How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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Remembering the peace heroes 

thou shalt not believe the generalsMemorial Day is set aside for remembering our fallen soldiers. We hear much about war heroes on this day. The television schedule is filled with movies and speeches that glorify the sacrifices of war

But what of the peace heroes? Why is there not a day set aside to remember those who were lost while fighting for peace? Heroes like:

Mahatma Gandhi - He led India to independence from England with a massive campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, then fought to end religious strife within his country. He was killed while leading a public prayer meeting.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Inspired by Gandhi’s legacy of nonviolent resistance, King led the American civil rights movement to some of its greatest victories, and spoke powerfully against the Vietnam War. Shortly before his assassination at age 39, he wrote, “Thou shalt not believe that the generals know best.”

Yitzhak Rabin - As prime minister of Israel, he negotiated for peace with Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. He was assassinated while leaving a peace rally.

Peace Pilgrim - During the height of McCarthyism and the Korean War, she traveled 25,000 miles on foot, with no money or possessions, spreading her message of peace. “Overcome evil with good and falsehood with truth and hatred with love,” she said. She died in a car crash while being driven to a speaking engagement.

Oscar Romero - As Archbishop of El Salvador, he told the world about the citizens of his country who were being abducted, tortured, and killed by government death squads. He was shot while performing mass.

This Memorial Day, let us remember also those whose heroic contributions were not in battle, but in leading us to a more peaceful world.

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So many causes, so little time 

Preparing for the Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship class I'm giving this month, I've been researching successful social entrepreneurs. What are the qualities that enable people like Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to build an enterprise that benefits millions of people?

One essential quality that all these world-changers share is the ability to persist at solving a specific problem, regardless of roadblocks and distractions. Muhammad Yunus began his Grameen Bank with only $27 of his own money, and a staff of student volunteers. He persisted with his idea of providing microcredit to help families out of poverty despite opposition from the banking industry, political leaders who opposed his "capitalist" approach to helping the poor, and religious leaders who disapproved of his lending to women. Today the Grameen Bank has loaned money to 7 million people, reaching 80% of the poor families in Bangladesh. But what that took for Yunus was dedication to the same cause for over 30 years.

There are so many causes that one could choose to work for, and they all seem to need us. On any given day, I find myself drawn to acting on behalf of causes as varied as girls' education, global warming, Barack Obama's candidacy for president, and supporting entrepreneurship in the developing world. Working for the same cause for 30 years seems to me an unreachable ideal. Does that mean I'm not a candidate for social entrepreneurship?

In Tim Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Workweek, he has a powerful chapter on the topic "Filling the Void: Adding Life After Subtracting Work," in which he says, "Everything out there needs help... If you're improving the world -- however you define that -- consider your job well done... Find the cause or vehicle that interests you most and make no apologies."

I'd like to change one word of Tim's advice. Instead of "the cause," make it "a cause." If I, or you, or anyone can be a serial entrepreneur, we can also be serial social entrepreneurs.

For David Bornstein's book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, he interviewed Fabio Rosa, who has been working tirelessly to bring electricity to rural Brazil since the early 1980's. He asked Rosa why he continues to do this work, and Rosa responded, "I am trying to build a little part of the world in which I would like to live."

Yes, there are many causes to serve and limited time to serve them, but for each of us there is a little part of the world that we can help, sometimes by contributing five minutes and sometimes five years. Dedicated people like Yunus and Rosa can inspire us, but their shining example shouldn't deter us from casting a little light of our own.

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Discovering the real world 

Recently, I've been exploring the issue of the necessary conditions for people to become entrepreneurs. For me, this is one aspect of a larger question -- what enables people to take action on the change they wish to see in the world?

At an Empowering Women Entrepreneurs event last weekend, I learned that in the developing world, one of the obstacles to successful entrepreneurship is the expense and difficulty of legally starting a business. In Honduras, for example, to open a legal sole proprietorship requires 169 steps, 270 days, and $3,765 U.S.

The interesting fact is that all this doesn't stop entrepreneurs from getting started in Honduras. Instead, they go underground. Up to 89% of all businesses in Honduras operate extralegally. Doing business in this underground economy has many problems. Entrepreneurs have no access to capital, so they can't expand. Businesses can be shut down arbitrarily by the law or local bosses. But despite these difficulties, new underground businesses get started every day.

This phenomenon isn't limited to the developing world. In the urban centers of North America, underground economies thrive. In Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh describes how conventional business owners -- not just drug dealers and prostitutes -- operate in the economic underground. Self-employed mechanics, food vendors, painters, hairdressers, and more are all operating outside the law and without participating in the tax system.

When people are unable to participate in the legal economy because the cost of entry is too high or their path is blocked due to racial, class, religious, or gender barriers, it doesn't stop them from entering the economy. They just create their own.

When I was a street kid in the 70's, I lived in this twilight economy. Money changed hands, products and services were obtained, people worked in exchange for compensation, but no one I knew had a paycheck or a business license or paid taxes. I used to look at the straight world -- the one where people had jobs and stores and checking accounts -- and think that was the real world. People like me, without an education or the right connections or respectable resumes, didn't have the price of admission to that world, so we stayed in our own.

