Following the January shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several of her supporters, everyone from President Obama, to congress, to school children had a chance to consider the roles of heroes in our midst.

Last month a survey of 4,000 people published in USA Today reported that 20 percent of Americans say they’ve performed heroic deeds, such as helping in an emergency or even taking a stand against injustice.

A crisis like what happened at Tuscon brings out the inner hero in some. Author and Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo Ph.D. founded the Heroic Imagination Project after he discovered one out of five Americans say they’ve acted heroically.

“A hero is someone of any age and any background who puts him or her best self forward by helping others in need, or defending a cause,” says Zimbardo, whose authored The Lucifer Effect and The Time Paradox. “[Heroes] are aware of a potential risk or cost and typically not expecting any sort of award.”

Eight year old Blake Dudzik of Naperville was moved to action when he thought about injured members of the military. He cut a hole in a box, taped a sign on it reading “help America’s troops” and sat on a street corner, collecting money.

“I saw a show on the news about Memorial Day and the sick and injured soldiers and wanted to raise money for them. It was easy to do,” said Blake Dudzik, a second grade student at Arlene Welch Elementary School.

Blake’s personal charity raised $250 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes fund.

“I wish I did something like this,” said Lorna Dudzik, Blake’s mother. “When you do something like this for those who are in need it really makes a difference. Blake is a hero to me.”

Blake defended a moral cause and helped a group of people, meeting two of Zimbardo’s examples of heroism. Some others include helping someone in an emergency, fighting corruption, or sacrifice for a non-relative or friend.

“One of the main keys to being a hero is the ability to recognize the other [person with a need]. You can’t help someone unless you know someone has a need,” says Zimbardo

Nancy Bankemper and her friend Elsie Sottile have volunteered at Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry for the past three years. They answered an internal call for service to their community.

“I think there is definitely a need for more people. I think it all boils down to why we are on this earth, to help each other,” says Bankemper. “If you have a lot, there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t give some.”

Sottile is in her 80s and offers encouragement to those who doubt their ability to help out.

“I would tell them they can do it. I thought at first I couldn’t do it. I think it’s a gratifying thing to do,” said Sottile.

Basic generosity is even gratifying for those who got out of their way to improve someone’s day. Zimbardo’s report identifies some of the simplest acts of kindness as the beginnings of heroic action.


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