Interview with Kenny Chen of Heroic Imagination Project
Stepping out of your comfort zone, breaking the social norm in a positive way and being mindful and have good reflections on life, that’s what i would reckon as a hero.
Kenny is Director of International Relations at Heroic Imagination Project (aka HIP). He moved to Hong Kong from US in August 2013, and have since been based out of Good Lab to launch HIP programmes in Hong Kong. Being an entreprenuer himself, he has made a splash with the workshops that he facilitated. The most recent one at MaD Forum in January 2014 was the most well received workshop. We grab him for a chat to learn more about HIP and his missions.
GL: Hi Kenny. Can you tell us a bit about yourself first?
Kenny: Hi, so I’m Kenny, I studied Psychology at UC Berkeley, and I’ve been running a programme called the Heroic Imagination Project in Hong Kong since six months ago, after working with them for a year in the US. I love Hong Kong and all the opportunities it’s given me.
GL: What is Heroic Imagination Project?
Kenny: The Heroic Imagination Project was started by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a well-known psychology professor at Stanford. He spent a lifetime researching human evil, and wanted to understand what could make people do good. He created the Heroic Imagination Project to redefine the concept of heroism and show people that they can be heroes in their everyday lives.
GL: How did you get into HIP in the first place?
Kenny: While I was in college, I loved studying psychology, but I was frustrated that so much interesting and useful information was not really being shared with the public. I was lucky enough to find an organization that focused on exactly that – taking the most relevant lessons from psychology and teaching it in a fun, impactful way. I attended a few of their seminars and at the end, I asked if there was anything I could do to get involved. Not long afterwards, I was welcomed to their team.
GL: And then you came to Hong Kong?
Kenny: I started working with HIP since August 2012, and in January 2013, Dr. Zimbardo came to Hong Kong and keynoted at the MaD Forum, which resonated well with the audience. HIP was asked to come back in September to run a few workshops for MaD and some other organizations, so I was sent here to run those programs for 2 months. However, I liked it so much that I personally decided to come back, and now I’ve been here for almost half a year.
GL: Could you tell me what the word hero here means?
Kenny: Well, most of us tend to see heroes as these super human beings, typically strong male warriors, like in Hollywood movies. But we want to show people that heroism goes far beyond just “fighting bad guys.” It’s about standing up for others and making the right decisions in tough situations. Anyone can do this, and if we look around, we can see everyday heroes all around us.
GL: Did you say everyone could become a hero?
Kenny: Yes, and it can be surprisingly easy. Regardless of age, race, class or gender, everyone has a basic sense of what’s right and wrong. Most people, most of the time, want to do what’s right, but society can often get in the way. The enemy of heroism isn’t evil – it’s inaction. But with the right skills and awareness, people can train themselves to be more courageous, take initiative, and act heroically when needed.
GL: But Hong Kong is a very materialistic society, everybody is going after money and care very little for everything else, especially public issues. Do you think HIP could help change people’s mindset?
Kenny: What you said probably applies for most people, but not everyone, and we need to empower those people who are doing good to be more prominent role models for the rest of society. I think everyone has the readiness for change deep inside, but they need some motivation and guidance. Hong Kong is a very conformist city – people care a lot about fitting in and saving face. Everyone gets used to being a bystander and not taking responsibility, even when they probably should. But if people knew more about psychology and started to better understand themselves and others, I think we might see more empathy, better communication, and a more just and friendly city. I think HIP could help make that happen.
GL: Are there anything you find interesting or inspirational since moving to Hong Kong?
Kenny: Yes, well first of all the people I met at Good Lab are very interesting. They work on so many great things, from fairtrade coffee to sustainable living to health projects and everything in between. To me, this is the best place in Hong Kong, because people are pursuing their dreams and passions in a meaningful way, not just being robots for making and spending money. I also formed a group called “Psyched 4 Good” with some friends who are also interested in using psychology for social benefit. We organize regular events (the next one is coming up in March) and we hope this could help people better understand themselves and each other.
(photos from MaD)