But in an environment where more money changes hands under the counter than over it, isn't that where the "real world" truly lies? In an economy like that of Honduras, there are clearly more people participating in the shadow economy than in the legal one. In the U.S., no one knows how many people make a living in the underground economy, although the number of illegal immigrants alone has been estimated as high as 20 million. Estimates of the monetary size of the U.S. underground economy suggest that it is equivalent to 9% of the legitimate economy, which would make it about $1 trillion per year. That amount seems pretty real to me.

In the 1999 film The Matrix, the transformative moment for the central character, Neo, is when he discovers that the world he has been living in -- where residents have homes and jobs and businesses -- is all an illusion perpetrated by evil machines. The real world is one where a ragtag band of dropouts struggle for survival, fighting against the machines that dominate the planet. This real world exists, quite literally, underground.

In the surface world, Neo is a person of no importance, and feels lost and alone. But in the underground world, Neo becomes a hero and a leader to his people. For Neo to make the transition from the false surface world to the real world underground, he first must be able to see through "the matrix" projecting the false images. But once he does see the real world, the false one no longer deceives him. He can (literally) see right through it.

So what do underground economies and The Matrix have to do with taking action to change the world? Simply this. If you look around you at the world you believe you live in and think you don't fit in, or feel excluded from participating, or you don't have the price of admission, find another world. It's probably already operating right under your nose.

There is a back door into almost every line of endeavor you can name. If you believe that door exists, and are willing to knock on enough doors to find the right one, you can gain admittance. You can start a business with no capital, operate a nonprofit without registering one, or get a job as a researcher without credentials. I mention these three examples because they are all things I have personally done at one time, but many more examples exist.

To set up the necessary conditions for you to take action, perhaps you need to forget about whatever you have been led to believe the real world looks like. Instead, seek out people who are already doing what you want to do, connect with others who themselves have felt disenfranchised or excluded, locate the community where at last you feel welcome. Wherever that is, for you, that is the real world.

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Even a rat can be a hero 

In the latest edition of Heifer International's World Ark magazine, I first learned about HeroRat, a project launched by the Belgian research organization APOPO. HeroRat trains rats how to detect buried landmines.

Even if this isn't an issue that would normally attract your attention, you should pay a visit to the HeroRat site. With photos, videos, cartoons, really cute graphics, and even a video game, it's one of the best fundraising websites I've ever seen.

Why landmine-detecting rats? Here's the story in a nutshell. Every 20 minutes, a civilian is hurt or killed by a buried landmine in war zones around the world. Metal detectors are slow and tedious, bulldozers don't work on uneven terrain, and mine-detecting dogs can set off the mines.

Rats, on the other hand, have a great sense of smell, are easily trained to do repetitive tasks, are inexpensive to breed, feed, and transport, and they are too light to trigger the mines. One trained rat can clear 100 square meters of land in 30 minutes. At the HeroRat training center in Tanzania, hundreds of rats are being trained to detect mines, then sent where they are needed around the world.

Of course, the real heroes here are the people that came up with this brilliant concept: Bart Weetjens, Christophe Cox, and Mic Billet, now APOPO's chairman. They first began exploring the problem of land mines in Africa in 1995, and persevered for many years to find funding and a solution. The first team of HeroRats completed their training in 2004. You can read the full story here.

If you adopt a HeroRat for as little as 5 euros per month (about $7 USD), you'll receive emails from your rat, pictures of your rat in action, and an official adoption certificate, all of which I'll bet are every bit as cute as the website.

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Laura Whitworth, we'll miss you 

Many of you who read this blog have known and loved Laura Whitworth, co-founder of The Coaches Training Institute, Co-Active Leadership, and The Bigger Game. Laura passed away this afternoon after a long battle with lung cancer, at the age of 59.

Laura was my first coaching mentor and made many contributions to my life, to the lives of thousands of other coaches (and their clients), and to the development of the coaching profession. Among a host of other gifts from Laura that I could name, it was she who gave me the original idea that led to the creation of Get Clients Now! in 1995.

Below are some additional details about Laura's passing. The best places to find out about her memorial service and how to send condolences or share memories are Laura's blog and the Co-Active Network discussion list.

From CTI co-founder Karen Kimsey-House:
Dear Fellow Coaches:

I write this email with a heart that is both heavy and full. As most of you know, our beloved co-founder Laura Whitworth has been battling advanced lung cancer. With astonishing courage and commitment, she has fought a good fight, calling us all forth to Fight for Life and to Live Strong.

Over the past few days, Laura's condition has worsened and the doctors have said that she is in liver failure will be passing over in a matter of days.

Currently, Laura is in Mexico with her life partner Judy. They are working to get Laura transported via helicopter to San Diego and then on home to her Meadow House in Sebastopol.

Please join me in holding an intention of peace and ease for both Laura and Judy.

The family has requested that they not be contacted directly by phone or email at this time. Instead, I would invite you to visit Laura's Blog for the latest information or to post messages of love and support.

With deep sadness and awe at the Great Hoop of Life,
Feb 28, 2007 10:35am

And from Karen Kimsey-House later today:
Hello everyone:

After a long and arduous battle with lung cancer, our beloved Laura left this life today on the airplane ride towards home. Her dear partner Judy was by her side.

