The Art of Manliness Podcast #34: The Attributes of a Hero With Dr. Frank Farley

by Brett on February 14, 2011 · 11 comments

in Podcast

Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Manliness podcast! Well, we went on a little hiatus with the podcast. I’ve received several emails and tweets asking what happened to it. With Gus being born and work on the second book, I put the podcast on the backburner. I just didn’t have enough time for it. But now that Gus is on a regular schedule and the book manuscript has been turned in, we’ll be returning to our regular bi-weekly podcast schedule.

In this week’s episode I talk to Dr. Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at the Temple University. For the past twenty years, Dr. Farley has researched heroism and the psychological attributes of heroes. In our interview, we discuss  some of these attributes, why society needs heroes, and what we can do as men to be heroes for our children.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Perry Randall February 15, 2011 at 9:22 am

Thank you for this, Mr. McKay. I look forward to listening to it tonight.



2 Nathan Wheeler February 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

The decline in heroism probably stems from the decline in respect from parents and the media for true heroes. Very few parents and the media no longer show any respect to the military, our elected officials, the police or anyone else. People now instead try to pick apart those people and bring out all their negative qualities, rather than looking at their character and their positive qualities. We still have plenty of “heroes”, everyone just tries to tear them down. You can’t teach about them in school, because parents get angry over the political or religious aspects and qualities that brought those people to become the heroic character that they are.


3 Perry Randall February 15, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hello Nathan,

I would agree with you up to a point, but would further say that in this current culture of entitlement, few lack the pluck to go through the crucible required of a true hero. I honestly believe that there are very few in this day and age who dare to pick up the gauntlet thrown by Mr Adams when he said, “Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

I sense, around me and in the general air, a movement back to this style of manliness. But it will take time, and it will take every available man to make it happen.



4 Pariuri Sportive February 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I`ve just listened and i must say that i`m impressed.

5 Thomas February 15, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Thinking about people who have been called heroes, and how they’ve dealt with the title, I have come to this conclusion: you, yourself, have absolutely no say in whether or not you are a hero. If people call you a hero and you don’t want them to (as is often the case), too bad. Apologies to Staff Sgt. Giunta; that’s just the way it goes.

The remarks about being risk-averse bear further discussion. Avoiding risk might be a sign of cowardice, but it’s also the mark of sound judgment–also called Prudence, one of the Four Cardinal Virtues. There are heroes, and there are fools, and the line between them can get blurred in a hurry if the situation is volatile enough. Notice that everyone Dr. Farley mentioned kept his head in bad situations so that they could stay on the right side of that line.

6 Sean February 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Awesome podcast, Brett. I wish you did one every week!

7 Frank February 16, 2011 at 1:57 am


That is one of my favorite Douglas Adams quotes. It is fantastic.


8 Matt Langdon February 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Great interview guys. I have been teaching kids to be heroes for the last five years and am thrilled to hear what Dr. Farley had to say.

As far as teaching people to be heroes, I am a firm believer in the affirmative. Obviously. Dr. Farley touched on a few methods I use in teaching. I’d love to hear more.

I’m not sure how links work in the comments, but you can google Hero Handbook or Hero Construction Company with my name to see my stuff.

9 Kids Pool February 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

We do usually see male heroes but hey can’t you just remember that we have a female hero too? Some says that male is greater than women. I am very much agreeing with that in the sense of muscularity. But, who would have thought that a woman can do a lot of things which a man usually does? It is their comparison and it’s up for to judge. It is free to vocalize you thoughts.

10 Eliabe February 18, 2011 at 3:03 am

I think one heroic attribute is the capacity of realizing your own weaknesses and work on them.

