My sister, Boo, is a superhero. She has a cape to prove it. Friends gave it to her as a present and it was her Facebook photo for a while, until she changed it to a picture of her dog, Olive. My friend Julie’s a superhero too. We’re sort of twin superheros, in that we sometimes both go by the name Super Cranky Girl. (Julie used to be known as Super Dorky Girl, but she’s since evolved). Both Julie and Boo are superheroes in my book for another reason. Both are prone to taking action, speaking out and helping others in need, even when it might not be the popular thing to do at the moment.

I also know many other superheroes, like my Kenyan friends, Pastor George Kaye (administrator of the Bright Start Academy) and Lantano Nabaala (founder of the Kenyan Pastoralist Network) who are doing amazing things to improve the peace and prosperity in Kenya by helping make schools and small tribes self-sustaining. (Visit www.artofabundance.com/kenya2010.htm if you’re guided to learn more or contribute! We’re still looking to raise $1,675 to purchase seeds and fertilizer to plant the last 5 acres that will make the Bright Start Academy self sustaining!)

All this thinking about superheroes started when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend “Are Heroes Born, or Can They Be Made?” by Jonah Lehrer. I had just watched an interesting moving that had a subplot about French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. One scene in particular struck me, where a Nazi officer helped a young Jewish woman escape from a brothel – and was promptly shot to death for his actions. Not a poster child moment for heroic actions, or was it? Luckily, studies show that if people see someone else refuse to harm another, they almost always refuse too. So maybe his death was the catalyst for future acts of courage. Seeing one act of courage cultivates another act of courage.

Cultivating Courage is the name of a book I’m currently writing and that’s why the Heroic Imagination Project started by Phil Zimbardo at Stanford got my attention. Zimbardo has set out to prove that heroes are ordinary people who simply do something extraordinary. And he believes that heroism can be taught. So he’s devised 4 weekly lessons which you can do in person if you’re part of his research project out in San Francisco, or which you can do yourself on line to develop what I have dubbed your CQ – Courage Quotient.

The first lesson teaches you about the ways we are hard-wired to let indifference, conflict, and ultimately, evil, flourish. Like the experiments showing that most people will blindly obey orders to give what they think are strong electrical shocks to a stranger. Or how we are less likely to help others in need if others are watching. Or how we use prejudice to justify not helping someone in distress.

The second lesson trains you in ways to be more empathetic – more attentive to how others are feeling, where they may be coming from. The training includes recognizing micro-facial expressions –those flashing expressions that show our true emotions – as well as helping us become better listeners. It also explores my favorite – “fundamental attribution error.” That’s a fancy way of saying that we make assumptions about why someone is in need, and then blame the victim in order to justify our inaction.

In the third lesson, you get to start redefining what a hero is (Zimbardo was sick of people using celebrities like Britney Spears and athletes like Tiger Woods as heroes based on their antics rather than on their positive attributes). Zimbardo’s even working on creating Heropedia, where folks can post their heroes!

Finally, in the fourth lesson, you get to put it all into practice, taking baby steps to do one thing every day that makes someone else feel better. It could be holding your tongue when you feel you’re being attacked and extending love instead (seeing their actions as a cry for love rather than an attack), or it could be helping someone do something, spending quality time with someone, or sharing words of praise. All the different languages of love that speak to us.

I encourage you to take the Hero Pledge and sign up for the 4 week free online course on developing your courage. It’s an amazing exercise in cultivating courage in your own life. Any act of love you extend toward someone else is actually an act of love toward yourself. Likewise, the more you can speak up for yourself, the easier it is to speak up for others. And all that leads to greater peace on earth… something we’re all looking for this season, yes?

Peace and prosperity,

Paula Langguth Ryan

Want to start cultivating the courage to break through your limiting thoughts and beliefs? Give yourself or someone you love the gift of 30 minutes with me – with a Introductory Premium Coaching session — sometimes that’s all the time you need to have an enormous positive shift that will change the direction of your life forever!