collaborative heroism

Choosing Hope Over Denial

First Published at Psychology Today on November 30, 2015

After the Paris attacks, the French government announced the cancellation of a massive climate march on November 29. How did the Parisian’s react? By lining the streets with their shoes.

That’s resilience.

Paris’ symbolic act of solidarity with climate marchers was powerfully received, so much so that the world reacted by joining them in a virtual march launched by is external). The virtual march invited people to upload a photo of themselves with a pair of shoes and add a caption. 

That’s community.

Resilience is made up of a cluster of character strengths and virtues. It isn’t studied in isolation because our ability to bounce back from adversity is tied to our relationships—with our families, communities, and cultures. Being resilient means we’re not stopped by adversity. We move forward with optimism and hope intact.

A few years ago, I met climate scientist, Michael Oppenheimer(link is external) for coffee to talk about how we might inspire young people to become climate activists. Dr. Oppenheimer is the co-founder of the Climate Action Network(link is external) and a lead participant of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In the 1980s, he and his colleagues organized two workshops that eventually led to negotiations that resulted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. These were signed at the 1992 Earth Summit and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. For more than four decades, Dr. Oppenheimer has been confronting the antagonism of climate change deniers. 

That’s resilience.

Beginning today, 40,000 diplomats, experts and advocates, including more than 135 world leaders, are meeting in Paris for a major U.N. Climate Summit(link is external). The goal is a new global climate treaty—a treaty capable of helping the world avoid the worst consequences of human-caused global warming. COP21 is different that the 20 climate conferences that preceded it because we have the opportunity to respond with hope and optimism. Standing beside us, are millions of allies around the world—interconnected by the invisible threads of the World Wide Web. To help us connect, the United Nations Foundation(link is external), launched #EarthtoParis(link is external), a campaign designed to raise awareness and give us a way to join the dialogue. Let’s do our part to support Dr. Oppenheimer and the millions of other scientists and climate activists around the world. Facing our fears about climate change may not be easy. We may feel uncomfortable, even anxious. This is normal.

We can develop our own resilience during the roller coast ride of the climate change negotiations, by supporting our larger climate activist families, communities, and transitioning cultures. You can join artist, Naziha Mestaoui's participatory art project, 1Heart1Tree by using an app to plant a real tree. With music by Philip Sheppard, the artwork spans the online and offline worlds by creating a forest of light on the monuments of Paris during the UN Climate Conference. It offers spectators the ability to create a virtual tree of light using a heart beat sensor. For each virtual tree of light created, a real tree is actually planted in a reforestation project. You can watch your virtual tree growing on the app, to the rhythm of your own heartbeat. Links for Apple and Android below. 

At, you can join over 3.5 million extended family members, by signing the Mega Climate Petition. The #EarthToParis Anthem video has been viewed 6 million times and shared 94 thousand times. You can watch it here(link is external), and participate in the UN Thunderclap(link is external) by taking action before December 7.  And, if you want to do more, share your own thoughts with COP21 leaders by using the hashtags, #EarthToParis, #COP21 and #EarthActionNow on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

That's a culture of resilience. 

More Information:

Collaborative Heroism and You

Help locate the missing Malaysia flight

Published on March 11, 2014 by Dana Klisanin, Ph.D. in Digital Altruism

Last year, after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Phillippines, thousands of individuals supported relief efforts by using satellite imaging to map the devastation. Right now the same Colorado satellite imaging company is asking the public for help analyzing high-resolution images. This is a crowd-sourced attempt to locate the missing Malaysia airline flight, but it is much more than that: It is a chance to participate in a collaborative heroism.  

What's collaborative heroism? 

Luke Barrington, senior manager of Geospatial Big Data for DigitalGlobe explains it this way: “For people who aren’t able to drive a boat through the Pacific Ocean to get to the Malaysian peninsula, or who can’t fly airplanes to look there, this is a way that they can contribute and try to help out."1 

What Mr. Barrington is really saying is that through collaborative action we can take part in the search and rescue—we can do more than be bystanders—we can use our interactive technologies to join the crew.

The age of interconnectivity is transforming our world and with it our worldview. Joseph Campbell, the well-known comparative mythologist, pointed out the important role technology—a product of culture—plays in expanding human consciousness. Interactive technologies have come to define our culture. They are the means through which we read the news, listen to music, watch TV, and play games, and as such they are the matrix in which we are evolving and cultivating new myths. Collaborative heroism is product of this evolution (Klisanin, 2013). As a construct, it helps us see how we can weave online and offline actions together and make greater strides in accomplishing noble goals.

