Save the hero, save the world

The traditional hero narrative in stories has wreaked havoc with the world’s delicate balance, says Greta Rossi. Now it’s time to reclaim the original intention of the heroic tale, for the benefit of ourselves and the planet

Human beings love stories. Since the most ancient civilisations, stories have helped humankind make sense of the world and our role in it. They even offer the precious gift of transporting us to other worlds. But stories are just that: stories. If taken literally, stories can lead us into destructive actions. Yet figuratively, they have the power to guide journeys of inner transformation and a greater sense of belonging in this world.

Storyteller and writer Nick Hunt recently led a workshop on the role of stories in a time of crisis, organised by Akasha Innovation in collaboration with Impact Hub Islington. He guided everyone through an exploration of the current stories about the human experience and the possible alternative narratives that could help us get through these uncertain times. Discussions then turned to the problems within the stories of heroism that have dominated for so long. The Jungian analysts, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, have summarised this problem within contemporary Western culture as our desperate reliance on heroes to solve our current crises.

“The new stories we tell must reclaim the original intentions of the hero myths as guides for an inner transformation”

These stories of heroism have been misinterpreted to not only create an interpassivity among some, as they wait for salvation, but also lead others into a language of war, in which humanity attacks, conquers and dominates the hostile natural world. Self-proclaimed heroes look to expand their dominion over the planet and exploit resources in the name of saving humanity. They consider themselves separate from nature and superior to other forms of life. They are unconquerable man.

The belief in stories of heroes that will lead our species into taming nature has only led us to the brink of catastrophe. As geologists, climate scientists and ecologists discuss whether to rename this human impact on the planet as the age of the “anthropocene”, Nick Hunt and others like him are telling stories about waking up to the brutal realisation that humanity might not survive to the next planetary age.

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The new stories we tell must reclaim the original intentions of the hero myths as guides for an inner transformation that is described by Carl Jung in his process of individuation. The quests that heroes venture on are meant as metaphor for the journey of self-discovery and acceptance of the interconnectedness of all life. The heroes who return from their journey without learning their own limits miss out on a symbolic “death” that allows for their rebirth as mature and whole beings.

Understanding our own individual hero stories in our inner life can help us treasure our part in the larger narrative of Gaia and come together to tell new stories that speak the language of harmony and peace.

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