As someone who researches heroism, I can say without a second’s hesitation that President Trump absolutely would not have rushed into an active shooter situation in a high school and neither would 99% of the people to whom he made the comment on Monday. No chance.
I’m not saying this because I think Trump is a coward and I’m not saying it to get in another dig at him. I’m saying this because the vast, vast, vast majority of people won’t run toward gunfire; they’ll run away. And that number of people who’ll run toward gunfire goes down the more people are around.
Most people aren’t heroes. Most people would like to think that they would be heroic if the situation calls for it, as Trump did when he spoke to a group of governors at the beginning of this week. But wishing it doesn’t make it so. Training makes it so. And Trump doesn’t have any of the training that would make heroism more likely.
Even people with training didn’t rush in. That’s the lesson we ought to be learning from the Parkland mass shooting. Armed sheriff’s deputies who were there to protect the kids in that school didn’t rush in. Not because they’re bad or weak but because heroism is risky and situations requiring heroes are very scary.
We’ve spent the past week and a half (at least) with some percentage of our country pretending that heroism takes nothing more than a gun and psyching yourself up to go take out the bad guy. That’s why it seems acceptable to arm teachers and take potshots at the sheriff’s deputies for their inaction.
But that’s not how heroism works. I published a book about heroism a few years ago I’m working on a new book in which my colleagues and I are interviewing actual, awarded heroes. I’ve spent time with heroes. My colleagues and I just published a paper on how ordinary people can train themselves so they’re more likely to be heroes.
Saying “I’m sure I’d be a hero” isn’t one of the things that makes you more likely to be a hero. 99% of people think they’ll do the heroic thing. But most don’t. Part of it is the Bystander Effect part is the obvious risk; and part of it is the split-second nature of the choice.
One of the major reasons that some people do the dangerous, heroic thing is that they have specialized training. Trump doesn’t have it. Another reason is that they have a profound sense of empathy that includes people who might be considered unlike them. Trump doesn’t have that Another predictor is having heroic role models. Trump has been asked about this. He doesn’t have it. Another predictor is having a heroic imagination, which some people refer to as experience-taking. You might read a novel, for example, and put yourself in the hero’s place, thinking about exactly what you’d do in that situation. From what we know about Trump, he doesn’t have that.
Heroes have to make a split-second choice and basically every one of them reports not even thinking about making a decision, just acting. The reason is they’re primed to act because of the factors mentioned just above. If you’re spending time thinking about what to do, it’s too late.
It’s easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback, as Trump is doing. But most people won’t do it because most aren’t wired like him. Most people will recognize that the sheriff’s deputies had an opportunity to be heroic and failed, and they’ll acknowledge it could happen to any of us.
What we need to do is get over pretending we’re all one bad guy with a gun away from being heroes. We’re not. We need, instead, to work on minimizing the chances that we’ll need to be heroes at all while maximizing the chances that more of us will be heroes if the need arises. That means enacting policies that actually make us all safer, not nonsense like arming teachers or making sure everyone is carrying concealed weapons at all times. It means commonsense gun regulations and it means not gutting programs that help people who need help in our society.
And it means talking to experts on heroism about giving you some hero training which is good for people even if heroism is never needed from them. Check out The Hero Construction Company if you want someone to come to your school, business, or organization to train you to be a hero. It’s worldwide. Can’t afford that? Just bring in someone to teach you CPR. That’s a great first step.
If you live in California, we’re putting on a conference in San Francisco in April. We’ve got another one in Michigan in October. Check out The Hero Round Table for more information. You don’t have to be Donald Trump to attend, and attending will make it more likely you’ll be the hero you hope you’ll be.