Ordinary heroes

Myths often tell of miraculous feats or spectacular failures, but their true power comes from showing the successes of ordinary mortals.

Ordinary heroes
photo credit: rabbit.Hole via photopin cc

The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and hundreds of analogous tales throughout the world, suggest, as does this ancient legend of the farthest East, that in spite of the failure recorded, a possibility exists of a return of the lover with his lost love from beyond the terrible threshold. It is always some little fault, some slight yet critical symptom of human frailty, that makes impossible the open interrelationship between the worlds; so that one is tempted to believe, almost, that if the small, marring accident could be avoided, all would be well. In the Polynesian versions of the romance, however, where the fleeing couple usually escape, and in the Greek satyr-play of Alcestis, where we also have a happy return, the effect is not reassuring, but only superhuman. The myths of failure touch us with the tragedy of life, but those of success only with their own incredibility. And yet, if the monomyth is to fulfill its promise, not human failure or superhuman success but human success is what we shall have to be shown.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘You have only so much time on this earth, and you don’t know how much. The question “Are you going to live, knowing you will die?” is not fundamentally different than these questions: “Are you going to love, knowing you will be hurt?” Or, “Are you going to commit to living a valued life knowing you will sometimes not meet your commitments?” Or, “Will you reach for success knowing you will sometimes fail?” The potential for pain and the sense of vitality you gain from these experiences go together. If your life is truly going to be about something, it helps to look at it from the perspective of what you would want the path your life leaves behind to mean.’

Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

The self-fulfilling prophesy of failure

How our own thoughts of failure can lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Literature example: How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia. Mohsin HamidYour teacher did not want to be a teacher. He wanted to be a meter reader at the electric utility. Meter readers do not have to put up with children, work comparatively little. And what is more important, have greater opportunity for corruption and are hence both better off and held in higher regard by society. Nor was becoming a meter reader out of your teachers reach. His uncle worked for the electric utility. But the one position as meter reader this uncle was able to facilitate went, as all things most desirable in life invariably went, to your teacher s elder brother.

So your teacher, who narrowly failed his secondary school final examination but was able to have the results falsified, and with his false results, a bribe equivalent to sixty percent of one years prospective salary, and a good low-level connection in the education bureaucracy in the form of a cousin, secured only the post he currently occupies. He is not exactly a man who lives to teach. In fact he hates to teach. It shames him. Nonetheless he retains a small but not non-existent fear of losing his job, of somehow being found out, or if not losing his job then at least being put in a position where he will be forced to pay yet another, and indeed larger bribe in order to retain it, and this fear, augmented by his sense of abiding disappointment and his not unfounded conviction that the world is profoundly unfair, manifests itself in the steady dose of violence he visits upon his charges. With each blow, he tells himself, he helps education penetrate another thick skull.’

By Mohsin Hamid – How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (1st Edition) (2.3.2013)

‘Narrative therapy listens to the ways in which people tell their story or, in other words, construct narratives about themselves and the lives they live. Even the simplest narratives have underlying principles of construction: in telling a friend about what I did at the weekend, I make decisions, often without being fully aware of it, about what I should include and what I should leave out, which aspects I emphasise, the effect that I want the story to have on the listener.

‘Like certain habits of thinking, narrative constructions become habitual and automatic. To take a simple example: suppose during my life I have done a number of things that I consider to be failures, then I might start to see my life as a story about failure. I begin to give more emphasis to moments of failure and less to those times when I succeeded or when success and failure were not important. I start to see myself as a failure and I come to expect that what I do in the future will also fail. The narrative that I have constructed as a way of understanding my experience becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.’

David Wakely, M.A. Counselling and psychotherapy, my approach.