Live Like A Hero
Everybody needs heroes.
Some of us have many — in the books we read, stories we love, in sports stars and artists, activists and revolutionaries; a parent or grandparent. We consider these people heroes because they represents a small part of an ideal, a capital-t Truth. As humans, we all recognize Truths when they appear. They are something we feel deep within our bones but may often have a hard time articulating.
These Truths are deeply ingrained in us. It’s as if we know them to be true right from birth: courage, virtue, kindness, compassion — heroes across time and space have shared these common traits.
Part of the pain of life is finding out that our heroes aren’t who we thought they were. This pain is inevitable because no one person can embody every characteristic of an ideal hero — they cannot single handedly represent all things True. For this reason, it’s often fictional heroes we turn to. While never perfect, they represent a greater version of ourselves and humanity. They are meta-heroes, with just enough faults to make them relatable. They represent a version of being that we can strive for while still allowing us to see ourselves in them.
Great literary heroes always face external battles and obstacles they must overcome, but the real battle is always fought within themselves. Whether it be the Odysseus or Batman, they must first defeat the monster within themselves before they can defeat the one outside.
“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” - Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Deep down we all want to be a hero, you can see everyone wishing it and making small attempts at it in their own way. Our very spirit yearns to embody these traits and feels incomplete when we don’t. This is why young people so commonly want to change the world — they want to be a hero.
The problem with wanting to change the world is that we often forget to change ourselves first. When Ghandi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” he didn’t intend it to be a fancifully made sign on your wall that makes you feel warm and fuzzy — he meant it quite literally.
You want the world to be more kind and loving? Practice kindness and love in your daily life, wherever you can. You’d like to see people be more brave and self-reliant? Practice bravery and self-reliance every day that you can muster it. Lead by example, and people will follow.
We’ve heard this message since the beginning of human history, because it’s True. We’ll never escape it. The famous passage from the Gospel of Matthew says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye?”
The great philosopher and novelist Leo Tolstoy noticed that: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
We see this problem play out today in a variety of circumstances. Different groups of people try to impose their version of the world on others without sorting themselves out first. We get frustrated when our attempts fail, then we blame the world for being corrupt, short-sighted, or unwilling to change.
We’ve seen the positive change a single individual can have on the world, but we rarely see the the battle they’ve fought within themselves. We think changing the world involves changing everybody who sees things differently than us, when it really involves finding the Truth in ourselves first and exemplifying them. These are the underlying ideals that exist in all of our heroes.
The reality is, we can’t be heroes all by ourselves. We need other people. When we look at a literary hero, we’re seeing the combination of the best and most heroic aspects of thousands of people’s lives distilled over time into a single figure. As a society, we combine our collective wisdom and put them into characters in comic books, novels, and movies. These stories serve as a guide for the individual, but it’s not a one-sided experience, we have a cyclical relationship with them. We each have an obligation to contribute our wisdom and our Truths to creating better heroes, and in turn, we all use these heroes we’ve created together in order to model our own lives. It’s a constant dance that we all participate in and it’s easy to tell when you’re doing it correctly because you will feel inspired and filled with awe every time you encounter a great Truth, and you will want to share them with the world.
So how can you live like a hero?
Work on changing yourself first, not others. Find the Truth in your own life and contribute that to the world, so that you and the world can create heroes together. When you start focusing on fixing yourself and aligning yourself with the greater meaning that unites us all, you’ll find that the world will organize itself around you in spectacular ways.
One place to I’ve found that is a helpful starting point is the self-authoring program that Jordan Peterson, a professor at University of Toronto, advises using to confront the demons of your past, focus your action on the present, and build a concrete vision of the future you want.
In your daily life, make yourself attuned to the present and strive to embody the best parts of your most beloved heroes. Identify the heroic attributes in yourself and expand on them, give them to society, and take from society the ones you are missing. Work on being heroic in your everyday life, and the world will respond in kind.