I´ve written about Star Wars in the past (see Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, and the Quick Fix and Bad is Stronger than Good! That is why our World desperately needs Positive Psychology). Today, I´d just like to share this short video that I found on Facebook. In an interview, George Lucas shares his view on the light side of The Force – and pro-social behavior, one of the building blocks of Positive Psychology. Enjoy!
Do or do not, there is no try.
Sorry. This post is pretty useless. But I desperately wanted to try this meme generator I stumbled upon… 🙂
After the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus could not find the way home for a minute or so. But then, a magic compass fell from the sky which brought him back to Ithaca in no time and without any trouble.
This is how Homer´s legendary Odyssey would have to be written in our time. Pity! One of the truly great pieces of literature goes down the drain.
The Hero’s Journey as a short trip?
The Odyssey is the prototype of a Hero’s Journey, a distinctive narrative structure in which a hero, reluctantly at first, embarks on a long and perilous journey, is confronted with trials and tribulations on the way, only to succeed in the end, oftentimes after being severely wounded. During that journey, he meets one or several (supernatural) mentors and discovers a (magic) elixir which helps him to fight his enemies. After winning the battle against the final enemy, he returns to the world from which he came. He has gained power and knowledge, and even wisdom – and is typically granted a long and prosperous life.
These kinds of stories exist in every corner of the world, and all cultures. Another important example is the Indian national epic Ramayana. But even today, many successful books and movies are based on this storyline. For example, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the original Star Wars-Trilogy are archetypal Hero’s Journeys.
There´s one distinctive feature that all these stories have in common: They tell the story of an inward journey, the protagonist´s way to find himself. The ultimate goal is purification of the hero´s character, it´s about the process of growing up and maturing. Yet, for the purpose of vividness, in literature and film, all places and characters are depicted as being part of the external word. But the story is not all about defeating exterior enemies. The whole voyage is a rite of passage, the ultimate objective is to accept the tasks and responsibities for which one is destined for.
The process of maturation happens by means of all kinds of trials and conflicts: Odysseus has to come to terms with prototypical human frailties such as being unable to resist temptation. Frodo´s task is to rid himself of greed and to recognize his own power and self-efficacy. Luke Skywalker has to learn how to transform the undesirable parts of his personality, those that he shares (to some extent) with his “Dark Father” (arrogance, anger, violence etc.). Generally speaking, the task of the hero is to learn how to integrate his shadow, as C. G. Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology, has named it.
We have (no) time
The point is: apart from the narrative structure, all these stories share the following aspect: The travelling lasts for several months, often years. Odysseus was lost at sea for a decade after the Trojan War. Frodo and Luke (assumedly) travelled for months and years before reaching Mordor and Endor. Why? Because maturation, growing up, finding ourselves: it just takes a lot of time.
Against this background, I am critical of most modern varieties of “personality development” (in the broad sense). These days, everything is to happen super-quickly. Faster and higher is the motto, but – at best – without any effort:
- A man has low self-esteem? A couple of positive affirmations will do.
- A woman wants to generate a stable income by becoming self-employed? She can just “order” her customers directly from the universe via visualization.
- A boy cannot concentrate properly at school? Just give him some Ritalin.
Brave new world. Let us return to my version of the Odyssey:
After the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus could not find the way home for a minute or so. But then, a magic compass fell from the sky which brought him back to Ithaca in not time and without any trouble.
Nobody would desire to read a book or watch a movie based on this plot. We´d say: “The story was dull and lifeless, and totally implausible. Oh, and the protagonist was flat and faceless, I could not relate to him.”
But in real life, it´s supposed work this way?
I´m sitting at “Vino Volo”, Philly airport right now. The 7th onsite of MAPP 2013/14 is over. It was another incredible, intensive, incomparable experience – not only thanks to the program itself, but due to the other participants. A big shout-out especially goes to Ann Brafford and Patricia De La Torre.
The hardest part always seems to choose what to write about afterwards. There´s so much good stuff out there – and I only have time to write about a few things. Yesterday afternoon, our guest lecturer was Yale´s Amy Wrzesniewski. Wrzesniewski is one of the world´s most renowned researchers on meaning and purpose on the job, (career) callings, and turning the job you have into the job you want (job crafting).
Towards the end of her lecture, she touched upon the topic that is displayed in the title of this post: Should we follow our bliss – or our blisters in order to have a fulfilling and successful (work) life? Both phrases were coined by mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell who, based on his literary studies, developed the theory of the Monomyth. The idea in short is that basically all great stories (from Homer´s Iliad to Harry Potter) are based on the same universal storytelling structure: the Hero´s Journey.
The following quote can be found in his book “The Power of Myth”:
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
A lot of Campbell´s students obviously misinterpreted his quote as an advice to embrace hedonism as the path to happiness, to pursue “feeling good no matter what”. Late in his life and frustrated with this development, Campbell purportedly made the remark “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters’.”
Had those students paid more attention to the structure of the Monomyth they would have grasped that the bliss in “follow your bliss” cannot be about pleasure alone. The Hero´s Journey is a path that entails great struggle, pain, and even losing (parts of) oneself: Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins both lose a part of their body before defeating evil for good.
This notion can be made clearer when replacing the term “bliss” with “passion”. Passion is based on the Latin word “passio” which means “suffering” or “enduring” (as in “The Passion of Christ”). Only much later did it acquire its meaning of “enthusiasm” and “strong liking”. Consider this image (source):
The drawing mirrors sayings such as “No Cross, no Crown” or “No Pain, no Gain”. Despite thousands of books offering us a shortcuts to “success and everything we ever wanted”, intuitively most of us know that the picture on the right is the real deal – and the one on the left (in 99,9% of all cases) is Bullshit (as defined by Harry G. Frankfurt).
Every melody would be played in C major. Every painting would depict beautiful water lilies. Every story would begin with “and they lived happily ever after”.
And how lackluster our lives would be if the left side were an effigy of truth: Every melody would be played in C major. Every painting would depict lovely water lilies. Every story would begin with “and they lived happily ever after”. Such a life would not be worth living.
Dear shortcut vendors, here´s what Yoda (picture source) has to say to you: