October 5, 2007

Where are the Heroes?

The maxim "Bad money drives out good money", otherwise known as Gresham's Law, stands for the concept that when spending money, if both good money (higher in silver or gold content) and bad money (lesser in intrinsic value) are exchanged at the same price,  people will hand over the 'bad' coins rather than the 'good' ones, keeping the 'good' ones for themselves. 

The same thing is happening in our mainstream media where the 'bad' is driving out the 'good'.  Stories about celebrities - Lindsay, Britney, Angelina - drive out stories about real heroes.  When have you ever read about a story of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner?  The consequence is that people have fewer guides about how to lead a meaningful life, one of purpose, one that transcends ego and by so doing finds a place of belonging in society a and a way of making a difference in the world. 

Too many of us can't see the upside of growing older, the development of maturity through the unexpected trials of life, and the great satisfaction of  a life of meaning.  Too many try too long to be young and hip  and cool,  stuck in a perpetual adolescent mire.  They don't see a way out.

In the early days of the women's movement, there was much talk about the need for new role models so that young women could pattern their thinking and the behavior after older women who had struggled and succeeded in a man's world.  The Catholic Church employs the lives of the saints as role models for the faithful to show how different people in different times struggle to achieve  good and holy lives. 

Joseph Campbell found in the stories of heroes across all cultures, the archetypal myth which he called monomyth consisting of several stages.  Often called the hero's journey, the fundamental structure includes

  1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
  2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
  3. Achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge
  4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
  5. Applying the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world

Robert Kaplan examines why the media is reluctant to understand Modern Heroes , preferring instead to see them as victims and feeling sorry for them.

Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency--for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged.
An army at war and a nation at the mall do not encounter each other except through the refractive medium of news and entertainment.

That medium is refractive because while the U.S. still has a national military, it no longer has a national media to quite the same extent. The media is increasingly representative of an international society, whose loyalty to a particular territory is more and more diluted. That international society has ideas to defend--ideas of universal justice--but little actual ground. And without ground to defend, it has little need of heroes. Thus, future news cycles will also be dominated by victims.

Barbara Nicolosi, a scriptwriter in Hollywood, has posted notes of her talk on heroes in storytelling and in society.  Heroes in Storytelling

She asks what does a kid (and by extension,  a society) look like who has heroes.  Idealistic, hopeful, imitative, open, eager to please, reverent, grateful

And what does a kid look like without heroes.  Cynical, haughty, suspicious, jaded, irreverent, entitled, self-absorbed.

To a child, she writes, a hero provides a teaching example of a life worth living.

To an adult, heroes

should engage us in a holy rivalry; to shame us into being more generous and tireless in doing good. Mother Teresa shamed me into facing what a schlep I am. In some ways, because she could pick a maggot ridden poor person out of a gutter, I was able to be kinder to the annoying guy in the next office.

To boomers she says

Try and make the last years of your lives heroic. Just heard the other day from one of my students how her 53 year old father just walked out on the family – two teens at home and an eight year old – and moved in with his 26 year old receptionist. He told his daughter he was bored and feeling unfulfilled. Enough of this nonsense! We don’t want to hear about your need to be having fun anymore! We need you to be brave as you face your elderly years – you will be wrinkled and sickly and forgetful – and your heroism will be to be uncomplaining, and wise and solicitous and serene for the rest of us!

There's much more including this  wonderful quote,  One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being." May Sarton

Posted by Jill Fallon at October 5, 2007 12:17 PM | Permalink