What is a “hero?”
According to Joseph Campbell, it’s essentially this arc:
There is a call to adventure–refusal of the call–crossing the threshold–initiation–road of trials–belly of the whale—add a dash of apotheosis, atonement, fight that final battle, receive a little rescue from without, cross the return threshold, get the ultimate boon, become master of two worlds, and voila! Hero!
But the hero is more than just a man or woman on a trip around the game of Life. The hero does the thing that the community cannot do for itself. However, the hero is not perfect. The hero has flaws, which his or her naysayers, detractors, and antagonists will work to remind us all for the eternity that the heroes’ good deeds live on. Words like “sacrifice,” “mentor,” and “quest” are commonplace in our vernaculars, and may have lost some of their deeper meanings.
A few months ago, my students worked very hard to dig out the themes of the journey of the hero during a class discussion. I worked very hard to keep my mouth shut, so I could let them struggle, squirm, and think on their own. And their thinking was brilliant. They said the theme of the journey of the hero is “people need to believe in the power of hope.”
Mind you, there were no photographs of Abe Lincoln, President Obama, or Dr. King during the discussion. There were no mass-market media messages displayed in the room.
And that, to me, is the real power of a hero. That their struggles, fight, battles, message, and meaning lives on, even when they’re not in the room.
Thank you, Dr. King.