In true Laura fashion, once she got clear about the direction that she was traveling, she didn't waste any time. I like to think that she just got high up in the air and decided to keep going.

There will much to grieve, celebrate and honor in the days and weeks to come. I'll continue to keep you posted as things unfold.

All my love,
Feb 28, 2007 3:47 pm

Laura, the world will miss you. You still had so much more to contribute to us, and we mourn your leaving us so soon.

I would tell you to rest in peace, but the word "rest" was never in your vocabulary. I can see you now, gathering the angels in a circle and asking them what their bigger game is.

I'll be watching for a bolt of lightning from an unexpected quarter very soon, letting us know that although you are done with moving earth, you are now moving heaven.


Five reasons why to stop global warming 

Amy Wilson is a woman on a mission. In the spring of 2006, she sold most of her possessions, cashed in her retirement savings, and set out on a quest to do something about global warming. Amy's project is called Five Reasons Why, a documentary film about how global warming is affecting people's daily lives, and what they are doing to stop it.

In Alaska, Amy interviewed indigenous people who told her that their traditional way of life is ending. "The fish are no longer good to eat," a village elder said. "The warmer water rots their flesh." Warmer temperatures are melting the ice and bringing more powerful storms to the coastline, causing people's homes to fall into the sea. Because of the warmer winters, spruce bark beetles are surviving year round, and killing trees by the thousands.

But the children of Alaska aren't waiting for adults to do something about it. "This is the biggest issue our generation faces," a young man in Anchorage told Amy. They have formed the organization "Alaska Youth for Environmental Action" and collected signatures from over 5,000 young people concerned about the future of their state. The kids raised money to fly to Washington and speak with legislators directly, and even purchased carbon credits to offset the environmental impact of their flight.

You can see a trailer for Five Reasons Why on Amy's site and learn about her plans to interview community members in four other states of the U.S. about what global warming is doing to them and how they plan to fight it. What Amy needs to finish her film is, of course, money. In addition to asking for individual donations, she is currently looking for people willing to host house parties and invite their friends to contribute.

"America is in denial about our warming planet," Amy warns. If nothing is done, "the consequences of America's inaction will be experienced by the entire world." Amy's heroic mission is to give a voice to those who are passionately engaged in taking action about global warming, and wake people up to the truth.

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The call to heroism in the howl of a dog 

In a recent issue of Inquiring Mind, I encountered the story of Pali Boucher, the founder of Rocket Dog Rescue in San Francisco. I'm always looking for what motivates people to step out of their ordinary lives and into a heroic role. In Boucher's case, it was a howling dog.

Boucher was the child of a homeless, drug-addicted mother who died when she was ten. After a short time in a foster home, she ended up on the street herself. For many years, she was in and out of jail, became addicted to drugs, and contracted HIV. But she always loved animals. As a child, she took care of pigeons, feral cats, and junkyard dogs. As a homeless adult, she visited animal shelters to spend time with the dogs there.

At the SPCA, Boucher fell in love with Leadbelly, a hound who no one wanted to adopt because he howled all the time. Learning that Leadbelly was in danger of being euthanized, she scrounged up some money, faked an address, and adopted him. After almost losing her beloved hound when she went back to jail, she checked herself into a detox program. "It was the first time in my life I realized that I wasn't just affecting myself by going out and getting loaded, that I was directly responsible for the pain of somebody else," Boucher recalls.

Ultimately, Boucher and Leadbelly rescued each other. Boucher says, "He helped me learn to take care of myself by taking care of him." After getting clean and sober, Boucher founded Rocket Dog Rescue, which saves dogs scheduled for euthanasia throughout California. Rocket Dog rescues about 150 dogs per year, and runs completely on donations with no paid staff. Boucher is a recipient of the Points of Light Award for outstanding volunteerism.

There's just no telling where a hero might encounter the call to inspired action. So keep listening -- yours is out there.

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Heroes brought women the right to vote 

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns should fit anyone's definition of a hero. In 1913, they formed the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage and three years later, the National Woman's Party, to bring women the right to vote. They first received national attention for their efforts when they organized a parade of 8,000 women suffragists -- the largest parade ever seen at that time -- on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. In 1917, they staged the first-ever political protest to picket the White House. They pioneered the use of nonviolent civil disobedience in the U.S.

During their twelve-year struggle for women's suffrage, Paul and Burns were imprisoned, beaten, cruelly mistreated, and tortured by prison guards. Their arrests were for no worse crimes than picketing and "obstructing sidewalks." They were feared and despised by many men of their time, and were opposed by not only conservative women but also by other suffragettes who preferred less militant tactics. Prison officials attempted to have Paul declared insane, claiming she suffered from a "mania of persecution." But despite every attempt to stop them, Paul and Burns kept up the fight. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally passed, and U.S. women voted for the first time in that November's presidential election.

Today on the 86th anniversary of that historic vote, whether you are a man or a woman, please join me in honoring the victory of these two heroes by casting your own precious vote for the candidates and issues of your choice.

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Do heroes carry swords or clipboards? 

Walking in Golden Gate Park last weekend, I was startled by the sight of a uniformed Hussar charging across the Arboretum lawn on horseback, yelling and waving a sword. Even in San Francisco, this was an odd sight, but it seems that the Park Band was celebrating St. Stephen's Day with a program of Hungarian music and dance, and a group of Hussar reenactors on horses were part of the event.

