Saying "Hero" One Too Many Times

“The” hero story never existed as a myth. It may be "a" hero story, but that's not the same.

William Deresiewicz’s essay “Empty Regard” delivers a punch while illustrating that overuse of the term “hero” has drained the word/story of it’s true military meaning and The Hero with a Thousand Facesworse, out-right accuses embarrassed team-players of grand standing. Online replies from members of the military tell their personal stories that will silence and liberal or conservative hoping to wag a finger in the air.  What happened happened, an important specific symbol was generalized into meaninglessness.  Deresiewicz traces intentional use of the hero label as part of an effort to control the narrative of the Iraq war.  Instead of the soldiers feeling the heat of an unpopular war like Vietnam, the idea was to put a soldiers face on the war and anyone throwing darts could be labeled “anti-soldier.”  Our military men and women don’t feel the heat but they feel the cold emptiness: reduced to one dimensional “heros” stripped of opinion, personality, strengths and weaknesses.  Again paying the price of an unpopular war.

I am against all efforts to control a narrative by silencing any of the other two, five, twenty sides there may be.  I am dedicated to telling true stories so well  people can’t help but do the right thing, buy your services/product, step up and be counted.  Old school, I believe the truth will set us free.


To make a point, story puts a name and a face, or place, and other sensory details to anchor the viewpoint in reality.  From a narrative point of view, hero is a powerful metaphor framing a person with general story.  Hero was one of many stories I remember when I entered the storytelling world.  Today, there are some days that the only story reference I hear is “the hero story.”

Joseph Campbell is my go-to guy on heros.  In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), he offers a mono-myth composed of the few generic events that these many mythical hero’s shared: 1) the call to adventure; 2) the crossing of the threshold; 3) the tests, trials, and helpers; 4) the sacred marriage, apotheosis (becoming one with god), or elixir theft; 5)the flight 6) recrossing/ressurection; and 7) the return to society with hard won gifts.  Frankly few of the non-military uses of this story-word come close to this framework. Even if so, did you become one with God? or steal an elixir?  and this is just a stick man hero – or woman –  we don’t know because without eyes, ears, arms and legs, we are also missing genitals.  And what is a hero, really, without genitals?

Wisdom lives in the juicy bits of our stories. Maybe one myth tells of two who are lost; a tribe too content to see trouble coming, a man who left his cave.  Meaning and wisdom disappear when a narrative is controlled by stories that never happened and myths that never were.

We sit on an embarrassment of riches. Heros can be: The Heretic or King Arthur or Carlton W. Barrett, or Women: Psyche or Benten or Irena Sendler. Personally when I’ve taken the time to mine down and find original stories offering diverse situations and personalities I’ve found ideas that have have saved my butt more than once.

It is hard to slow down, to take a step back and be more mindful.  I know I’m terrible at it.  However if you could just take a day or a week and replace the word hero with something more specific, more accurate, more meaningful – I think you will be happy you did.


1 thought on “Saying "Hero" One Too Many Times”

  1. Hey Annette — so glad you blogged about this. I agree — the monomyth of the hero is restricting our thinking into very narrow channels. And it leads to what Rosabeth Moss Cantor calls dysfunctional ‘cowboy heros’ in organizations. We need to hear and share other stories about communiities, tricksters, and magicians if we are to create a sustainable and wonderful future for ourselves.

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