There’s A Hero In All Of Us
American philosopher, Joseph Campbell, has given us the best guide for living life to our utmost potential
I discovered Joe Campbell late in my life, and I so wish I knew his philosophy in my younger years.
When he died in 1987 at the age of 83, Joseph Campbell was considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on mythology, the stories and legends told by human beings through the ages to explain the universe and their place in it.
The 20 books he wrote or edited have influenced artists and performers, as well as scholars and students. When he died, he was working on a monumental Historical Atlas of World Mythology, his effort to bring under one roof the spiritual and intellectual wisdom of a lifetime.
Mythology was to him the song of the universe, music so deeply embedded in the collective subconscious that we dance to it, even when we can’t name the tune.
Over the last two summers of his life, Bill Moyers taped interviews in California, at Skywalker Ranch, the home of his friend, George Lucas, whose movie trilogy Star Wars had been influenced by Campbell’s work.
“There is a certain typical hero sequence of actions, which can be detected in stories from all over the world, and from many, many periods of history. And I think it’s essentially, you might say, the one deed done by many, many different people.
And why?; Well, because that’s what’s worth writing about. I mean, even in popular novel writing, you see, the main character is the hero or heroine, that is to say, someone who has found or achieved or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero properly is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself or other than himself.
There are two types of deed. One is the physical deed; the hero who has performed an act of selfless bravery or a physical act of heroism in saving a life, that’s a hero act. Giving himself, sacrificing himself to another. And the other kind is the spiritual hero, who has learned or found a mode of experiencing the supernormal range of human spiritual life, and then come back and communicated it. It’s a cycle, it’s a going and a return, that the hero cycle represents.
But then this can be seen also in the simple initiation ritual, where a child has to give up his childhood and become an adult, has to die, you might say, to his infantile personality and psyche and come back as a self-responsible adult. It’s a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo, we’re in our childhood for about 14 years, and then to get out of that posture of dependency, psychological dependency, into one of psychological self-responsibility, requires a death and resurrection, and that is the basic motif of the hero journey, Leaving one condition, finding the source of life to bring you forth in a richer or more mature or other condition.”
Otto Rank, in his wonderful, very short book called “The Myth of the Birth of the Hero”, says, “everyone is a hero in their birth. The baby has undergone a tremendous transformation from a little, you might say, water creature. Living in a realm of the amniotic fluid and so forth, then coming out, becoming an air-breathing mammal that ultimately will be self-standing and so forth, is an enormous transformation and it is a heroic act, and it’s a heroic act on the mother’s part to bring it about. It’s the primary hero, hero form, you might say.”
The act of birth is heroic, subconsciously by the child and consciously by the mother, together achieving the ultimate heroic act of bringing a baby into the world.
Birth: what could be more heroic?
Well, birth is just the beginning, and while birth is definitely heroic, there is much more heroism to come during our lives.
But only if we are aware of what it means to be heroic.
I like to explain heroism like this. It’s a simplified form of the complete path of the hero but it’s also easy to remember:
“Life in the village has been peaceful and happy until one day when that suddenly changes.
The villagers have been challenged/attacked/killed by an evil creature, a dragon, a group of bandits — an evil force.
Our hero at first seeks solace and protection and awaits someone to step forward to take a stand and provide protection for the village.
Nobody steps forward and without notice, there’s a second attack, much worse than the first.
It’s clear that unless someone steps forward, the village and everyone in it will perish.
A hero is born.
She now knows that unless there’s firm action, the village will be destroyed.
Our hero accepts her mission to leave the village and head into unknown territory to find and destroy the evil force.
On this heroic journey, she will be challenged and her life threatened.
As she overcomes challenge after challenge, she comes to the ultimate obstacle; the one that could literally take her life.
Our hero does not pause to consider her safety, but she confronts the evil force and strikes it down with her sword.
Now she can return to the village to be proclaimed a hero and forever after be worshipped.”
That’s my way of explaining the heroes' journey. It’s a storyline that has resonated throughout time and is still the basis for so many novels and movies.
I know there is a hero in each and every one of us. There’ll be times in our lives when we courageously make a stand to protect others or defend our family.
In fact, it’s something that many people do on an almost daily basis, though perhaps not consciously.
Think about my description of the mythical story of the hero.
There’s a very strong chance that you are a hero, yet you may not think of yourself in those terms.
Take a moment to reflect on how you’ve lived your life.
Think of those times when you bravely stepped forward.
Celebrate that you too have traveled the hero's journey.
About the author:
Greg Twemlow is the Founder of several startups and Founder of the registered charity, https://www.sevenmile.org.au/. More about his coaching services and contact information is at https://www.gregtwemlow.com/