A short distance away, a quiet man holding a clipboard was standing. He wasn't part of the special Hungarian celebration. In fact, he's there every Sunday afternoon in the same spot near the Arboretum entrance. "Save the rain forest," he calls out to passers-by, "Sign the petition." I signed his petition a long time ago -- years ago, actually. Because the Rain Forest Man has been coming to the park with his clipboard on Sundays for as many years as I've been taking that walk. I can't recall a time before he was there.

Seeing the Hussar and the Rain Forest Man side by side, I began to wonder -- which of these two men is the better model of heroism? There was the sword-bearing Hussar, strong and brave in his dashing uniform, galloping by on a spirited horse. He was the very image of a storybook hero. Rain Forest Man, on the other hand, is soft-spoken and not particularly well-dressed. Armed only with a clipboard, he stands quietly on the sidewalk instead of charging at his foes.

This type of quiet, persistent heroism is easy to overlook. If you weren't walking right by him, you would never notice Rain Forest Man. I've never read about him in the paper; I don't even know his name. But every Sunday afternoon, he reminds me and everyone who passes that the rain forest needs to be saved. And he's been doing it for years.

It often seems that the warriors with the swords get most of the press and all the glory, while the clipboard-carrying workers toil quietly in the background. But which type of hero is more likely to ultimately make the world a better place? I think in this case the clipboard can be mightier than the sword.

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Heroes don't need to be famous 

In David Bornstein's book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, he discusses what makes a social entrepreneur successful. Along with qualities such as the willingness to self-correct, share credit, break free of established structures, and cross disciplinary boundaries, he mentions their "willingness to work quietly." It seems that many of the people most successful in exerting broad influence on how societies fix their problems often spend many years steadily advancing their ideas in small groups or one on one, working in relative obscurity.

Bornstein quotes Jean Monnet, the architect of European unification. In Monnet's Memoirs, he declares that people of ambition fall into two groups: those who want to "do something" and those who want to "be someone." Monnet elaborates: "The main concern of many very remarkable people is to cut a figure and play a role. They are useful to society... But, in general, it is the other kind of people who get things moving -- those who spend their time looking for places and opportunities to influence the course of events. The places are not always the most obvious ones, nor do the opportunities occur when many people expect them. Anyone who wants to find them has to forsake the limelight."

I think this is one of the reasons many who are truly heroes would never apply that label to themselves. Our image of the hero is often confused by picturing only those who achieve celebrity status. We consider Martin Luther King a hero not just because of the work he did, but because he spoke to huge crowds and appeared often in the media. But the March on Washington where King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech to a quarter of a million people was organized by a man you've probably never heard of: Bayard Rustin.

It was Rustin who set the program for that day, coordinated media outreach, arranged for transportation, and took elaborate measures to make sure there would be no violence. Rustin assigned responsible captains to each of the 1500 buses and 21 trains that brought demonstrators to the march, created a detachment of trained civilian marshals to serve as nonviolent peacekeepers, and provided for water, cheap food, toilet facilities, and first aid. Without Rustin, King might never have made his speech, or worse, it might never have been reported if violence had broken out at the march. (You can read this story in Jervis Anderson's book Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen.)

Harry Truman once said "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." This simple philosophy is the mark of the true hero, who may often be someone whose name you will never know.

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You don't have to be an action hero to take action 

What holds us back from making the difference we could in the world? Sometimes it seems to us that we simply aren't up to the task. We believe that a hero, to quote the Wikipedia, must be someone who "possesses abilities or character far greater than that of a typical person, which enable him or her to perform some truly extraordinary, beneficial deed." Listed with that definition are examples of champions both mythic and historical: Hercules and Gandhi; Robin Hood and Joan of Arc; Luke Skywalker and Nelson Mandela.

The images we hold of these icons are those of people larger than life. Their accomplishments are so breathtaking, their abilities so superior, that we cannot picture ourselves in their league. But Gandhi was a lawyer from a middle-class family who barely passed his college exams. Joan of Arc was a teenaged farm girl. Nelson Mandela ran away from home, was thrown out of college, and was fired from his first job.

Heroes are not just people like us; heroes are us, with the same ordinary beginnings and all of our faults, mistakes, handicaps, emotional baggage, and personal entanglements. But despite all of those obstacles – or perhaps because of them – heroes somehow find a way to make a difference in the lives of others.

Is it possible that the main difference between a hero and a person with good intentions is that the hero turns those intentions into action? It's been my experience that action typically leads to more action. Once you take the initiative to move in a particular direction, you often set in motion a series of events that could not have begun without that first act. A phone call leads to a meeting; the meeting spawns a letter; the letter prompts someone else to send out a group e-mail; the e-mail provokes a dozen replies; and the next thing you know, you've started a movement.

It doesn't always happen that way, of course. Sometimes it takes many calls, meetings, letters and e-mails for your intentions to translate into significant results. But if that is to be the case, isn't it even more reason to start taking action now on the change you want to see?

Every great hero's journey began with one simple act. And at the time they took that step, none of them were extraordinary people. It was taking action on their dreams, beliefs, and passions that made them extraordinary.

