALL be heroes, even for just one day. Heroes aren’t minted with some set of rare and defining characteristics or genetics, we can all be heroes.

J. Heroes in Storytelling — What are the hero story archetypes?

Many of us have heard about Joseph Campbell’s all-pervasive “The Heroes’ Journey” , profiling heroism as a stepped process, bookended by the call to adventure in an unknown world and transformative return back to the known world. It’s an inspiring and valid heuristic on how heroes develop, are shaped and grow.

However within this monomyth, there are many layers of complex heroism that Jung revealed and countless others have built upon to help understand people, their universal patterns and their drives better:

  • The Innocent: Exhibits happiness, goodness, optimism, safety, romance, and youth. Motivation: To find happiness or truth. Examples: Buddy — Elf, Dorothy — The Wizard of Oz, Hermione Granger — Harry Potter.
  • The Everyman: Seeks connections and belonging; is recognized as supportive, faithful and down-to-earth. Motivation: To connect, be accepted, and be understood. Examples: Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, Luke Skywalker — Star Wars, Frodo — The Lord of the Rings.
  • The True Hero: On a mission to make the world a better place, the Hero is courageous, bold and inspirational. Motivation: To prove their worth by saving the day. Examples: Wonder Woman, Captain America, Rocky Balboa, Batman.
  • The Rebel: Questions authority and breaks the rules; the Rebel craves rebellion and revolution. Motivation: To change the world and restore justice. Examples: Han Solo — Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Katniss Everdeen — The Hunger Games.
  • The Explorer: Finds inspiration in travel, risk, discovery, and the thrill of new experiences. Motivation: driving and powerful craving for new experiences. Examples: Captain James T. Kirk, Jason & The Argonauts, Bear Grylls, Doctor Who.
  • The Creator: Imaginative, inventive and driven to build things of enduring meaning and value. Motivation: To build something that leaves a legacy. Examples: Steve Jobs, Daniel Plainview — There Will Be Blood, Willy Wonka — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  • The Ruler: Creates order from the chaos, the Ruler is typically controlling and stern, yet responsible and organized. Motivation: To be top dog. Examples: King Arthur, Miranda Priestly — The Devil Wears Prada, Mr Burns — The Simpsons.
  • The Magician: Wishes to create something special and make dreams a reality, the Magician is seen as visionary and spiritual. Motivation: To create order from chaos, and shape the world. Examples: Frank Underwood — House of Cards, Jay Gatsby — The Great Gatsby, Saruman — The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes.
  • The Lover: Creates intimate moments, inspires love, passion, romance and commitment. Motivation: To be one with their beloved. Examples: Edward — Twilight, Jack and Rose — Titanic, Samwise — The Lord of the Rings.
  • The Caregiver: Protects and cares for others, is compassionate, nurturing and generous. Motivation: To help and protect other people. Examples: Samwise Gamgee — The Lord of the Rings, Mary Poppins, Dustin Henderson — Stranger Things.
  • The Jester: Brings joy to the world through humor, fun, irreverence and often likes to make some mischief. Motivation: To have an easy time living for today. Examples: Stifler — American Pie, Timon and Pumbaa — The Lion King, Tigger — Winnie the Pooh.
  • The Sage: Committed to helping the world gain deeper insight and wisdom, the Sage serves as the thoughtful mentor or advisor. Motivation: To nurture the next generation. Examples: Obi-Wan Kenobi — Star Wars, Gandalf — The Lord of the Rings, Albus Dumbledore — Harry Potter.
12 Archetypes Dimensionalized for Brands

K. Self-Acceptance — Do People Want to be Called Heroes?

A chorus has arisen during the pandemic of front-line workers preferring not to be labelled heroes. Similar to perhaps poorly treated soldiers in previous wars and civil conflicts, front line workers believe being labelled heroes takes the scent away from some real issues — poor working conditions that are normalized, very real patient death counts that could be avoided and low year round appreciation and renumeration for the profession. Here’s a powerful argument.

As much as heroes may be worthy of the attention and in most cases, appreciate the public expression of support, occasionally “hero” campaigns are used as surrogate efforts to pump up people in authority positions that can’t engender the same level of pride, excitement, charisma or support. Nearly 3% of people have declined a British honour for a variety of reasons.

Authentic heroes tend to focus more on others and less on the personal sacrifice they’re committing, so they are less likely to view their actions as heroic as others do.

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Arthur Ashe, professional tennis player

Source: Slate — Nicholas Kamm

Here are the other parts to our Heroes series:

Part II — — Top 20 Hero Song Anthems.

Part III — Heroes — Superheroes, Everyday Heroes, Anti-heroes, Fake Heroes and Villains

Grey Swan Guild — Join of 50 Shades of Grey Thinkers

Hopefully some of you will think about joining our collective that tries to make sense of thee world and the future. There may even be heroes among us.

We are a post-modern version of the Guild — this is what we like to do:

Join us for Montreal Month — January 2022’s Featured Guild City and come to its town hall January 26th: https://bit.ly/gsgMontreal

Grey Swan Guild

Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢



Grey Swan Guild

Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