A while ago, I learned that all humans can be everyday heroes.
Let me share two stories with you that demonstrate this.
While you might recall the Brock Turner rape case (where a Stanford student sexually assaulted an unconscious woman who later identified herself as Chanel Miller), you might not remember that two men played an important role in getting the case to trial.
According to reports, two Swedish Ph.D. students noticed something was off when they saw Brock Turner assaulting a woman behind a dumpster. They stopped Turner and held him until the police arrived.
These everyday heroes are called Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson. And while you probably had never heard their names before this happened, you most likely know boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Well, it turns out that he also is an everyday hero who in 1981 talked a suicidal man down from a building close to where he lived.
According to an article, Ali successfully got through to the man after the police, a psychologist, and a minister had failed to convince him to come down from the building.
The LA police credited Ali, who was alerted to the situation by his PR manager Howard Bingham, with saving the life of the unidentified man.
Here are 5 lessons we can all learn from a boxing legend and two everyday heroes
1. Our actions in the world matter
Without the two Swedish men, Brock Turner may have never been identified. Without Ali’s intervention and Bingham who called Ali in the first place, a man would probably be dead.
While not every situation involving an everyday hero is as dramatic as these two incidents (although some are even more dramatic and literally impact the fate of the world), our actions matter. Our actions can do good around us, even in bad situations.
That means it’s important for us to be willing to help in appropriate ways—whatever that means in a concrete situation.
It can mean taking the car keys of a drunk friend away. It may entail calling help when we see a person alone on a deserted bridge in the middle of the night. It can include making sure that intoxicated people are safe from harm (keep in mind that society often forgets that men can also be sexually assaulted).
All of these are ways in which you can be an everyday hero.
2. It's important to show up
Since our actions in the world matter, we need to show up to what is in front of us. When Jonssen and Arndt biked past the dumpster, they could have ignored the situation. When Ali learned about the suicidal man from his PR manager Bingham, he could have chosen to focus his attention on something else. Instead, all of them rushed to the occasion: Bingham reported that the police declined when he asked if Ali could help. Bingham decided to call Ali anyway—who showed up about four minutes later.
3. There may always be someone willing to help us
While Brock Turner’s victim was unconscious and incapable of defending herself, two people from another continent were willing to protect her. When a man was at such a low point in his life that he wanted to commit suicide, a boxing legend was willing to talk him out of it.
Both of these are not the likeliest of scenarios. And yet they happened.
Help does not always look like we expect it to—and often, that’s a good thing.
Because in both of these situations, there is something incredibly moving and awe-inspiring about having strangers care that much for someone else. The knowledge that someone cared enough to save them may have provided the woman in the Brock Turner case and the suicidal man with some solace in dark times.
For everyone else, this is a reminder to be open to unexpected help. When we are at a point in our life where we—for whichever reason—need someone to help us, that help may be available to us, even if it looks different than we expect it to.
4. Becoming everyday heroes is all about helping others, not heroism
The two men who intervened at Stanford were not attempting to be heroes. They were just concerned about a fellow human being, as is shown by the report stating that Jonsson repeatedly cried when recalling the incidents of that night.
Similarly, while Ali had never shied away from announcing his greatness (in fact, we can learn a lot from him about self-confidence), helping the suicidal man was clearly coming from a place of concern for another person. Ali helped the other man because of his heart, not due to egoistic reasons.
5. We can all be everyday heroes
I understand the intention and sentiment behind calling both the two Swedish men and Ali “heroes”. Like many others, I am immensely grateful for what they did for another human being in need of help.
At the same time, I hope that that word “hero” does not create an artificial distinction between them and the rest of us humans, or makes certain forms of help seem more important than others.
Case in point: while Ali was the one to talk the suicidal man down from the building, it was his PR manager Bingham who had the idea of asking Ali for help in the first place. If Ali is a hero for saving a man’s life, so is Bingham.
We don’t need movie-style heroes to save us. We need caring human beings to help us in situations where we can’t help ourselves. And we need to do the same for others whenever we can.
That's what everyday heroism really is about.
The two Swedish men show that you don’t need to be “the Greatest” to be great —and Muhammad Ali proves that even a world-famous boxing legend can be an everyday hero.
A version of this article was first published on Elephant Journal.
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