Readers might be surprised to learn that we know far more about space travel than we know about heroism.  Fortunately, research is increasing.The Hero Roundtable is a cross-disciplinary conference on heroism where experts from many fields including psychology, education,philosophysports, storytelling, and the news media, gather to discuss heroism from many perspectives. Heroism is difficult to study because lumping a war hero, a firefighter, and one’s parents into the same category makes for unwieldy operational definition—a scientific necessity.  One way we are tackling this thorny issue is through creating categories of heroism and using different definitions to refer to heroism’s different forms. A taxonomy of heroism, for example, might include trending heroes, tragic heroes, traditional heroes, transforming, and transcendent heroes—and that is just a beginning (Allison & Goethals, 2013; Cecilone & Allison, 2013)2

Collaborative heroism is a form of heroism that enables us to tackle huge challenges together: Today there’s a chance for you to participate. If you’re interested, volunteers are being asked to log onto the Tomnod website.3 


1. Alan White, BuzzFeed:

2. Allison & Goethals,“hero”/


Introducing the Cyberhero Archetype

“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe."                                                                                                                            Alan Watts

If you’ve turned on the radio, watched television, gone to the movies, or visited Facebook, chances are you’ve seen or heard someone talking about cyber-crime, cyberbullies, and maybe even the threat of cyber-war.  With all this talk of negativity and the Net, you might have drawn the conclusion that nothing good is going on in cyberspace. No one could blame you for drawing this conclusion, but fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In recent research exploring the positive use of the Internet, I found that well over 100 million individuals are engaging in online activities with the intention of helping other people, animals, and the environment. 1 Many of these individuals are engaging in daily acts of digital goodness—acts of digital altruism and digital activism. The most committed among them represent a new form of the hero archetype: the cyberhero.

The cyberhero archetype brings together some of the best qualities and characteristics of heroes (benefiting others and acting selflessly) with some of the most interesting abilities of superheroes (dual-persona, shape-shifting, bi-location, and speed)—all with the intention of using the Internet and digital technologies in the peaceful service of achieving humanity’s highest ideals and aspirations; i.e., world peace, social justice, environmental protection and planetary stewardship.

Does this sound like sci-fi? Stranger than sci-fi? To explore the theory of the emergence of the cyberhero archetype, I designed a questionnaire and launched it online. As it turns out, the proof of their existence is compelling:

  • 84 percent of respondents said they are consciously using the Internet to promote peace in the world.
  • 74 percent of respondents feel a sense of unity with all the other people who are engaging in various forms of digital goodness (e.g., clicking –to-donate or signing on-line petitions).
  • 76 percent believe that simple actions such as click-to-donate can have a significant impact when a lot of people click each day.
  • 83 percent feel that the Internet enables them to help others more than they could without it.
  • 93 percent either “agree” or “strongly agree” that their life is interconnected with all the life forms on our planet
  • 93 percent enjoy acting on behalf of people in need regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender
  • 86 percent use the Internet to act on behalf of more than one cause or charity
  • 85 percent think the needs of other people are as important as their own needs

These responses suggest individuals who have a  “transpersonal” sense of identity—a “sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche, and cosmos.”2 Clearly, in their hands, technology is something filled with creativity, something capable of promoting “peace in the world.” 

Currently, Internet activism and various forms of digital altruism are referred to with the pejorative terms, “slacktivisim” and “slacktivist”. These words suggest that people who support a cause by performing simple online actions are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change. These terms confuse “ease of action” with “importance of action,” diminishing the latter and the individual with it. The term “slacktivist” is yet another example of the ways we are focusing on the negative aspects of technology at the expense of its positive aspects. Rather than celebrating engagement in the world, “slacktivist” undermines human motivation,  belittling endeavors that depend upon Internet technology and mass participation (e.g., World Community Grid , Foldit) and the achievements made possible through it.

Slacktivist would be better used in referring to individuals who use technology everyday, but make no effort to send an inspiring message, click-to-donate on behalf of a hungry child, donate their unused computing time to efforts like the World Community Grid, or sign a petition on behalf of a cause they care about.  Individuals who think these actions don’t matter aren’t doing their homework. Rather than straying into the controversial Kony campaign, which is an excellent example of cyberheroing activity, let’s take a look at a recent effort led by Julia Bluhm.

