Monday, September 12, 2022

These Are The Heroic Stories Of Us

We are sometimes said to live in a post-mythology society. No longer does a pantheon gods, spirits, and demons control, create, and explain our world. We now have science, philosophy, and religion, but as surly as we continue to be human, we have our myths and they are far more powerful in our lives than mere science. 

Hollywood is often pointed to as an amplifier, if not the source, of many of our most widely embraced myths. The ultra-masculine action hero, for instance, is a staple of our modern mythology: John Wayne, John McClane, and John Rambo are heirs to Hercules, Jason, and Odysseus, as are the Spiderman, Captain America, and Batman of our playground games.

These heroes who single-handedly save the day are found only in our myths, not in real life. When it comes to saving the world, we all know, intellectually, that it will always take a group effort, but the fact that these mythological figures persist in our stories tells us about our hopes and desires. There remains something in us as a society that yearns for the glorious ease of salvation, of raising our hands and giving our hearts to a hero who will, inevitably, do all the work and take all the risks required to save the day. At least that's how I interpret it. The great thing about myths is that you get to decide what it means for yourself. It could just as easily mean that we crave a strongman dictator. I mean, one person's savior is another's tyrant. It could also mean that we await Galahad, the perfect knight whose advent will usher in a perfect world.

Whatever the case, as an individual, I've busted this particular myth. I know it's not real. It's fiction, the stuff of childish fantasy made of cardboard and paste, but that's the power of myth: it doesn't even require faith to make us who we are. These are stories that are so much a part of the landscape of life that they shape us even if we are conscious of their true nature.

The myth of race is like this. As is the myth of gender. More and more of us, as individuals, are working to reframe these myths, to tell new and better stories, but we're finding it slow and treacherous going. Myths do not die easily because they are the stories that purport to tell us who we are and because of that it can be traumatic to have our myths busted. It's painful and confusing to learn that our stories are not true. It also means that we must now go to work creating new stories to replace the old debunked ones because humans cannot function without our myths. In fact, many of us would prefer to continue to hypocritically cling to the threadbare and busted because learning new stories is hard. It means acknowledging that we were once wrong even as we were absolutely certain we were right.

It's hard to tell new stories. Researchers have demonstrated that even parents who say they are completely committed to sexual equality use the language of the old mythologies when talking to their children. The old stores are perpetuated when we say "Boys drive trucks" or "Girls can drive trucks" instead of "People drive trucks." It takes a long time and great effort to learn new stories. It means being uncomfortable, making mistakes, and catching ourselves when we fall back on the outmoded myths. The hardest part may well be acknowledging that so much of what we take for human reality is just the stories we tell: the myth of money, the myth of nation-states, the myths of race and gender, they are all stories we tell in support of the mythological idea that we are somehow separate from the rest of existence.

Babies are born with the pure knowledge that their only purpose is connection. In the womb they are physically and literally connected to the entire universe. They are born suckling. They crave touch. They cry out and expect connection in return. This is one thing that is certainly not a myth or a story. Our curse is that we learn disconnection. The myth that we are separate is the foundational human myth and the only stories worth telling are the ones about reconnection.

The beating heart of every religion is this idea of oneness and connection. Every branch of science comes around to the ideas of interconnectedness. And even our most ancient mythologies tie us together with Mother Nature and the stars in the heavens. It's easy to look around and scoff. We clearly, obviously, live in a world of division. There are wars, there is starvation, there is hate and fear and selfishness and despair. But like any mythology, there must be demons and devils hellbent on division. And just as inevitably our myths must contain heroes, not of the Hollywood variety, but rather those who inspire us to suckle, touch, cry out, and love. These are the heroic stories of us. This is how we save the world.

As humans we will fail if we hold ourselves to standards of perfection. We will always be the products and process of the old myths even as we strive to tell new ones. But in the end, the most important thing is that we tell our children stories of connection and hope that they learn them. And the heroes of those stories can only be us.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! "Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler

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