There are a lot of references to the proverbial son when it comes to telling a good story, but it’s just a figure of speech. Nowadays the proverbial daughter has great opportunity to tell her story as well, and it’s exciting to see female protagonists and antagonists becoming even more popular than their male counterparts in many instances. With some prestigious learning institutions and accredited universities demanding the recognition of over seventy other gender distinctions, that adds up to a lot of versions of the proverbial offspring.
We’re seeing it in books and movies and on television, just like some of us have always seen it in real life. It’s good to know that people are being assertive about being treated fairly in our learning institutions, and that their stories have become a part of the collective in those popular forums that I mentioned. There’s something that’s missing in the collective mumble, though; or at least, it isn’t being brought up enough. It’s really simple, and it’s probably the main reason that we are so apt to marginalize young people in so many ways.
Everyone is the hero in their own story, and it’s important that everyone recognizes a few basic truths that come with a hero’s journey.
First of all, the hero always gets lost. This is a hard concept to explain to someone in the throes of being lost, especially when you are trying to point out to a young person that the majority of their problems can almost always be solved by taking responsibility for their own life. After eighteen years of being told what to do by people who may have never bothered learning to live well themselves, not being allowed to vote or drink or drive most of that time, and being the most marginalized group of people in the country in many respects, I understand that this is a huge leap for a young man or woman or other to take.
What we don’t seem to be understanding, collectively, is that we cannot make that leap for the next generation. We cannot bridge that gap in a single bright young mind, and we certainly can’t do it for the whole bunch. They have to learn to become the hero of their own story, and their struggle needs to be as real as any other hero’s if they are to have any chance at fulfilling their potential.
Unfortunately, what we can do is stunt this growth. We can impede this progress. Worst of all, we can subvert this journey. When we try to avert the suffering that comes with any hero’s journey, what we’re really doing is preventing them from ever growing into that hero. Almost every story of greatness begins in misery, or at least confusion; when we remove the misery and the confusion, we may just be removing the hero as well.
I’m not saying that parents and teachers need to create horrible situations for kids to endure; many of them are already doing a bang-up job of that, citing good intentions in most cases and forgetting where that road often leads. I’m also not saying that the best way to raise kids is by marginalizing them; I think most of the ageist laws in our country should be dropped or traded for something better, and kids should have more rights than they do. Those rights should come with a measure of increased accountability, of course; but if you have responsibility for your own life from the outset, you don’t have to completely change your mindset once you become an adult.
“That’s not fair!” is one of those expressions that nearly every child is familiar with. It’s often met with that standard response: “Life isn’t fair!” The thing most adults fail to add at this point is that they are now the beneficiaries of that unfairness. It’s easy to accept that life isn’t fair when you’re the one making the rules; you’re part of the reason it isn’t fair! Adults often don’t care to understand kids because nobody bothered to understand them when they were in the same position. What they do, instead, is treat the child as if they are an aspect of themselves rather than a person in their own right. You can call it overprotective, if you want to soften the blow; but it’s really narcissism at its very worst, and the effects of raising kids from that self-absorbed viewpoint is evident in the common traits shared by each successive generation.
From attitudes about work and money to beliefs around relationships and child rearing, you can graph the rapid fall of personal accountability in the average American over the last hundred years with one dramatic downward stroke. We’ve gone from hero worship to putting mediocrity on a pedestal, and it shows in more than just our collective attitude. What’s worse, we’ve taken to openly criticizing the best among us while forbidding the criticism of the mediocre or the worst among us. Instead of marveling that the most accomplished people are human just like us, we look for some version of reality that makes us better than them.
The hero’s journey was never a safe one, or an easy one. For the first time ever, in our country, the hero’s journey has become the most treacherous path a person can take. The journey no longer ends with fulfillment and admiration; it now ends under the proverbial microscope, with a new beginning where everyone but you gets to decide how you should behave from here on out. Step out of line, and you will fall out of favor.
This doesn’t sound like such a big deal until we consider how many great men and women from history would have stayed out of the public eye if they knew great scrutiny came automatically with great accomplishment. In a world where this is evident to anyone who cares to look, it’s easy to wonder how many people keep their minds to themselves and toil in mediocrity rather than subject themselves to the collective criticism of a bunch of folks who think last place deserves a trophy.
The good news is, it’s easier than ever for the hero to get lost. We don’t need medieval adventures and all the inherent risks and unsanitary situations that come with them to strike out on our own hero’s journey; hell, we don’t even need to step outside. The war of the collective soul is taking place right there on our computers, and it’s always a good idea to go inward before questing outward. Actually, if you grew up in this country and don’t feel a little lost already…you might need to dig even deeper, or just have a look around every now and then.
We’ll leave this on a positive note, even if I have to stretch my imagination a bit to embrace that positivity.
America may be positioned as the hero here, in those beginning stages of lostness. Like a giant child that has grown up under great pressure, the country may be poised to reach some kind of collective adulthood that will bring a dramatic shift with it. Maybe the personal responsibility that defined previous generations is set to come back as a national characteristic, and the next generation will have all the positive traits of every preceding generation with none of the negative.
I mean, it’s possible. Right?
Originally this was going to be the part where I planned to lead into a possible solution for this problem. Unfortunately, no matter how much I try to avoid the news some of it finds its way to me. So it’s time to shuffle things around, and put up a post next week that I had planned for later on in the year. I’ve always been intrigued by the term ‘public land’ as it is used in America; I questioned the accuracy of the term from the first time I heard it. It was no surprise to me when the people who actually owned that land started talking about selling some of it off to raise money, several administrations ago. Now the current administration is talking about the same thing, and everyone is acting like it’s the first time anyone ever brought it up!
I brought it up, way back when my elementary school teachers told me how this land belonged to people like you and me. I was assured that these lands would always be protected, because they were publicly owned. My sarcasm led to me asking the same question I’m asking now, out of curiosity…do any of us actually have the deed to that land? Can any of us use it as we please, without answering to the folks that actually own it? Are we ready to admit what was pretty clear to me when I was a little kid? I mean how is it not obvious, at this point…
’This land is their land!’
We’ll talk about that next week, in a post by that title.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,