Julia is a teenager who created an online petition at asking Seventeen Magazine to commit to printing one unaltered “real” photo spread per month. In the petition, Julia explained that she wanted to “see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.” Her concern was the photoshopped, airbrushed, images of models were leading “some girls try to “fix” themselves. . . . lead[ing] to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem.” 3

 After over 84,000 people signed her petition, Julia delivered it to the executive editor of Seventeen magazine who not only agreed to Julia’s request, she went a giant step beyond it; committing not to alter the body size or face shape of the girls and models in the magazine and to feature a diverse range of beauty in its pages.  Julia's message to all her supporters: 

"Seventeen listened! They're saying they won't use photoshop to digitally alter their models! This is a huge victory, and I'm so unbelievably happy. Another petition is being started by SPARK activists Emma and Carina, targeting Teen Vogue and I will sign it. If we can be heard by one magazine, we can do it with another. We are sparking a change!"

Julia and the 84,530 individuals who signed her petition have done more than spark a change, they have used technology to co-create a better world, for themselves and those that come after them. Each and every one of the 84,530 signers is part of this victory. By signing the petition, they spoke up behalf of girls everywhere. Their actions have implications that may well include the prevention new cases of bulimia, anorexia, depression, and death. Only by recognizing the myriad ways that human beings are interconnected with each other and the natural world can we begin to see the ripples of our actions as the waves of change they truly are. Valuing our voices and raising them in whatever way we can to improve the world is a noble pursuit. These girls and millions of other individuals using the Internet as a tool of action are more than slacktivists, they are young leaders who may well have saved someone’s life. As such they deserve a more descriptive designation, an empowering, uplifting, designation. They are cyberheroes.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

                                                                                  H.H. Dalai Lama XIV

While we have been quick to language the negative uses of digital technologies, it isn’t too late to begin recognizing kindness on the Web and calling it for what it is—especially since the majority of American teens and adults say they are experiencing more kindness than cruelty online. In the study conducted by the Pew Internet and Digital Life project, researchers found that “Most American teens who use social media say that in their experience, people their age are mostly kind to one another on social network sites. Overall, 69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that “it depends.” At the same time, in a similar question asked of adults 18 and older, 85% of social media-using adults reported that people are mostly kind to one another on social network sites, while just 5% felt that people are mostly unkind.”4

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, suggests that compassion can be nurtured and reminds us that "human communities are only as healthy as our conceptions of human nature."5 Through using words that convey the human motivations behind pro-social digital activism motivations such as altruism, caring, and compassion, we can nurture the healthy aspects of human nature and foster healthier societies—online and off. Lera Boroditsky, a psychologist at Stanford University, suggests that the way we language our thoughts plays a large role in the way we experience reality. According to Boroditsky, “A hallmark feature of human intelligence is its adaptability, the ability to invent and rearrange conceptions of the world to suit changing goals and environments.”6

Our information and communication technologies are arguably one of our greatest intellectual accomplishments; we cannot afford to language them such that we become their victims. If we don’t want to live in a world full of cybercrime, cyberbullies, cyberwar, and slactivists, then we must language the compassionate activity taking place online. By including digital goodness and the cyberhero in our lexicon, we expand more than the dictionary—we expand the moral domain. This opens up the human imagination, providing words with which our children might “invent and rearrange conceptions of the world to suit changing goals and environments”— with ways of thinking that include the possibility of using our digital technologies to collectively co-create a better, more equitable, peaceful world. 

1. Klisanin, D. (2012). The Hero and the Internet:Exploring the emergence of the cyberhero archetype. Media Psychology Review. (Online) 4-1.  

2.  Walsh, R. and Vaughan, F. (1993) Paths beyond ego: The transpersonal vision. New York: Tarcher/Putnam. (2012). Seventeen Petition: Give Girls Images of Real Girls

4. Leehart, A., Madden, M. Smith, A., Purcell, K., Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L. (2011). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. Pew Internet and Digital Life Project.

5. Keltner, D., in Kelter, D., Marsh, J., and Smith, J.A. (2010). The Compassionate Instinct. New York: W.W. Norton&Company, Inc., pp. 13-15.

6. Boroditsky, L., (2011) How language shapes thought. Scientific American, February, 63-65.


The cyberhero archetype represents an ideal form. Individuals who use the Internet solely to benefit their own “in-group” are not cyberheroes,  just as someone in the real world would not be considered a hero if he or she limited their activity to an in-group of their own (for example, those of a shared race or religion). The hero ideal, or archetype, has no regard for constructs that place boundaries on virtues or moral values, such as compassion, empathy, and loving-kindness. The cyberhero archetype embodies impartiality to the nth degree, being itself reliant on an interdependent, boundary-less Internet that favors no individual above another (ideally speaking).