The Reluctant Hero: Finding Courage in the Face of a Frightening World

In a world that loves to watch and cheer for our heroes, it can be very difficult to become one ourselves.

Social media and international communications have allowed our world to shrink, while providing various mediums to share personal stories with audiences around the globe. As we watch, it seems that there are heroes all around us, demonstrating acts of courage and bravery on a daily basis.

In Christopher Vogler’s book. “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure,” he reveals that the refusal to the hero’s call is all part of the overall journey:

“In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s call to adventure comes when Toto, representing her intuition, is captured by Miss Gulch, escapes, and Dorothy follows her instincts (Toto) and runs away from home with him.

Almost always, the hero initially balks at the call. He or she is being asked to face the greatest of all fears, the terrible unknown. This hesitation signals the reader that the adventure is risky, the stakes are high, and the hero could lose fortune or life, Vogler writes.

There is charm and satisfaction in seeing the hero overcome this reluctance. The stiffer the refusal, the more the reader enjoys seeing it worn down.”

In literature, the refusal of the hero to accept the call is a common trope. But all too often in real life, as we cheer and applaud the hero, our inclination is to watch, observe, and stay on the sidelines instead of actually accepting the hero’s journey for ourselves and answering the call.

It’s so much easier to send a “thumbs-up” icon, or smiley face than to actually engage in an activity that may involve some sort of risk or danger that takes us out of our comfort zone, or puts our own interests at risk.

Technology has made it so much easier to be a spectator rather than a participant in our universal story.

This is not a judgement on our collective merit or mettle. It’s more reflection on the fact that we’ve become a society of watchers and bystanders, content to observe the exploits of others, instead of picking up the hero’s mantle and courageously blazing our own trail through life.

The tech firm, LifeHack, identifies some of the key traits of the hero in the modern world. These include:

1. Courage

2. Passion

3. Integrity

4. Honesty

5. Confidence

6. Patience

7. Selflessness

8. Caring

9. Humility

10. Supporting Others

These are all wonderful attributes that every human being should aspire to. So why aren’t we?

I think it might have something to do with current cultural trends that encourage self-promotion, personal indulgence, and overt consumerism. Everything around seems to be encouraging us to think of ourselves first, and others second.

These forces are counter-intuitive to the heroic aspects that lie dormant in all human nature, just waiting to be awakened.

Ironically, the capacity for collective heroism has never more accessible, yet the risks are equally heightened. Heroic traits are not easy to accept or strive for. There is much to lose in the bargain, including your stature in society, your wealth and accumulated goods, or even your competitive advantage in the commercial marketplace

Still, the real hero is willing to put everything about themselves aside for the greater good of others.

In Carl Sagan’s “The Varieties of Scientific Experience,” the great thinker/astronomer/humanitarian discusses the role of humanity in the future of the world we live in:

“All the beings on this little world are mutually dependent. It’s like living in a lifeboat. We breathe the same air that Russians have breathed, and Zambians and Tasmanians and people all over the planet… One way to think of our time is as a race between conflicting human tendencies… this is a conflict between the human heart, a conflict between the bureaucratic, hierarchical, aggressive parts of our nature, which we share with our reptilian ancestors, and the other parts of nature, the generalized capacity for love, for compassion, for identification with others who may not superficially look or talk or act or dress exactly like us… Our survival is a reflection of our own nature and how we manage these contending tendencies within the human heart and mind.”

And that is the battle we are confronted with every day. As those of us in the Folktellers Universe challenge,

“If I asked you to enter this realm, this new universe with me, would you? I promise adventure, danger and sights unseen by the human eye. But there are no guarantees. Death lurks around every corner and evil waits for your arrival. Eventually, we all have to choose. Stay there, in the warmth and safety of your own, little world. Or come with me, and risk everything…”



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Josef Bastian

Josef Bastian is an author, human performance practitioner and often an odd duck.