P.S. We'll be discussing how to take action on your heroic intentions in the How to Become a Hero Discussion Forum on Mar 14 if you would like to join us.

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One person can be more than enough 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I was searching for stories about ordinary people who became heroes by taking action to help hurricane victims. Instead of echoing criticism about the official response, I wanted to provide some positive examples of people who did what they could with whatever they had. One of the people I wrote about then was Sidney Ray, a Southern California woman who in just six days organized a group of volunteers to fill twelve semi trailers with donations for Katrina survivors.

Recently, Sidney wrote me with an update: "Since September 8th, we have sent out 60 trucks (a combination of 53' semi trailers and 24' box trucks) loaded with 900 pallets of goods -- food, water, baby supplies, clothing, dog food, etc. to families all over Louisiana and Mississippi." Wow.

Sidney's spontaneous effort has grown into a national mutual aid network called Relief Spark. It's an amazing example of what one motivated person can create. Here's a bit of the story in Sidney's own words: 'After reading the newspapers and watching the news on TV, I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to do something! I couldn't just sit around and watch this go by. After making a donation to the Red Cross and going out that evening; my mind was made up: I would go online and find volunteers willing to help me. Within 30 minutes I located my first volunteer in San Diego. 12 hours later I had my first donation drive set up and ready to go... By Sunday we had filled up 3 - 24 foot trucks that were trucked to our Van Nuys donation site. By Monday... 80 volunteers came out to help that evening (that was on Labor Day!) to prepare our boxes for 11 semi's that were supposed to be arriving on Tuesday... we continued to accept donated goods and volunteers showed up to help us out from all over California! By that evening, we had over 350 pallets of goods... and we had taken over the entire street!"

Right now Sidney is on the ground in New Orleans, helping families gut and rebuild their homes. Her goal for the month of March is to have 1000 volunteers come to Louisiana to work on rebuilding projects... and she already has 650 lined up. If you've ever wondered if one person could really make a difference, Sidney is one to remember.

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It takes a woman to save a village 

Glamour magazine's December issue features a less-than-glamorous subject as one of its women of the year. Mukhtaran Bibi is a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped by men in her village as punishment for a crime supposedly committed by her younger brother. In her culture, such an event often prompts the victim to commit suicide. But Mukhtaran fought back -- not just for herself, but for all the girls and women of her community.

Mukhtar Mai, as she is also known, brought charges against the men despite numerous threats from their tribesmen, who terrorized Mukhtar's entire clan. When she received a settlement of $8300 from the Pakistani government, instead of using the money to flee, Mukhtar started the first-ever schools in her village. "If women aren't educated, it's hard for them to speak up for themselves," she said.

The schools Mukhtar started were running out of funds when a story in the New York Times brought international attention to her situation. Receiving over $130,000 in donations, Mukhtar used the money to improve the schools and buy cows, which will generate income locally to pay the schools' expenses. She also bought an ambulance and built a police station, and is currently preparing to build the area's first high school, a clinic, and a women's shelter. (You can donate to Mukhtar's projects through the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights.)

Mukhtar was called by Glamour "the bravest woman in the world." Despite continuing threats, she has remained in her hometown, working to help others. It's the sort of bravery that doesn't always get noticed. We often think of heroes as those who save the day in a burst of glory, carrying out dramatic rescues or defeating an enemy by force of arms. But Mukhtar's quiet courage must sustain her on a daily basis when there are no journalists or dignitaries around to celebrate her.

In my steps for becoming a hero, the eighth and final step is to stay the course. The ability to keep going when you find yourself alone and scared is one of the most challenging qualities for any hero to develop. Mukhtar has found a source for this kind of strength. She says, "It's because of the support of the world that I feel brave."

P.S. If you are interested in discussing the eight steps to becoming a hero in the company of other like-minded people, please check out my How to Become a Hero discussion forum.

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What one person can do 

First, thanks to everyone who has sent me updates to my list of organizations who are matching donations made by individuals to Hurricane Katrina flood aid. The list is growing daily, and your efforts are helping to encourage more people to donate cash and making sure each of these generous corporate offers is fully used. Keep 'em coming.

Many heroes are emerging in the relief effort, and I've been finding inspiration in stories about people who are finding a place they can make a difference, and just doing it.

On CNN last night, I watched an interview with three Duke University students who couldn't stand to watch so many people suffering, so they drove to New Orleans and evacuated seven survivors in their car.

In Southern California, Sidney Ray organized a group of people in just six days to fill twelve semi trailers with donations for Katrina victims. Her idea is now being duplicated in Washington DC, West Palm Beach, FL, and Chicago.

A six-year-old boy looked after a group of six other children aged five months to three years who had all been stranded in downtown New Orleans after they were separated from their parents during evacuation.

Four youngsters in Norwalk, CT raised $11,000 for relief with a bake sale where they sold chocolate chip cookies for as much as $250.

Twenty-year-old Jabbar Gibson commandeered a New Orleans school bus and drove 60 or so survivors to Houston, picking up stranded people along the way.

Let these stories inspire you, too, to find something that one person can do, and make it happen.

