Making of a Hero
This month I’m going to take the conversation a little sideways and talk about the Making of a Hero, stigma and social perceptions.
If you’ve watched any of the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and/or Marvel movies you’ve witnessed something called The Hero’s Journey, which is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell in his book called A Hero with a Thousand Faces.
It appears in drama, storytelling, myth and religious ritual. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as “The Hero”, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization - regardless of whether it’s recognized by said groups.
Here is a quick rundown of the phases:
The hero receives the call to adventure.
He is reluctant at first to cross the first threshold where he eventually encounters tests, allies and enemies.
He reaches the innermost world where he endures the test.
He grabs the treasure
He is pursued on the road back to his world.
He is transformed by his experience.
He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure to benefit his world.
“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” -- Willa Cather
It makes us happy if our hero is a traditional hero, gaining the admiration of society there are a variety of ways we support this journey in others. Cops, fire fighters, armed forces...you get the idea.
Battle, fighting crime or fires are the actions that cause the “rebirth” or “big change” our hero goes through to alter their perception and step into their new cycle.
To show how it may run through if you were a stereotypical hero, we will use a cop as the stereotype:
The hero receives the call to adventure: the hero is pulled into service for various reasons and through various means (ei parental and/or peer pressure)
He is reluctant at first to cross the first threshold where he eventually encounters tests, allies and enemies: this is the time before he physically enters training. During training he’ll meet friends and struggle against new authority figures that challenge him/her mentally and physically.
He reaches the innermost world where he endures the test: this can be a challenging drill or someone he personally clashes with
He grabs the treasure: he passes the “test” and graduates the Academy
He is pursued on the road back to his world: this tends to be the struggle between preconceived notions of what police work was/is and how it differs from reality. It can also be seeing the ramifications of our societies influence on different demographics and the various ways this plays out in relation to his/her work.
He is transformed by his experience: “the gift of crisis” brings us down or elevates us to become more than our surroundings. This split is what separates the good cops, the hero’s - they do exist, and the bad ones.
He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure to benefit his world: This is articulated through actions, running towards danger, stepping up to protect those that can’t protect themselves, etc.
It is our expectation from all of our men in uniform that they behave as “heros”, but it’s such a personal thing. A personal path and there are those of us (as humans) that will continue to cycle through the same lessons without letting themselves be transformed by our crisis.
A Break from the Ordinary
"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." -- William Shakespeare
So let’s look at a demographic of people that aren’t typically associated with a hero’s story - a current or previously incarcerated person.
The hero receives the call to adventure: the hero is pulled into illegal activities on the street for various reasons and through various means.
He is reluctant at first to cross the first threshold where he eventually encounters tests, allies and enemies: enters the streets, gains influence, money and status
He reaches the innermost world where he endures the test: s/he is arrested
He grabs the treasure: s/he endures trial and conviction
He is pursued on the road back to his world: this tends to be the struggle of what he saw growing up (fast money and influence through fear), what he experiences while incarcerated (influence through fear) and struggles to gain a new understanding of what’s happening, why it’s happening and what he can take from the experience
He is transformed by his experience: “the gift of crisis” is often a way people talk about how a shocking experience can change their perspective and path. Once your perception shifts, it sharpens your focus and opens a new world. This can either elevate one to make different choices or hone the skill that keeps you from learning.
He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure to benefit his world: with a new perspective these men and women can return home to be guides and experienced mentors that can lead a younger generation down an alternative path.
To be clear, it’s not the act of being incarcerated that makes a hero, it’s what one does with the experience that matters. To take something that is challenging and let it transform you towards something better takes incredible inner strength.
To endure, strive and grow while everyone is telling you that you aren’t even human can create a large reserve of inner strength “You are referred to as inmate 27402-038, for example, and relegated to an underclass referred to as "the inmates" -- Andrea James “The Marshall Project”
Each and every time I speak with men and women that have gone through the dehumanizing experience of mass incarceration I’m humbled by those that have learned to take the good from the bad and make it their own.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” -- Bruce Lee
They return to their neighborhoods with a half formed idea of starting again and this is where the amazing work our partners do kicks in, whether it’s The Doe Fund, offering supportive housing, life skills and temporary employment, or Defy Ventures which offers employment placement, what the previously incarcerated person does at THIS moment can elevate their life experiences onto a new level.
Instead of going back to the streets that they knew growing up and old behaviors that had served them. These new choices they are making garner new results.
“Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” -- Albert Einstein
So the cycle continues:
The hero receives the call to adventure: the hero is pulled towards a new role or archetype that would have been inaccessible to him without his previous experience.
He is reluctant at first to cross the first threshold where he eventually encounters tests, allies and enemies: generally enters of psychological phase of shame or doubt about past actions and/or consequences, reinforced by those surrounding him/her.
He reaches the innermost world where he endures the test: internal struggle validating personal worth
He grabs the treasure: bets on her/himself, making an internal commitment towards self improvement
He is pursued on the road back to his world: society doesn’t relinquish labels easily and s/he is told again and again that an “inmate” isn’t to be trusted, fits a specific stereotype, her/his “worth is X”
He is transformed by his experience: finding the internal strength to stand their own ground, restore personal self worth and self reliance these men and women slowly realize that it is BECAUSE of their past they are qualified, BECAUSE of what they have been through they know how precious a new opportunity can be. This realization cements everything and can make societies voice diminish to almost nothing, encouraging them to strive towards a personal goal that is not dictated by the outside world.
He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure to benefit his world: with this new perspective on life s/he is renewed and ready to tackle the next cycle of growth.
Over the years I have heard life compared to many things, the one that makes the most sense to me is that of a spiral staircase. You learn the same lessons over and over at different levels.
New perspective, heightened awareness and renewed appreciation for things we had once taken for granted can humble us and in humbling us enable us to go farther and do more.
This is an incredible simplified version of The Hero’s Journey and contains a million and one generalizations that any number of people can argue. I get that.
The purpose of bring this up is to shift our idea of what a “hero” is and challenge our perception of what one looks like, how they talk, dress and present themselves.
In the next post, I’ll go into assumptions and perception. These men and women challenge my perceptions every day and I’ll walk you through a recent experience that illustrates my own assumptions, challenging me to create a new perspective or stay stagnant.