There are many things America’s veterans wish you knew. Chief among them: You don’t have to wear a cape or mask to be a hero. On Veteran’s Day, we’re reminded that heroes live in cities, communities, and neighborhoods around the country—and they don’t necessarily wear military uniforms. Considering the uncertain times in which we live, the world needs more heroes, and you could be one of them. You don’t have to change the whole world! Just make it a better place, one positive step at a time. In his forthcoming and fascinating book Heroes Wanted, Rodney Bullard, a U.S. Air Force Veteran and Chick-fil-A executive, explains how:
Praise other people’s gifts
Start with recognizing the gifts of those in your community, and reaffirming them. Maybe a teacher generously spends extra time mentoring children, or a kid is performing really well in team sports. Tell them so! You will make others feel good about themselves, and you’ll feel great about bringing sunshine into their lives. When you create an upbeat climate in your neighborhood, you’ll establish trust and be able to address even more difficult issues.
Emory professor Gregory Ellison created an organization Fearless Dialogues, which creates spaces for community members to discuss and engage with one another on any issue. He built the group on the “3 Feet Challenge,” which asks people to look for the gifts of those around them. The challenge, according to Bullard, “is designed to move individuals and communities beyond the belief that social problems are too big to be changed by a committed few.” Some 10,000 people all around the world have taken the challenge.
Perform an act of service
Do something nice for someone in need. When you open the door for a senior citizen or volunteer at the local school or soup kitchen, you’re giving your time and energy to your community. You will become a hero to them because you’re putting others ahead of yourself.
For example, the Wake Forest basketball coach Tom Walter had a mantra for the 2011 season: “What are you willing to sacrifice?” When a freshman joined the squad, the young player learned that he needed a kidney transplant in order to live. Coach Walter ultimately donated his kidney to his player. “When we recruit our guys, we talk about family and we talk about making sacrifices for one another,” he said. Coach Walter practiced what he preached and became a hero not just to the freshman player but to the entire team and community.
“To be a heroic leader requires commitment,” writes Bullard. “It requires giving up time, investing energies that could be devoted to another endeavor… We don’t become somebody’s hero by living for ourselves.”
Even if you can’t donate a kidney, there are so many creative ways to volunteer your time and talents.
Reach out and engage
The simple act of reaching out shows people that you care about them and their well-being. The person with whom you connect can be completely different from you. What matters is that you register your interest in their lives. And they will no doubt think the world of you. You’ll be a hero to them.
Bullard shares a story of growing up across the street from an elderly couple known as the “Whidbys.” Mr. Whidby was a military veteran who shared stories about World War II with Bullard. When Mr. Whidby died, young Bullard went over to the house more often to spend time with the widow, Mrs. Whidby. “Every time I knocked on her door, she smiled as she welcomed me in. She always gave me a bottle of Coke…On the surface, our lives were polar opposites, but we were neighbors and we had a common bond.”
Ask people in your community what they need. What they might need most is you and simply your presence. These untold stories of Native American heroes will inspire you.
This article was also published in Reader’s Digest.
Kabir Sehgal is a US Navy Veteran, Multi-Grammy Award Winner, and Co-author of national bestseller Home: Where Everyone Is Welcome.