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Heroes in the wake of Katrina 

The magnitude of the human disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina begs for the emergence of heroes. The anguish of over a million people displaced from their homes and grieving is calling to us to step into our own heroism and do what we can. There are many conversations taking place in the media and in our homes and workplaces about what went wrong with the relief effort and who is responsible. While I, too, am both sad and angry about this, where I am choosing to focus my energy now is to how we can help those who are still suffering.

For every story of personal tragedy and government incompetence, there is a story of inspiration like this one. Across the country and around the world, individuals are finding ways to take positive action. As I wrote recently on the topic of optimism in bad times, this is the direction I would invite all would-be heroes to look in the coming days and weeks.

As my own contribution to relief efforts, I will continue to update my list of organizations matching donations made to Katrina flood aid, so people who wish to contribute funds to this massive effort can double their gift. If you have a relief project you would like to publicize or a inspirational story about those who are helping, please post a comment.

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What makes someone a hero? 

When I spoke about becoming a hero in Southern California last week, a question that arose from the audience was why I was suggesting that heroes had to be people who changed the world. After all, wasn't the daily struggle of caring for one's family sometimes heroic in its scope? Didn't a hero sometimes save only one person instead of hundreds or thousands?

I think both of these statements are true. They are simply not the type of heroism I'm talking about. The purpose of holding up as role models people who have made a difference on a global scale is to inspire us to look beyond our daily lives and immediate surroundings. If we are to truly step into our own greatness in order to be of greater service, we need to think bigger than we ever have before. That's why the people I am suggesting we emulate appear to be larger than life.

Is this an expectation? Am I saying that everyone should try to be an international hero? Think of it rather as an invitation. The opportunity exists for you to make more of a contribution than you currently are and to better the lives of more people. In order to do that, you will need to get past your own self-imposed limitations. Learning the stories of larger-than-life heroes can help inspire you to do the hard work this requires. So, if this mission calls to you, then it is you I am speaking to.

Here are some of the heroes I mentioned in my talk:

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American social worker and reformer. In 1889 she co-founded Hull House in Chicago, which was one of the first settlement houses in the United States. Settlement houses were a type of welfare housing for the neighborhood poor and a center for social reform. She was a member of the American Anti-Imperialist League, and a founder of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. She was also a leader in women's suffrage and pacifist movements. She received the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dalai Lama (1935-present) was ruler of Tibet and its head of state until 1959, when he fled to India following the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. He is the most respected and venerated Tibetan Buddhist religious leader. The Dalai Lama is still recognized as the head of the Tibetan government in exile, except by supporters of Chinese communism. He is the leader of the Tibetan independence movement.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) is a national heroine of France and saint of the Catholic Church. During the Hundred Years' War she led French forces against the English. Against all odds, she defeated the English at the siege of Orléans as well as in a series of subsequent battles, enabling the coronation of the King Charles VII in Rheims. Captured by the Burgundians, she was delivered to the English, who had a selected group of pro-English clergy condemn her for heresy. She was executed by burning at the stake in Rouen.

I'll be mentioning more international heroes like these in future posts.

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Questions of peace in times of war 

During World War II, the actions of many individuals might be considered heroic. If you asked the average American to name a Second World War hero, you might hear names like the generals George Patton or Douglas MacArthur, the young president-to-be John F. Kennedy, or America's most decorated soldier Audie Murphy. But there were many individuals who showed their heroism during this turbulent era who never fought in the war as soldiers. Some were political leaders, others were writers and teachers, many were pacifists. One intriguing figure I learned of recently was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany who opposed the Nazis and called for resistance by the Christian church to Hitler's treatment of the Jews. He was banned by the Gestapo from preaching and eventually from teaching and all public speaking. He was arrested for funding the escape of Jews to Switzerland, and later implicated in the July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, for which he was executed.

What caught my attention about Bonhoeffer was that he began as a pacifist, but he became convinced of the need to plan Hitler's assassination. How does a pacifist preacher become a murderer? In a review of the documentary film Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, the Christian Broadcasting Network asks: "What does a Christian do when faced with the choice of following an immoral law or adhering to God's law?... The actions of Bonhoeffer raise questions about justice, service, sacrifice and moral responsibility."

Bonhoeffer finally came to the conclusion that he must choose the lesser of two evils. He reportedly declared, "I believe it is worse to be evil than to do evil."

When is it ever appropriate to take violent action in the pursuit of peace and justice? No less an authority on pacifism than Martin Luther King once said, "If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Ghandi and non-violence. But if your enemy has no conscience like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer." Nelson Mandela was also committed to peace, but turned to violence when all other avenues seemed blocked.

There are no easy answers to these difficult questions. Perhaps we can find some guidance in the words of South African theologian Dr. John De Gruchy, who has studied both Bonhoeffer and Mandela. De Gruchy suggests: "Only those committed to peacemaking have the moral authority to move to violent resistance. Only those who risk their own lives for the good of others deserve our acclaim, even if in our own struggle we do not agree with them."

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This is Ting from China 

I received an email two weeks ago from a young woman overseas. "This is Ting from China," it began. She had gotten a copy of my book Get Clients NOW!, which was translated into Chinese a couple of years ago, and summoned up enough courage to write the author. "I work for a factory specialized in producing flashing antenna," she wrote, "and I should find the oversea customers... but no one tell me what I should do." It seems that Ting had been trying to find buyers for her factory's product -- flashing antennas for cell phones -- by searching for companies on Yahoo and emailing them. But no one was answering her emails. Ting asked, "Could you give me some advise?"

