It is always amazing when ordinary people do extraordinary things.
As was the case with a young man in Worcester, England who happens to be married to my husband’s niece. Samantha was 9 months pregnant with her third child when she felt certain her baby’s birth was imminent. So she and her husband, Grant, raced into the car and made for the closest hospital only to be turned around by medical personnel who told them that they were seriously jumping the gun and that their baby was days away from being born.
The drive home was about all the time it took for little Susanna Jean to prove the doctors wrong.
With Sam clearly in labor the couple had to face the fact that there was no time to rush back to the hospital. Relatives say Grant is still in shock over what happened next. He dialed the English equivalent of 911, explained his situation and then handed the phone over to his 9 year old daughter so she could relay instructions from the emergency workers to him, who, with no nurse or doctor beside him, did what he never imagined himself capable of.
“My husband is my actual real life hero,” Sam wrote in her FACEBOOK posting. “He safely delivered our 3rd beautiful daughter this morning all by himself!!!”
A note sent to me by her mother, my sister in law, described the effect of Susanna Jean’s arrival on both her son in law and his two other daughters Becky and Tilly.
“Grant and Becky are now local heroes,” she said, “and Tilly wrote a story at school about it….There probably isn’t anyone in Worcester that she hasn’t told ….and graphically!!!”
“Simply put, the key to heroism” says Philip Zimbardo, psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, “ is a concern for other people in need.”
Like Samantha. Or the 9 year old Chinese boy Zimbardo called a dutiful hero.
“In 2008, there was a massive earthquake in China’s Szechuan province,” recalled Zimbardo. “The ceiling fell down on a school, killing almost all the kids in it. This kid escaped, and as he was running away he noticed two other kids struggling to get out. He ran back and saved them. He was later asked, “Why did you do that?” He replied, “I was the hall monitor! It was my duty, it was my job to look after my classmates!”
And, similarly, as a husband and father Grant assumed the responsibilities that those roles required. No matter how afraid he must of been.
But isn’t that what defines heroes? Those people who muster the courage to fight their fear, step up to the plate, and just get the job done.
Zimbardo has tried to discover the root of heroism by surveying 4000 people. His findings show that:
-One in five of us has acted heroically in our lifetime.
-The more educated you are the more apt you are to behave heroically.
-Most heroes had volunteered in their lifetimes.
-Blacks were 8 times more likely than whites to be heros.
-Having survived trauma yourself increased by three times the likelihood of heroic behavior on your part.
Zimbardo has also created a foundation to explore the concept of heroism and to teach us all how to become courageous in the face of fear or danger. “We want to democratize the notion of heroism, to emphasize that most heroes are ordinary people; it’s the act that’s extraordinary,” says Zimbardo.
I don’t think I have ever had a close brush with bravery. Not like soldiers or firemen or police. But research reveals that may be a gender issue. Zimbardo says, “Males reported performing acts of heroism more than females.” But he also points out, “ I think this is because women tend not to regard a lot of their heroic actions as heroic. It’s just what they think they’re supposed to do for their family or a friend.”
Regardless of gender though, both Zimbardo and former first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt agree that heroes weren’t necessarily born that way which means there’s hope for us all.
“We do not have to become heroes overnight,” said Roosevelt. “ Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up … discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”