Peter Petrelli ...or maybe it should be why I need heroes...

I'm not talking about the television series, although I do heart it very much. But I was watching the finale and waxing to myself why I do love it so much and came up with a really good reason: Hope.

I mean, we aren't living in times of real despair or anything. Not me. I have a charmed, wonderful life. But there is despair. Lots of it. And I don't mean to get too melodramatic, but there seems to be more hurting than healing going on in the world today. Being a hero, to me, means that you want to change that pattern.

It has nothing to do with the abilities, although it would be super cool to have them. It has everything to do with the desire. Heroes, the show, is a metaphor. If you woke up one day and realized that you had a power, what would you do with it? Something good? Something evil? Would you hide it? Celebrate it? Would you feel that this power obligates you to change something for the better? I think the reason why the show resonates with so many people (and especially people in my circle of over achievers) is that it nags at the real honest truth of the matter:

We have power already.

We don't need to fly or move objects with our minds. Yeah, yeah. I know. I sound all sappy self-help, but truly...many of us just can't get over ourselves long enough to recognize that we don't have to take shit sitting down. I recently went and saw Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs and, man, there was hardly anyone in that movie theatre to take the message of that film and reflect it back at themselves.

We need to take responsibility.

Crap. Now I've moved into preachy. Chris and I have talked a great deal about privilege and what it means to have the freedom to do anything we want. And we've realized that we squander it...alot. We take our powers and use them for more comfort until we are so far away from really understanding the reality of our moves that we forget to think that even the laptops we complain about lugging around got there somehow and it wasn't because we were entitled to them. We forget to think that what we take for granted is not a right but a privilege.

But we all know this, really. And we live with the guilt of it daily. I think our cushy lives are full of guilt and angst. And we are terribly defensive of it. The idea of a group of Heroes coming along relieves that guilt. We believe in them to make things better.

I was chatting with Heather Cronk of PledgeBank today (she rocks, btw) about how passive engagement with causes is such a damaging thing. One of my most hated applications on Facebook is Causes. Other than being set up to automatically spam my friends even when I don't want it to, it does something incredibly awful: it gives us a false sense of giving a damn. So, I'm a better person because I list these 'causes' I believe in. What have I actually done for Climate Crisis, Fight Poverty and Breast Cancer Research? Recruited more people who passively place this application on their Facebook profiles to give the air that they care.

Yes, now I've moved into cynical. I know. Lame.

I like to think of myself as someone who does less talking than I do DOING. If I sign my name to a cause, I better damn well be doing something. I don't have to run the darn thing, but I do have to contribute in a meaningful way (and money isn't always the most meaningful way either). And I know that I'm a gnat on the pimple of a festering planet, but, hell, enough gnats get together, those little things we do could probably add up.

Which leads me to what we need to help people discover their inner Hero.

Heather (did I mention she is brilliant? I didn't bring my camera today unfortunately, but I WILL catch her for an interview) has some really great ideas. Like real engagement kind of ideas.

I really like what PledgeBank is doing. Basically, if you want something done, you both do and don't have to do it yourself. The idea is that you pledge that you will do your part if others will come forward and do theirs. And many of these are real, tangible, do-able pledges. Like running a Net2 in the Twin Cities (they need one more...), which could really help a couple of local non-profits learn how to use tools to more successfully fundraise and network. And finding 200 people to donate $50 to get solar panels put onto the Ypsilanti City Hall. Certainly, not all of the pledges are meaningful to me, but many are and what they really are...are ACTIONABLE. I heart that so much.

Heather has other actionable ideas, too. Like, when you interact with something like on a passive level, bring it up a notch and say, "Dude, so cool you are interested in this. Here is a simple thing to DO to take it to the next level." Interested in reducing global warming? Give instructions to go turn off your screensaver (I've been told that is a massive sucker of power). When you feel good about that, you get another level. Inch by inch, we can retrain ourselves to engage.

Of course, you can't walk up to someone at the supermarket and say, "Drop all of your luxuries and come with me and volunteer at the Food Bank." That just won't work. But I do like those bins that are at the supermarket that allow you to throw food into, but they should really warn you before you get there. I usually only buy what I need and going back is too big of a step. Put a label on the shelves of needed items that says, "Why not buy and extra and throw it in the food donations bin? The local center is in need of these." And then...once you feel great about throwing those items into the bin, there is instructions to take the next step. I don't know. Maybe it allows you to SMS yourself a reminder to bring in used clothes next time. Slowly, we can work ourselves up to taking a volunteer shift or two at the Food Bank. And even if we don't ever set foot in the Food Bank, we have still done something real and tangible.

Heather is a total Hero.

I know that many of you reading this ARE Heroes. You do real, tangible things and believe strongly in so much. It gets exhausting to keep it up AND try to live in the mere-mortalsphere. That's why it would be good to teach people to find their inner-Heroes. When everyone is a Hero, the work is distributed more evenly. For those of us with causes, we really need to start creating tangible things for people to do and real motivations to uncover those hidden powers.

One of the reasons I heart BarCamp so much is that it has unleashed some massively powerful Heroes on this world. It has the perfect blend of tangible and motivation (a person can grow their Social Capital by throwing one) built right into the formula. BarCamp participants as well as organizers, go onto to all sorts of mind-blowing things. And they are good at infecting others with Heroism, too. What can we learn from BarCamp that we can spread to our other passions? There are lots of answers to that, but the most poignant is to give as many people the key to unlocking their own inner-Hero. Don't do it for them. Show them that it's within themselves. The greatest gift you can give is to unleash that. (I have a few ideas for unleashing in my presentation here)

So that's that. Why we need Heroes and where they are. Right here. At the risk of ending this with total fromage, let me quote David Bowie:

We can be heroes, just for one day. [which is totally addictive, so it becomes two...then three...then next thing you know it, you've made a full-time career of being a Hero]