I emailed her back with some suggestions, she responded with more questions, and in our dialogue, more of Ting's story emerged. She is a recent college graduate from a poor family, and has taken this job with the electronics factory to help support her family. But, "I am not a worldly girl," she told me, "and know little about the oversea market... I always at a loss what I should do." Ting has an important job to do, and desperately wants to succeed at it -- for herself, for her family, and for the success of her factory -- but she has been given no training, no tools, and no budget to do it with. When I suggested that letters sent by mail would have a better chance of being read than her emails, her request to do so was denied by management. "The capital of our factory are [not] considerable," she wrote me, "they do not accept my ideal." But Ting didn't give up. If "I only write email," she wrote, "give me some advise what is the effective way."

I drafted a sales letter for her and sent it back with some suggestions about strategy. Ting responded with her thanks: "Since I known you, I became confident, I am confident I can do the job well with your help... I will work hard to learn how to get clients. I belive there is a will there is a way."

Perhaps to Ting, I am now her hero. But to me, Ting is the hero in this story. Confused, scared, and concerned for her future and her family, instead of declaring her task impossible and giving up, she asked for help. She reached out to a complete stranger who she had no reason to believe would even respond. She has acted immediately on every shred of advice I shared with her, even when it took her way out of her comfort zone. I don't know how successful Ting will ultimately be at selling flashing antennas, but I know she will succeed at something in her life, because she will just keep trying until she does.

In my model for heroism, four of the essential qualities are serving others, perseverance, courage, and resourcefulness. Ting has got everything it takes. And by the way, if you know anyone who could use a few hundred flashing cell phone antennas, I have a great source.

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Unpopular heroes 

I heard Alice Walker speak at yesterday's Green Festival in San Francisco on the topic of activism. At one point, Walker said, "If horrible laws are made, we must disobey the laws." Walker grew up in the segregated South, and married a white man at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in her state. Earlier this year, she was arrested for refusing to disperse in front of the White House while protesting U.S. actions in Iraq.

Becoming a hero doesn't always make one popular. We picture heroes receiving public acclaim, but this is only the case when there is a public who approves of the hero's actions. Yesterday at the Green Festival, Walker received two standing ovations. But there are many who support the war in Iraq, and sadly, many who still oppose interracial marriage. By opposing the war, Walker risks denunciation by its supporters and arrest for civil disobedience. By marrying a man of a different color in segregated Mississippi, she risked violence and even death.

The hero must follow his or her own conscience in choosing the path of right action, regardless of the consequences. Seeking approval and acclaim from others may lead to stardom, but there is no guarantee that route will lead one to heroism.

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Do not wait for leaders 

Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul today, the first step to officially recognizing her as a saint. Mother Teresa ranks high on my personal list of enlightened heroes, not only because of her unfailing display of heroic virtue, but because of the path she followed to heroism.

At the age of 12, she decided she wanted to help the poor, and began training for missionary work. At 18, she left her home in Macedonia to join an Irish community of nuns working in Calcutta. She taught in a convent high school there for 20 years, but as she approached midlife, she wanted to do more to relieve the suffering she saw all around her.

With no funding of any kind, she started an open-air school for homeless children. She was joined by volunteers and eventually obtained financial support from the church and local government. From these simple beginnings, she founded a new religious order, The Missionaries of Charity. The order today provides food for the needy and operates hospitals, schools, orphanages, youth centers, and shelters in 50 Indian cities and 30 other countries.

Mother Teresa's advice to heroes-in-training was: "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person."

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Helping entrepreneurs around the globe 

My friend and colleague Steven Van Yoder has launched a fascinating project to help micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world get started. Steve is the author of Get Slightly Famous, and he's using the principles in his book to assist new entrepreneurs in India and Bali.

"This project is my book brought to life," says Steve. "As a long-time journalist, I've traveled and seen the human costs of poverty and economic hardships brought on by a rapidly changing global economy, especially to people in the developing world."

Steve is posting periodic reports during his current trip, detailing his efforts to mentor a Balinese cab driver and Indian virtual assistant. This is just the sort of heroic project I love to hear about, showing what one person can do to make a difference in the world.

P.S. If you've been missing your email updates from "How to Become a Hero," it's because the Bloglet subscription service has been down since Aug. 10. It appears to be working again now. Please visit the site to see what you have missed.

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Sharing the wealth 

From time to time in these posts, I hope to share stories of modern day enlightened heroes. One that I have admired for some time is Dan West, founder of the charitable organization Heifer International. Dan founded Heifer in 1944 based on a remarkably simple idea. Instead of giving food to hungry families, Dan convinced Midwestern farmers to donate young dairy cows. The gifts were given with one condition attached: each family who received a heifer had to give one of its offspring to another hungry family in their village. Today, the Heifer organization provides farm animals for food, wool, or draft power to needy areas in 115 countries and trains the recipients in sustainable agriculture. Each donation is tailored to the environment and culture of the area, and may include cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, guinea pigs, bees, camels, donkeys, oxen, water buffalo, or llamas. The requirement for "passing on the gift" continues, and families who receive animals say that one of the most rewarding parts of the program for them is being able to help another local family feed themselves.

