Don’t Hold Out for a Hero: Be One Yourself

Don’t Hold Out for a Hero: Be One Yourself
Hero feature
Photo By Gene Fama

Not all heroes need to tear doors off hinges, blow windows out of cars, or toss nuns to safety.  Following these simple tips will ensure your reaction is the appropriate one when an everyday emergency occurs.

By Justin Thompson

Hopefully for many of us we've never been in a life threatening situation, whether alone or in a crowd. But you've seen or heard people that have been in those circumstances. Don't you wonder how the hell they pull themselves together and take charge? How they muster up the resolve and wherewithal to lead everyone else in the crisis to a point of safety or at least of formulating a game plan?

However, you may not always be involved in the situation – you may happen upon a scene where no one has taken control and there is absolute chaos. Why? Because human nature is to panic, to be scared. Instinctively we have a ‘fight or flight' response to any situation that puts us in danger and I don't know about you, but most times people flee because it's easier (and certainly less tiring) than fighting.

I'm not sure whether people can be taught how to be a leader, especially in a crisis. For whatever reason, I've always been a person to take charge in group settings, whether they were in school, work, or in social circumstance. People would host parties, but I'd always be the one out and about making sure everyone and everything was okay. At work, I'm always trying to speak up about things that aren't working and trying to find solutions or ask for solutions. In school, I abhorred group work because of the lack of organization and just took charge and told my group members what we were doing and how we were going to get the best grade.

As I've said before – do as I say, not as I do. I realize that to be a good leader you need to have the following traits:

  • Be an excellent listener
  • Be a proactive thinker
  • Be able to prioritize
  • Show calm in front of others
  • Be willing to have people angry at you

The last one is especially important. As a leader, you can't always be everyone's best friend, nor can you always make every single person happy. If you're Mr. Nice Guy, you might be too concerned about hurting other people's feeling by bossing them around. You have to listen to people, so that they feel heard. In most crises, people start to come apart and need someone to hear them so they don't feel totally out of control. Then they need someone to give them structure.

Anytime I've been in a situation where something bad has happened, I've immediately not assumed I could handle it all myself. You must begin to call upon the help of others and make them realize that they have strengths that are crucial to everyone's well-being and in some cases, survival.

Some people may try to lead, but aren't necessarily good at it. They don't have people's support, they want to just dominate the group and lead blindly without the input or at least the opinions of everyone involved.

Some situations don't even require action – think about being trapped in an elevator. Perhaps being a leader in that circumstance is to calm anyone who may be panicky or nervous, instead of being a “Oh GOD!” type who only antagonizes a bad situation for most. This ties into the staying calm in front of others bullet point above. Staying calm isn't just for your own good, as the leader, it will keep the group calm as well.  You may be just as worried as everyone else and want to freak out, but what good comes of that? Usually none.

Instead, take some deep breathes, understand the situation, stay positive and help others who may need assistance or who need positive reinforcement to keep morale up.


The closest I've ever been to a ‘hero' circumstance was not life-threatening at all, but adrenaline-pumping regardless.

I went to my local library branch after work one day and as I got out of my car, I heard tapping. I thought it was a child in the car next to me tapping on the glass, but then I realize it's a grown woman in the next car over from the car next to me leaning over and tapping on the passenger window.

She says, through the glass, in almost a whisper, “I'm stuck – I can't get out.”

“You're stuck in your car? Um…did you push all the buttons on the locks? Try the other doors?” I replied.

She just nodded, “Yes.”

Okay, so now what? Spare key – there's got to be someone with one.

“Is there someone who has a spare key that I can call inside?”

She begins to write down two phone numbers, one for her father and one for her husband. The father didn't answer, so I called the husband.


“Is this…,” and I had to turn to her because I didn't even know her name. “What's your name?”


“Is this Stephanie's husband?”

“No,hold on.” I then heard another person come on the line.

“Is this Stephanie's husband?”


“Okay, good. Your wife is at the library on College and 42nd and she's trapped in her car. I think the battery is dead and she can't get out.”

InsetDead silence. I think he was laughing away from the phone. Really, I think he was. He comes back and goes “Where?” And I repeat the info. I said that if he has a key, he should bring it and he said he'd be there in a minute.

I told Stephanie her husband was coming and that I was going inside to alert the library staff to the situation. So I go in with this preface: “I'm probably going to tell you the weirdest thing you've ever heard.” They collectively agreed they'd heard pretty weird stuff and didn't think I could top it. I told them about the situation and that I didn't know how long she'd been out there and all basically responded with a, “Uh…huh” and weren't too concerned about doing anything.

So I go back outside and another young girl was at the car to see if Stephanie needed help and I walked over again and we were calling the number on the car for the manufacturer. After about 10 minutes of questions that I felt could only be screening her for diabetes or underwriting for life insurance, the car manufacturer said they couldn't help. That the warranty was expired and we should call a locksmith. Really, that's what they said.

I started to call 411 for a locksmith, when the scary old library ‘guard' (I use this loosely, she's the woman who walks around and tells people to be quiet and asked me to leave the library when I got a phone call) came over and said “Oh, girl…I'll help you out.” Really? What was I doing? Putting tinder around the car and getting ready to shove a match in the gas tank?

Luckily for all, there's a firehouse across the street. So the old library guard goes and gets two firemen who proceed to come over with some equipment – not the jaws of life.

As they start to talk to her, another older library patron comes over. She's chiming in too about getting someone to jump the car. There's starting to be too many chefs in the kitchen at this point. But authorities have been notified, so I'm less concerned.

The firemen are asking if Stephanie's okay, does she have any health conditions – she whispered something about low blood sugar or something for high blood pressure. “Did you take your medicine today?” A shamed shaking of the head.

So as the car across from Stephanie's pulls out – the newly arrived older woman freaks out about the battery idea, and then I see a car pull into the lot and fortunately it was Stephanie's husband and her dad. And guess where they pulled in? Right across from her car.

The father came over and opened the door with his key and all was right with the world.

No one could figure out why a dead battery would keep the doors locked. And at that point, I had nothing else to offer so I took my “Heroes” season 2 dvd (coincidence, I know) and went home.
So as you can see – despite everyone else getting all worked up and about to rip the door of this car, my help by calling someone for a key turned out to be the fastest solution in the end. I don't say that for bragging rights, but had the others in the group been able to try their method we could have went through a lot of alternatives that would have been ultimately expensive, and unnecessary.

If you are ever in a situation where police or firemen or paramedics can't get involved immediately, just remember the bullet points above. You can assess the situation and assert yourself as a leader. Even if you aren't the leader type, don't be afraid to speak up with your suggestions or your opinions. You'll help resolve an issue faster which means you'll be out of the crisis faster, which is what everyone wants.