Everyone is the hero of her own story, her own heroic journey. We only play secondary roles in other people’s journeys – guide, helper, obstacle, shadow, grail. Having a deep understanding of this allows us to put responsibility where it belongs: I am responsible for the choices in my heroic journey, you are responsible for the choices in yours. Either making ourselves responsible for someone else’s story, or making someone else responsible for ours, creates havoc, weakness, and confusion. Courage often means seeing the difference between my story and yours, and knowing which role to act.
Let me put this another way: If you are playing a passive role, awaiting rescue by a hero, then by definition this is not your story! You are right now playing a secondary role in someone else’s story! When you step back into the active role of hero you are inhabiting your own story again, and you are back on your own heroic journey. You are back on your path. You can also see this from Dr. Lisa’s perspective as the question of locus of control: do you believe you are an active agent in your life (internal locus of control) or do you think the actions of others are dictating yours (external locus of control.)
Children are by nature self-centered, taking the lead role in the only story in the world that counts – their own. All other people are merely supporting characters who dwell in suspended animation until their turn comes to deliver their lines on the child’s stage. But if I can reveal to my daughter that all those other people are also the heroes in their own stories, she might begin to see that they all probably have something else to do besides think about her. It might make it more obvious who should be taking an active, heroic, courageous role. Sometimes it takes courage to admit when you are not the hero. In other words, sometimes it takes courage to shut up and do nothing! As a parent, I have to remind myself again and again to be mindful of when it’s appropriate for me to step aside and allow my daughter to take the lead.
But how to illustrate this for a kid? How to show that there are millions of heroic stories unfolding and crossing paths simultaneously, like a massive, multi-plex cinema where you sometimes hear the sound effects from next door through the walls? I find the multi-plex cinema image exciting and beautiful. It opens my eyes to a world full of heroes. So here’s something I’ve done all my life:
I went for a walk the other day with the dog. As we passed a shriveled little old house, a shriveled little old lady stepped out the front door to get the mail. “Hello,” I said. “Hi,” she replied in a shriveled little old voice. She looked like an apple head doll.
Wow, I thought. I hope I’m still bringing in the mail when I’m that old.
What’s her story? I wondered as I walked on. Who was she before she was so very old? A bank robber? A rodeo clown? An army nurse? Was she born in that house or did she immigrate from far away? Where was she during WWII? Was she a great beauty who broke many hearts? Did she have a dozen great-grandkids or was she all alone? Was she famous for her pies or her pinochle playing? Did she have a great sorrow in her past? And what was it she found in her mail? Tickets to a cruise? Test results from the doctor? A reconciling letter from a prodigal son? Is she someone who has lived her life with inspirational moral courage or someone for whom a lack of social courage has been a lifelong barrier? This is just a simple “I wonder” game, but it’s powerful in its simplicity. I’m not prompted to seek her out and ask her; I really don’t need to know. It’s enough that I see her as someone with her own story. I don’t need to see the story itself, I just need to see that there is a story.
This is what I want to teach my daughter to see. This is the game I will play more and more as the Lovely K. grows too old for Aesop’s fables and the legends of Hercules. I want to show her that when we recognize the hero in another person, it gives us strength to resume our own heroic journey. It gives us the courage to keep walking.