In a recent issue of Heifer's World Ark magazine, West's daughter Jan West Schrock talks about her father's belief that we should all "live simply so that others may simply live." He often said, "If a person has more than three pairs of shoes in their closet, someone is doing without." Instead of working hard to accumulate more, we should let go of what we don't really need and give it away. Dan West's courage to share his simple idea has directly helped 4.5 million families around the world, and improved the lives of millions of others through pass-on animals.

If you know of modern-day heroes like Dan West who exemplify stepping into one's own greatness to be of service to others, I'd love to hear about them. Please post a comment on the "Hero" web site or email me.

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Heroes in Marin County 

I gave a talk on "How to Become a Hero" last night for the Marin Coaches Alliance. Sharing the "Hero" material in public for the first time was a rewarding experience, and I'm sure I learned as much as the audience did.

We opened with an exercise where I passed around photographs of some famous heroes of the past and present: Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr, Joan of Arc, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, and Helen Keller. I asked the audience to name the positive qualities they thought these people embodied. They named many of the "essential qualities" I listed in my post of June 19th, but they added to the list substantially with a few surprising entries. Here are the new qualities the group suggested for the list:

intolerance for smallness
huge love

I was particularly taken by the suggestions of "charisma" and "presence." Absolutely, these two qualities show up in the people I named. But it seems to me that unlike some of the other qualities on the list, they are a result of stepping into the hero's role, rather than existing beforehand in the proto-hero. Instead of being qualities one could deliberately work to develop on the path to becoming a hero -- like patience or compassion, for example -- I think that charisma and presence make their appearance when someone with a compelling vision allows his or her passion to show. Perhaps they are signals of heroism already at work, rather than requirements the hero-in-the-making should try to fulfill.


Trumpets and whispers 

In every hero's journey there is a transformative moment -- that instant where the hero hears, learns, or realizes the essential truth that changes him forever. Sometimes this moment of enlightenment and clear seeing arrives at the same instant when you first hear the call of what is to become your mission. This is perhaps the experience we most often recall from the great heroic stories. The way we remember it is that Joan of Arc saw a vision, heard the voice of God, and instantly knew what she must do. So we wait for the trumpets to sound and the wave of inspiration to sweep over us, thinking that these are the necessary signals of a truly transformative moment.

But in fact, young Joan had been having visions of the saints for years before she finally did what the voices asked of her. In 1424, at age 12 or 13, Joan began to have visions of Saints Catherine, Margaret, and Michael the Archangel. In the beginning, the saints simply told her to be good and go to church. But then they began to ask her to go to the Dauphin Charles and offer to help him claim the throne of France. It wasn't until 1428 that she acted on the voices she had been hearing for so long.

We don't know much about Joan's actual transformative moment, when she decided to finally do what the voices asked. It has been suggested that it ultimately came about because she knew how desperate the Dauphin's situation had become. In other words, divine inspiration intersected with political and social reality and a growing awareness of what her world needed in that moment. But even for this classic heroine, she first heard the call as a whisper and not a sounding of trumpets, she listened in partial disbelief for years before taking action, and when she finally did act she was still not convinced that her actions would do any good.

What is it that is whispering to you right now?

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Everyday heroes in Tibet 

I had the honor last night of meeting Karma Senge Rinpoche and Damcho Tenphel Rinpoche, Tibetan lamas who are visiting the US for the first time to raise money for the Weyching Gompa nunnery. Karma Senge Rinpoche spoke to us through an interpreter on the topic of "Practicing in Difficult Times." He made the topic personal -- about us, his American hosts, and our difficult times since Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Never once did he mention the incredible difficulties of his own daily existence as a religious leader in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

Karma Senge described simply how they are providing shelter, food, clothing, and education for the nuns, most of whom are orphans. Housing for most of them does not yet exist in the sacred site where they have gathered, which is accessible only by foot or on horseback. Regardless of the conditions, they study and meditate for 8 hours per day... and work 6 hours daily to keep themselves fed, clothed, and build the nunnery around them. When housing construction is complete, they plan to next build a medical clinic to provide health care to the surrounding area.

Under conditions where we might think we could accomplish nothing more than survive, the nuns are making their study a higher priority than having a roof. Instead of waiting for a road to be built, they are planning a medical clinic. What a difference in perspective this is on what might be considered "difficult."

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Bodhisattva in training 

I spent the weekend with friends in Santa Cruz, and in addition to swimming and sightseeing, indulged in one of my favorite pastimes of visiting thrift stores and used book stores. You can tell a lot about a place by the contents of its used book stores, and the shelves in Santa Cruz are loaded with psychology, metaphysics, and spirituality titles.

I picked up a marvelous resource for the topic of this blog: Bodhisattva Archetypes by Taigen Daniel Leighton. Referring to bodhisattvas as "heroic benefactors," the book describes modern examples of archetypal characters from Buddhist tradition. Some of the named heroes are ones you would expect, e.g. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But others are surprising, for example, Muhammad Ali, Daniel Ellsberg, Bob Dylan, and Clint Eastwood.

Leighton describes bodhisattvas as "valiantly functioning in helpful ways right in the middle of the busy-ness of the world." Without a doubt, that fits my definition of a hero.

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