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What makes a hero?

Why do we keep talking about Heroes? Our very first overarching question around which many discussions have been made is the title to this blog post. Why do we interweave hero stories into many of our discussions? And we don’t just mean fictional or mythical characters. We talk about real life heroes who’ve chosen the road less traveled, who have thought of others and placed their needs above their own. Why are these stories so important? We want every Learner to figure the answer to that for themselves. This is what will help every person of any age thrive in our community.

Children need heroes. Their first heroes are their parents after all. Hero stories are survival mechanisms, inspirational, and vision sustainers. They move the human spirit forward when other forces try to hold it back.

What does the word “hero” mean?

We describe a hero as someone who gets back up after falling down – who struggles, hurts but gets back in the game. Someone who perseveres through difficulties and does not give up on anyone including themselves.

A hero is the opposite of a victim:

  • A hero accepts responsibility when a victim blames someone other than him/herself or finds excuses.

  • A hero works to solve a problem when a victim complains that there is one.

  • A hero keeps going when it gets hard when a victim quits because it is hard.

Very simply, a hero is an ordinary person who says YES to a challenge – crosses the threshold from comfortable to uncomfortable and begins a journey into the unknown.

The ultimate framework for a hero story is the Hero’s Journey. Think Sir Lancelot and the Holy Grail, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, even Nemo and Simba. In the real world, we can think of Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr, Stanislav Petrov, Kyle Carpenter, Maria Montessori and so many more heroic, historical figures. Think of the best movies and real life stories of all time.

These stories follow a familiar pattern. Joseph Campbell, called them the grand mono-myth and specified its archetypes and stages. Every great movie continually uses the Hero's Journey framework. Here is a condensed description:

  • The main character – the hero – lives in the ordinary world and is an ordinary person.

  • The hero receives a call to adventure and at first resists it.

  • Then, a mentor crosses his/her path, somehow changes his/her mind and commits to face the challenge – to start the quest.

  • Along the way, he/she is tested and forms alliances and friendships.

  • He/She faces a major obstacle – a life-changing ordeal.

  • He/She battles monsters (mostly those inside herself like resistance, distraction, and victimhood) and finds guides to help her.

  • Ultimately, he/she overcomes the ordeal and discovers a treasure.

  • He/She begins the journey back home and shares the treasure with others.

The fascinating truth of the Hero’s Journey is that it’s not really about the treasure. It’s about how the hero is transformed along the way.

Every time a parent talks about an ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing, you are making a deposit into your children’s bank of hero stories. They will draw upon this spiritual food when they face their own monsters or become weary in their struggle.

This brings to mind when the moment had arrived for our 14 year old River Oak hero to complete his diving certification, a few weeks ago, as a final challenge for the Marine Science Quest. In the midst of anxiety of the unknown, questioning if he can really get through it and almost close to giving up the night before after a difficult swim test…he showed up and stuck to his commitment even after finding out that the instructor didn’t think he had it in him to get it done. The morning of the open dive, he mustered up all the courage and drew from his stories of heroes and started seeing himself as the hero in his own story, ready to face his fear. When asked how he felt after the dive, “It was well worth the FEAR”.

The most important part of the story?

The struggle. The doubt. The moment when the hero wants to give up.

There is no real treasure without it.

River Oak Academy, for heroes only.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.

-Joseph Campbell

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