In his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell summarized the hero monomyth thusly:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Defining a hero as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities, I appreciate Campbell’s contribution to society in regards to heroes and the power of myth. An illustration of Campbell’s description that portrays the hero’s journey is as follows:
I think about instances in my lifetime when my behavior has been labeled “heroic” by others. How are those times juxtaposed with my own review of other occurrences I considered heroic?
Scenario 1: In my youth, I pulled other children from an overturned bus without regard for my safety. As a military police officer, I dragged a person from the wreckage of an overturned car without consideration of whether or not the vehicle would explode.
Others said I behaved heroically. Still, I was simply doing as I would’ve hoped others would do in similar circumstances. The moments I thought truly defined heroism were self-designated.
Scenario 2: In my youth, I negotiated a temporary truce between two gangs at the Amarillo Tri-State Exposition/Tri-State Fair & Rodeo. As a security police officer, I kept a level head during an imminent threat event and refrained from using an M249 light machine gun on a civilian.
Others called me a “hero” for scenario 1 and I considered myself a hero for scenario 2. In both scenarios, there was a call to adventure, a breached threshold, challenges and temptations, a revelation when in jeopardy, transformation, atonement, and a return with deeper wisdom than when I began the journey.
It’s important to state, and emphatically so, I am not—nor have I ever been—a hero. I’ve been labeled as such and considered to have behaved heroically. Still, I’m no hero—even if in my past I thought I was.
I’m just a person who has done various things, some considered courageous and others cowardly. Whatever label one uses will fade in time, so I currently don’t value the title of “hero.”
What I appreciate about life, and the opportunity to test my mettle, is the wisdom I’ve gleaned from facing adversity. I’ll leave the fanciful designations to others who have behaved exceptionally better than I when faced with exceedingly more challenging events.
It occurs to me that not everyone has encountered a Campbell-esque moment from which they may be showered in accolades by others. Moreover, people may not have endured any event remarkable enough to consider themselves bold, despite whether or not others concur.
In what might this lack of adventure result? Observing others, I’ve noticed a trend. It appears as though a significant number of people receive praise for their association with victimhood.
To frame this matter, I consider a victim as a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action; whereas, victimhood relates to an ongoing perception of oneself as a victim, comprising the core tenet of one’s identity. Herein, I’ll address the latter.
Rather than the hero who answers a call to adventure and undergoes character development by way of an arduous process, a perpetual victim—or one whose identity is enshrined in the idea of mistreatment—seems to benefit from a victimhood journey without undergoing substantial change.
The barrier to entry for victimization is relatively low. One may claim oppression for being a member of a so-called marginalized group. Someone may declare that retroactive revocation of consent from a sexual relationship decades ago currently constitutes rape.
A person can say that standardized exams result in suffering, because social group A performs better on average than social group B. One can even take on the title of victimhood by alleging that others who refuse to use demanded pronouns have somehow caused harm.
I think of instances in my lifetime when I’ve been offended or persecuted, and given the frequency and duration of these occurrences, how these events may be worthy of the apparently coveted title of perpetual victim.
Whereas the heroism’s journey would require an individual to cross the threshold of the unknown and return with self-evident gifts of various sorts, victimhood’s journey may be superficial and remains subject to the recognition of achievement for simply having existed.
Who then wouldn’t qualify for a journey of the latter sort? A member of a so-called marginalized group could qualify for victimhood status even when in an unconscious state, having drifted to sleep and while dreaming of how oppressed one is.
Personally, I prefer the hero’s journey even though I don’t consider myself to be a hero. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that an unexpected number of people cling to the precious title of victimhood, perhaps because they’ve never experienced an opportunity for valorous challenge.
Why would anyone dare to answer a call to adventure? How reasonable is it to choose suffering in the limited time a person has on this earth? Who would want a Campbell journey?
Though I wasn’t a Navy SEAL, I’m reminded of one of their cadences I heard years ago that goes:
Hey babalooba, SEAL team baby
I join up for this, now people think I’m crazy
I came here to be one frog man stud
Now, all I’m doin’ is droppin’ in the mud
Anyone do this just ain’t right
To those who lack “boldness and the spirit of adventure,” one supposes an easier path to recognition and accolades is to wear the medal of victimhood. If this describes you, what will you do if thrust into a scenario in which the discomfort you’ve avoided will become your most familiar adversary?
I work with clients regarding tolerance and acceptance in relation to outcomes over which they have no control. There is no shame in being a victim or having been victimized.
However, pinning ribbons of victimhood to your chest? Some may say, “Anyone do this just ain’t right.” I’ll leave that to those who storm the trenches of social media and point their fingers, as though making handgun signs, shooting at imagined enemies while displaying a war face.
For everyone else, I’m here to help. If you’re looking for an opportunity to descend into the abyss of the unknown and transform yourself through the process of discomfort, I welcome you.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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