Hero Stories, of course, have heroes. But identifying the hero in a story is not always easy. It helps to define what we mean by the word “hero,” especially if we are to begin to see ourselves as the hero of our own story.
What Makes A Hero?
Joseph Campbell defines a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” We might restate it as, “a hero is someone who sacrifices his or herself for the sake of another.” The sacrifice may be their actual physical life or it may be a sacrifice of their own wants and desires for the sake of another.
The Nature of Sacrifice
Think about this for a moment. A sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your life. Any time you deny yourself, in favor of another, you are acting like a hero. You may think you don’t know any heroes but if you accept that definition then you realize that there are heroes all around you. Every parent who sacrifices anything for their children, food, time, money, a career, is a hero. A true friend, someone who will put their own desires aside and help you when you need it, is a hero. Any time you do something because it is the right thing to do, especially if you would rather do something else, that is a heroic act.
In a classic hero story, the hero is the one who grows and changes during the course of the story. Ultimately, he is not the same person at the end that he was at the beginning. I have already discussed the example of Beverly Hills Cop. The main character, Detroit detective Axel Foley, does not change during the course of the story. Beverly Hills detective Billy Rosewood, however does change. Billy changes from being a straight-laced, by the book cop, to a more laid-back streetwise detective. He sacrifices his idea of self, his idea of what a good law enforcement officer should be, in order to be a more effective servant of the people. Billy is the character who gives his life for something bigger than his own sense of self. I would argue that Billy is the hero of that story.
(SPOILER ALERT: as of this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy, volume 2, has been out less than a year, if you don’t want to know how it ends, skip the next paragraph.)
Another interesting example is Yondu Udonta from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie franchise. Yondu is not portrayed as a hero. He is a member of what amounts to an intergalactic crime syndicate. The first movie shows us this. But the second movie explores Yondu’s motivations, his compassion, and his sense of justice. In the end he sacrifices himself to save the galaxy as well as his adopted son. The “Guardians” remain essentially unchanged. But it is Yondu who fascinates us as he makes the hero’s journey from criminal to self-sacrificing hero.
(END SPOILER ALERT)
You Are the Hero
In the journey of the spirit we are talking about the journey of our soul, and the transformation it undergoes as journey through life. If we embark on this journey we will be called to give up our own sense of self, the person we think we are, in favor of the person God meant for us to be. We will be called to give our lives for something bigger than ourselves.
This is the hero’s journey of the spirit that are all called to. It is a journey of sacrifice and self discovery. We have the opportunity in our lives to make this journey many times and we are always changed for the better for having made the effort.