Who are your heroes? Maybe a comic-book character like Superman or Batman, perhaps a family member like your mother, father, brother, or sister. We love heroes for their courage, sacrifice, and relentless commitment to do the right thing.
Joseph Campbell studied heroism more than any person I know. Having collected stories from nearly every culture, he dissected these tales to reveal repeated traits, archetypes, and paths. Perhaps more remarkable is that once you know the pattern, it’s astonishing how many of our beloved protagonists follow Campbell’s heroic journey, e.g. Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Luke from Star Wars, Frodo from The Lord of The Rings, and Harry from Harry Potter, to name a few.
Tragically, most of us leave the role of the hero to folklore, never daring that we could fill the shoes of the heroic figure. I mean, what kind of self-absorbed person would assume that he or she could be so influential? Gee, I don't know, how about Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or Nelson Mandela?
Ironically, all the heroes mentioned above have served time in jail for standing up for what they believe. Obviously, jail isn’t a requirement of heroism, but metaphorically, a hero MUST have opposition. Imagine if the story of Hercules read like this: “As the giant Hydra approached, Hercules threw one punch and won. The end.” Wouldn’t make for an interesting story, would it?
The art of a relatable heroic journey is that it teeters on the line between failure and success. In our lives, we’re not fighting Hydras like Hercules, but we face our own villains every day. Taking out the trash, going for the daily run, waking up early, etc. Overcoming this resistance hardly deserves a medal, but over time it adds up.
Opposition is a fact of life. Everything we do faces some sort of resistance, and when we succumb to it, we have a nasty habit of labeling ourselves with words like “failure”. Now, think of your heroes again. We don’t love them because they’re perfect, that’d be boring. A hero with too many powers makes for a predictable ending. We admire heroes for their persistence in spite of constant opposition.
Find The Courage
Show me a person who’s not afraid and I’ll show you someone who’s risked nothing. Heroes aren't immune to fear, another reason why we love them. They, like us, are terrified of what could happen if things don’t work out. The big difference is that heroes proceed regardless.
Life is full of moments requiring courage. Asking someone out, quitting your job, fighting an illness, all of these could end poorly. It doesn't help that throughout our lives, we’re constantly conditioned not to gamble. "Don’t stick your neck out," they say, make a ruckus, or stray from the beaten path. Just keep close to the herd where it's nice and safe.
The lion from The Wizard of Oz wants courage. Does he receive it, or is he given the opportunity to be courageous? Heroes live for these precious moments, eagerly approaching the oppositions of life. Ancient Greek warriors were recognized with heroic honor if they died in battle. To this day, we treat soldiers with tremendous respect, because we know that it could be us out there fighting, and we appreciate the risk they take protecting our lives.
How To Live More Heroically
The hero is us, at least, it could be. Another reason why love our heroes is that they represent the potential within. They start off like everyone else, until they discover their power, often reluctantly accepting this responsibility. Any one of us could be Harry Potter or Frodo, living life as usual when the heroic journey arrives on our doorstep.
Knock knock. This is your calling to fulfill the heroic role in your life. Because, no other character can live your tale. It’s your story, to fight villains, be courageous, and inspire others. You’ve always had the power. Whether or not you choose to share it, is entirely up to you.