In an emergency situation, why do some people instinctively risk their own lives to try to save others?
I pondered that question when I read an Associated Press story about the everyday heroes at the mass shooting at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
When a sniper opened fire, killing seven people and wounding 46 others, some people ran toward the gunfire to help. Bystander Bobby Shapiro was taking off his cycling shoes when he heard the shots. Wearing just socks, Mr. Shapiro assisted Dr. Wendy Rush, an anesthesiologist who’d been attending the parade, tend to the victims. Their compassionate instincts superseded their fear. “We didn’t know where the shooter was,” said Dr. Rush. “We knew he wasn’t dead.”
According to the 2008 study “The Hero Concept,” everyday heroes seem to share certain values. They tend to have a robust sense of social responsibility and empathy for others. Another common trait: They’re often hopeful by nature. That optimism enables them to view difficult situations as challenges that can be changed for a better outcome.
Some believe that heroism can be nurtured. Dr. Julie Hupp, an associate professor of psychology at the Ohio State University at Newark and one of the study co-authors, told The Wall Street Journal, “Children who grew up watching their parents stick their necks out for others, are likely to do the same.”
Indeed, a nonprofit called The Heroic Imagination Project aims to inculcate heroism in adolescents. Its courses teach students the importance of moral courage and how to practice everyday altruism.
“Anyone can be a hero at any time an opportunity arises to stand up for what is right and just,” according to Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychologist who founded the project. “Heroism can be learned, can be taught, can be modeled, and can be a quality of being to which we all should aspire.”