What does it mean to redefine what it is to be a hero?
Social change is communal, so says Priscilla Lindsay, Chair and Professor of the Department of Theater and Drama at the University of Michigan.
I know this because I enrolled in an online class “Storytelling for Social Change.” (I thought it would be helpful to both my newspaper work and my ministry to become a better storyteller and to understand the historical and anthropological place of stories in our lives. There is a wide variety of free online classes here: www.edx.org/)
In stories, we find our humanity. Stories connect us emotionally and viscerally. They help us make deep connections.
This deep connection is important as we experience deep divides in our nation and in our world.
Making deep connections with each other is the work of community in the days, months and years ahead. Making deep connections means that we have to examine the assumptions and foundations that our perceptions and opinions come from.
So, it really is significant that emergency services training is leading the way in helping their personnel begin to unpack the assumptions and foundations that underlie actions and beliefs of what it means to be a hero.
Being a hero is not being a macho macho man. It is not irrespectively putting the lives of others ahead of your own. It is not a supreme risk taker: especially when it comes to driving to the scene of an emergency.
It is a person, well-trained and well-prepared who has examined their belief systems and is making accurate assessments as to the best course of action in a complex situation.
So how do we communally change our perception of what it means to be a hero?
I think, beyond the excellent training that has begun, we need to examine our stories about heroes. We have to see how our perceptions, our belief system, our old stories support the inaccurate narrative.
We have to let go of what we think we know.
And, as it turns out, letting go of what we think we know is a bit tricky when it comes to us humans.
We’ve got two things, at least, working against us.
In psychological experiments, researchers have consistently found that even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs.” (This article is fascinating: www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds)
Why you might ask? Why is it that even after we know the facts aren’t right, we don’t change our minds?
The first is reason.
It turns out that reason, which functions at the core of our belief system, has anthropological roots to cooperation, which is human’s biggest advantage over other species. According to cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, “reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.
In one sense, reason developed to make sure that no one was freeloading by lounging around the cave, while others took the risk in hunting for food. It has more to do with being wily in social situations than with sound judgment.
The second? Humans have a confirmation bias, which is “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.”
Great, right? We need to change our understanding and belief system and we’re immediately faced with two obstacles. One, we don’t let go of our beliefs easily and, two, our brains are wired to find information that supports our established belief system.
And that’s where stories can really help us.
Stories help us see someone else’s belief system. Stories help us connect to the human in all of us.
Funny, in solving our ideological divide, we need to connect deeply as cooperating human beings.
Heroes, really, of our own lives: well-trained and well-prepared, making accurate assessments as to the best course of action in a complex situation.
Let’s do it!