Resilience: Learning from Mythological Heroes

If you research the definition of the word “resilience” you will likely find phrases like, “the ability to spring back into shape; elasticity,” and “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Whether we are dealing with yet another failed New Year’s Resolution, or battling a lifelong addiction, we should focus on the trait of resilience as much as we focus on the goal so that when we “fall off the boat,” so to speak, we have the ability to crawl back onboard.

Stories about heroes are stories about resilience. Try to imagine a hero who is not resilient. The two are so intertwined as to nearly be inseparable. Heroes portrayed in movies or written about in books usually become heroes because they display a certain amount of resilience in the face of danger or difficulty. They are not always individuals with apparent or obvious gifts. Successful stories about heroes usually feature an unassuming and flawed character who possesses an inner ability to overcome limitations. Never giving up and keeping hope in the face of desperation set the hero apart from the less heroic. We do not have to look very far to find stories about heroes.

Suffice it to say that we are surrounded by heroes, from law and safety officials to the single parent working two jobs to provide for the family. Regardless of who the hero is, real or fictitious, they likely share some interesting similarities.

The most recent mega-blockbuster installment of the Star Wars movie entitled Star Wars: The Force Awakens, exemplifies heroism. Being the quickest movie to reach a billion dollars in ticket sales indicates that you probably saw the movie. If you did not, your neighbor probably did. Wildly successful movie franchises, such as Star Wars, Harry Potter or The Avengers, often share a pattern that speaks to the masses. What could account for such mass appeal? In the case of Star Wars, the story revolves around the “Hero’s Journey.” Understanding how the storyline came into existence can help explain the universal appeal of this particular movie franchise and allow you to glimpse yourself on the Hero’s Timeline.

Those familiar with Star Wars recognize the character Yoda as the personal guide who provides wisdom and insight. George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, had a personal Yoda, in essence, from whom he drew inspiration. Joseph Campbell, a leading authority on mythologies from around the world, had published a book entitled The Hero With a Thousand Faces in 1949, nearly three decades prior to the release of the first Star Wars movie in 1977. Lucas had read the book as a college student. By the time he rediscovered the book, he had already written two drafts of Star Wars. Campbell’s work provided a universal framework drawn from world mythologies. This framework helped Lucas craft the story of Star Wars and imbue it with subplots that would resonate with people from all over the world.

The journey of the hero nearly always involves a departure, an initiation, and a return. Other events include the call to adventure, a refusal of the call, supernatural aid, followed by the “belly of the whale” experience in which all hope seems lost. During this event the hero displays the resilience required for the title “hero.”

We can relate to these events and find hope in applying the lessons learned. Just as George Lucas found inspiration from Joseph Campbell and Luke Skywalker was guided by Yoda, we would be wise to identify our own personal guide. When all hope seems lost do we look within, scraping together our internal resources to overcome the challenge? We can draw hope from the fact that the collective cultures of the world have been drawing strength from such stories for at least the past few millennia.

We often create our own “myths” that paint our perception of reality. (This sense of the word “myth” denotes something is false. When discussing the myths of the world, it is helpful to consider that, although the literal events found within the myth seem unlikely, they can be useful in teaching a lesson, regardless of how true the myth is or seems.) If we can figuratively identify ourselves within a myth we can apply the lessons found within. Believing that our experiences are so vastly different from those of others only serves to isolate us from help. Feeling that others could not possibly understand our problems places a wall between us and those who stand ready to assist. If we are to benefit from the help of others and take steps toward resilience we need to be honest with ourselves and believe that others have walked a similar road. We may not have the ability to overcome a challenge without additional help. If we are unwilling to communicate and be honest with ourselves and others, we may fall victim to discouragement, rather than revel in the warmth of success.

Filmmaker Joss Whedon, creator of the wildly popular superhero franchise The Avengers, may have summarized heroes best. He said: “The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.” Learning from heroes is one way we can develop resilience and begin or continue our own Hero’s Journey.


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