True Heroism

Image: Akhil Verma

Joseph Campbell wrote the blueprint for heroism. It’s astounding how far today’s version of has drifted from the ideal.

You’ve probably seen this, but if not, here’s the model:

The classic notion of a hero/ine (I’ll use the word ‘hero’ in this post for brevity’s sake) is one who goes the distance.

He might be initially motivated through individualistic ego-based means, but that ego ideal quickly shatters under the intensity of the challenges and temptations he faces. He encounters a mentor and undergoes a deep, painful process of transformation. This hero returns home as a newly-forged generative being with endless gifts to give others and ‘pay it forward’, if you will.

Today’s version of heroism has been degraded…

Today’s hero is bold, muscular, rich, famous, and naturally gifted. He’s out for himself, having nothing to give others besides a projected image of grandiosity. He’s made a self-sufficient life and has constructed heavy boundaries — both inner (via a strong ego) and outer (via a huge mansion, cars, etc.) — to ensure his survival. Today’s hero is still stuck in survival mode (although he survives really well).

Today’s model of heroism isn’t really heroism, it’s fame.

I’m not knocking this. I think fame is great. Even if there’s a lot of luck that goes into the equation, it takes a lot to get to this point. But if our hero stops at famous, he’ll never fulfill his heroic longing.

This survival-based heroism falls far short of the classic hero in that, as much as he’s surviving better than the rest of us, he’s not really thriving.

We hear the stories of the famous rock star dying at the tip of a needle or at the bottom of a cliff in a smashed up Lamborghini. Upon closer inspection, our hero of today is seen to be unfulfilled in a very deep sense.

True heroism serves the common good, or it is not really heroism at all.
 — Richard Rohr

In order to thrive, a hero must grant the soul’s yearning to share his hard-won gifts. I’m not talking about donating 1% of his earnings to some charity or putting his name on a new library for the tax write-offs.

He must eventually fire his ego and surrender to the other, a horrifying feat to the ego, indeed.

The way I see it, if you’re the winning quarterback or contestant on The Bachelor, you might be famous, but you’re not a hero.

Fame isn’t a prerequisite for true heroism. True heroism can be accomplished without making headlines or gaining a huge Twitter following. It can be accomplished on a very quiet path.

No Lamborghini required.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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