In her new book, What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness, science writer Elizabeth Svoboda explores what prompts people to act altruistically and how to strengthen the likelihood of heroic action when we are called upon to do so. While awe-inspiring heroes are to be admired and emulated, Svoboda writes, “many slow-and-steady career altruists also practice a kind of quiet heroism, one that too often goes unrecognized.” She makes the case that, whether we are talk about heroic or altruistic acts, “all of these acts arise from the same basic motivation—enriching someone else’s life at personal expense, whether small or large—so the differences between them are, in part, a matter of degree.”
In other words, everyday altruism is a precursor to heroism. If we build up our “altruism muscle,” she argues, we are more likely to act heroically when the time comes.