Breaking Free Of The Hero Myth
We humans have evolved from the days of passing information down through stories told around a campfire.
Those ancient tales served as instructional tools for elders to explain the wonders and horrors of the world around them, teach children what it takes to become an adult, and perpetuate tribal legacy.
The Hero’s Journey was a tool for adolescents to learn their role in the community, echoing the cycles of life.
It’s not surprising that mythologist Joseph Campbell saw variations of this universal story structure in nearly every culture he studied. We can still easily recognize the same Hero’s Journey model in our 21st century mass media.
But the storyline hasn’t evolved: Hero leaves for the quest, learns from the mentor, fights the monsters, dies and resurrects, finds his power, returns with the elixir. Wash, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum. Mass media has been stuck in an endless and simplified stage of the Hero’s Journey.
The mainstream is full of these savior narratives, thanks to a plethora of superhero movies, television shows, and comic books. Our narrative sensibility—a reflection of our developmental stage as a civilization—remains mired in perpetual adolescence.
Mass media focuses on the simplest form of the Hero’s Journey—the masculine form—and perpetuates the drama triangle, an ever-present tension where characters take turns putting on certain masks (whether knowingly or through circumstance) of the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Hero/Savior. As an audience we have no choice but to identify with one of those three. The hero-savior archetype usually sacrifices something in order to save us all. And in our deep-seated expectation that a hero will rise to save us, we give our own power away.
Someone who will make a difference always arrives in the nick of time, don’t they?
In a world where we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on huge challenges ranging from runaway climate change to poverty and inequality, the paradigm of the hero-savior, endlessly repeated throughout the media, actually disempowers us. We need alternative narratives that show empowered and diverse people taking on the biggest challenges and coming together to transform a situation, not just ‘save the day.’
The Gendered Journey
As a first step on the journey to evolve the global narrative toward an inclusive one, let’s consider making room at the table for the Gendered Journey.
Joseph Campbell gave us an amazing model from which our journey can draw inspiration, but his model is not without fault. Many critics point out that it is a predominately male-centric model. The journey perpetuates masculine patterns within its steps: aggression, persistent conflict, linear thinking, violence, and the feminine depicted as either a temptress or goddess.
Over the past few millennia, the patriarchal narrative has been undoubtedly the ruling one, and I believe this dominance has led us to the predicament we are in now.
The perpetuated narratives of conflicts with an enemy or nature no longer serve us. There needs to be an awakening and understanding that we are strengthened by one another and that we are nature. It is time to evolve beyond a narrative that is overwhelmingly biased toward the masculine archetypes of the Hero/Savior.
There have been attempts to develop a heroine’s journey model, akin to Campbell, but trying to rebuild the same circular hero’s journey and to apply it to the feminine might be missing the point. There have been new heroines’ voices appearing in media—from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games—but on the whole they follow the same varnished formula as their muscle-bound counterparts. All we have done is changed the gender.
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The Heroine does not necessarily need to leave the old world; instead, she transforms the world—transforming the old world into its next evolution. Women do not need to go out and conquer; they don’t need to leave the nest and collect items to make the home or even hometown better. When a strong female character is involved, the narrative is multi-dimentional. Women invite the tribe to be part of their journey and are empowering to the collective. The power of the feminine is about transforming nothing into something.
An emergent narrative can be offered that is much more complex, nonlinear, networked, and exciting. The Gendered Journey can encompass the masculine, feminine, and two-spirited journey, which can be any of the rainbow colored genders. These are journeys of coming out, waking up to how one truly defines oneself, and being proud and empowered by the journey. How can we ever create a thriving and balanced global civilization when our basic stories are outmoded, violent, unmindful, and needlessly one-sided?
This is beyond a call to action—it’s a wakeup call!—to create more narratives with evolved archetypes that tell the story of the world we know is possible.
The Collective Journey
Imagine this scenario: The human race has made its first contact with an intelligent alien civilization. You are the one chosen to go and represent humanity and the planet Earth as we make the first close encounter of the third kind with our new galactic neighbors.
What story will you tell?
How do you synthesize a whole planet’s existence into a few sentences?
The narrative of humanity and the Earth as one system can be referred to as the metanarrative—the synthesis of all stories, experiences, history, ideas, and beliefs of all humanity. It is comprised of the narratives of all who ever lived, an intertwining of stories reaching from the dawn of humanity and stretching to our destiny. It is the essence of what it means to be human.
Humanity is changing at a rapid pace. We live in a different world from our ancestors, facing very different challenges. Our civilization is moving towards a global reality. The old myths do not recount or prophesize how we engage humanity as a whole. We do not have a Hero’s Journey that tells the trials and tribulations of a collective of diverse peoples.
New narratives are important in times of great transformations.
The Collective Journey Rises
The Collective Journey is a nonlinear, multiplatform, physical and digital experience and story of several diverse people, groups, tribes, cultures, and networks coming together for a higher purpose and a common cause. In their journeys, they move beyond their own individual experiences to a cohesive collective that is both the sum of all individuals and also a new entity entirely. They move between physical interactions in real space to online digital interactions in cyberspace.
Our technological advancement, mobile and urban lives, the Internet, and even journeys into outer space have all created the circumstances for the rise of the Collective Journey.
On December 7, 1972, the Apollo 17 crew took the famous photo of the Earth, dubbed “Blue Marble,” from space. This was the first time we saw our planet from an outside perspective and in its entirety. It gave us our entry point to start considering the idea of a planetary society. Similarly, the Collective Journey can help us move from the individual narrative into a far greater narrative with a global perspective of humanity.
The Collective Journey can become a tool for social movements and climate change groups, and it can empower us to change political narratives in geographical areas. These are stories of empowerment that are accepting of all voices and can bring forth positive change. We are still in the very early stages of this journey. We don’t yet have the full vocabulary to tell this epic Collective Journey.
As such, it cannot be a singular narrative. It must converge many voices of different genders, ethnicities, ages, and opinions in a nonlinear fashion.
Glimpses are starting to show up in many fringe areas and countercultures around the world: At Burning Man, the counterculture festival in the Black Rock desert of Nevada, and at the startups, hackerspaces, makerspaces, and collaborative co-working spaces popping up in major cities across the globe. People are creating new technologies, new social structures, and new ways of working that differ from the hierarchal structures of the past. New collective mythologies are being created and remixed.
Developing a fixed and linear model for such a fluid, multidimensional, and ever-evolving complex system is not a simple task, but here is my attempt at a starting point (see diagram).
The model is a simplistic representation of the stages that may occur, told linearly (as is the default when reading this digital, 2-dimensional page).
The digital interbeing that is the Internet can be a frightening place, harbouring extremely angry and polarizing voices, but if we look closely we can see a new and inclusive narrative emerging through diverse groups. Virtual worlds, augmented worlds, massively multiplayer online games, and other immersive spaces and technologies will hail an era where more collective experiences can emerge. New forms of narratives will evolve to work within these spaces. We are at the very beginning of creating the playground for the Collective Journey to come to pass.
How can we align the entire human race to powerfully choose a narrative that serves humanity as a whole?
We are more connected than at any other time in human history. We are standing at the threshold of a future, which we can help forge. But in order to do so, we must deeply understand the collective approach in the same way that we have understood the individual heroic approach.
It’s time to start writing humanity’s epic story together!
For a deeper dive into these ideas, read the The New Human Narrative ebook.
(Featured Image Credit: Maya Zuckerman)
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