11 Jaynemarie February 21, 2011 at 2:52 am

Loved that podcast. And I think about boys, specifically young men, and heroism often as I think that defines the masculine heart at some level. And I want to recommend the movie “The Eagle” for that very reason. “The Eagle” is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. So few films are being made that speak strength to the maturing young man of today. This is truly a fantastic movie to take young men to see. The movie works with classic themes and story elements that are well worn and beautifully burnished to fit the human heart so well. I took my 16 year old son and his friends and after seeing it I feel that there is so much here for a young masculine mind to chew over.

I, as the mother of a young man, appreciate the kind of feelings and thoughts that “The Eagle” stirs up. Sutcliff’s book and MacDonald’s direction made a rare and wonderful gem of a movie.

In the movie it is 120 AD and, to the Romans, Hadrian’s Wall represents the limits of the “known world” yet the mystery of his father’s fate lures, no, urges young Marcus Flavius Aquila to step beyond the “known” and venture beyond all that he has known up until now.

Young men’s minds will be filled with the adventure of journeying into the unknown, transcending beyond their everyday existence. Most young men will be moved by a hero who must put fear in her place and dwell in the assurance of his own strength to overcome adversity. They will find escapism in the awesome ruggedness of the landscapes with its harsh physical challenges. Their hearts will recognize that masculine comrade / adversary dichotomy, between Aquila and Esca, that they themselves live with. Their nobility will be stirred to see that classic theme of the young man searching for the father who went before him. Hadrian’s Wall is the perfect metaphor for the emergence, the coming of age, if you will, of the masculine spirit.

Pius and unabashedly noble, the hero, Marcus Flavius Aquila represents a wonderful persona for a young man to think about. He is a classical hero sans superpowers. He is courageous in battle, in fact fearlessly leads his men into a battle full of the promise of extreme brutality where the numbers are so very against them. This is a battle for a noble cause and Marcus Flavius Aquila doesn’t hesitate even though his death is very likely.

There is another classic theme that wears its age so well, that of the conflict within a civilized culture between the man of action and the man at the other end of the continuum, the opportunistic, soft, egoist. There is much to fear even within the limits of the wall at this extreme edge of the Roman Empire and Aquila’s urge to restore the honor of his father is strong and he is stationed at this extreme outpost at his own request. Yet, although the stage is set for his plunge into the unknown, Aquila makes no move until spurred into action by the slanders of a politician and his son, the polar opposites of the strong hero.

The man of action is civilization’s defense against the wild forces of brutality and anarchy. He can be honorable as portrayed in many classic stories and as he is here in the hero, Marcus Flavius Aquila. Or, in the antihero twist, he can be a dishonorable figure to be despised as portrayed in Jack Nickleson’s character, Colonel Jessup, in the movie “A Few Good Men.”

“The Eagle” then moves into a journey beyond the Wall that is, at first, rather meditative. Aquila has to remain strong and yet adapt to his dependency on his companion, his slave. His slave, Esca, who has made no secret of the fact that he loathes Aquila and all that he and Rome represent, owes Aquila for saving his life against the gladiator. The question of loyalty and trust between men looms large. In the scene where Aquila is residing with the barbarian’s own slaves and an old, emaciated woman tends to his wounds echoes of slavery throughout the history of mankind are visited upon him, a citizen of empire. It is such a powerful stroke.

In this part of the movie, beyond Hadrian’s Wall, the story becomes heavy with the threat of brutal tribal violence. While the viewers’ anxiety is heightened, the film begins to raise serious questions as part of the tapestry of the human condition, questions about large ideas that do not come with easy answers. Questions about tribalism, the terror of the outsider versus the comfort of belonging. Questions arise about the civilizing effects of empire versus the oppression of the conquered. There are vague parallels drawn between the officers in the outpost and the leaders of the seal people. The movie seems to compare the oppression of slavery, as a universal practice of the Roman Empire and the barbarian tribes alike, with the oppression of conquest as a question to puzzle over. There is so much to appreciate in the way in which “The Eagle” presents grand, difficult questions, questions fit for a current events class, without providing pat easy answers while at the same time providing a rollicking good adventure story with the classic storybook ending.

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