by Gary David Stratton, PhD, Senior Editor
The family, schools, faith communities, and society we grow up in begins to tell us their stories from the earliest age. Those stories shape how we craft the story of our own experiences. The values and practices of the heroes of those stories become our values and practices for our own story. As narrative psychologist Dan McAdams The Stories We Live By, “We do not so much discover ourselves through story so much as we make ourselves by subconsciously composing a continually evolving “heroic story of self” that forms much of our identity.”
Our brains are hard-wired to connect with the heroes of our stories. As the research of neuroscientist Paul J. Zak revealed, “[C]haracter-driven stories consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. Viewers will literally bond with the characters and share their emotions, and after the movie ends, they are likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.”
When we read or watch a compelling story, we take on the point of view of the hero, their approach to life captures our imagination and shapes our thinking and behavior. As screenwriter Christopher Vogler discovered in his study of great Hollywood films. “Stories invite us to invest part of our personal identity in the Hero for the short duration of the experience. In a sense we become the Hero for a while. We project ourselves into the Hero’s psyche and see the world through her eyes.” (The Writers Mythic Journey.)
This is what makes the heroes and heroism in stories so crucial for our own development and for that of any civilization or sub-culture. As Rollo May explains in The Cry for Myth:
“Heroes are necessary in order to enable the citizens to find their own ideals, courage and wisdom in the society. The hero carries our hopes, our aspirations, our ideals, our beliefs. In the deepest sense the hero is created by us; he or she is born collectively as our own myth. This is what makes heroism so important: it reflects our own sense of identity and from this our own heroism is molded.”
How do you see these principles at work in the clip below? What does it reveal about the link between heroism and identity for Hoot (Eric Bana) and Eversmith (Josh Hartnett)? How are they the same? How are they different? How have the values and practices of the heroes in your favorite stories influenced your own life?