Is That a Hero in the Mirror?

Mathew Vizbulis (rescue hero, 2006), a 29-year-old artist who jumped into the Niagara River to save three people from drowning,

Mathew Vizbulis (rescue hero, 2006), a 29-year-old artist who jumped into the Niagara River to save three people from drowning, certainly has more than a few of the characteristics of a hero. Former politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis has many. Do you? Here are some of the traits that make for a heroic attitude.

Imagination or Vision

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And according to Sharif Khan, author of Psychology of the Hero Soul, this is where the hero is born-in the imagination. Heroes, says Khan, have vision. When Erika Lemke, a 12-year-old Calgarian dying from leukemia asked Ashid Kumar Bahl, the 2006 community hero, to build a disability-friendly playground for her neighbourhood, his response was, “Everything is possible.”

Service to Others

The original meaning of the word hero comes from the Greek root heros (to protect). Heroes think of others before themselves. As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve…you only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”


Once a hero knows she wants to serve, the next step is perseverance. “Heroes simply stay focused on what they’re doing and what they want to achieve,” says Khan. Heroes know that on the journey of turning their vision into reality, there will be obstacles to surmount. Many people jump off the road to heroism when it becomes filled with potholes. “But heroes know that hard work is par for the course,” says Khan. “Heroes don’t dwell on the negative. They ask themselves positive questions when bad things happen: What can I learn from this? How can I better myself?”


One chapter in Khan’s book opens with William Shakespeare’s quote: “Action is eloquence.” And indeed, heroes act. They know all too well that analysis leads to paralysis. Heroes don’t let their inner fears, insecurities and doubts overpower them. As Carl Jung said, “If there is fear of falling, the only safety consists in deliberately jumping.” And certainly Vizbulis didn’t overthink his urge to leap into the Niagara River. Sure, he had heard of rescuers becoming victims themselves, but two of the drowning people were children. Today, when Mathew looks back at what he did, he remembers asking himself two questions: Have I had a good life? Am I happy? And then Mathew, only 28, jumped.

Humility and Compassion

There is an inscription at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, in Greece, that reads “Know Thyself.” This was the hero creed of ancient Greece-Know thyself and you will know the gods and the universe. Heroes know their greatest fears, desires, weaknesses and strengths, and are humble and compassionate as a result of their wisdom.

Belief in Oneself

At the back of a hero’s mind is the belief that “they can do what they set about to do,” says Samuel P. Oliner, a sociology professor at Humboldt State University of Arcata, Calif., and author of Do Unto Others and The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. If you say to yourself that you cannot do something, you will likely end up incapable of it. But if you believe you can, you will acquire the capacity if you didn’t have it to begin with.

Your Darker Side

Drawing on Jungian psychology, Khan talks about how each hero has a shadow side, within which lie the characteristics of a villain, or the seven deadly sins: arrogance, envy, laziness, greed, hatred, lust and gluttony. But instead of allowing these toxic traits to consume them, heroes have become masters of the seven virtues: humility, contentment, industry, generosity, love, chastity and moderation. So when a hero is feeling jealous or envious of someone else, for example, they practise contentment. And if they’re feeling lazy, they practise industry.

Characteristics of a Hero and of a Villain
The Hero:

  Seven Virtues

The Villain:

Seven Deadly Sins

Love, patience and serenityHatred
Moderation (temperance)Gluttony

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