What’s with The Hero’s Journey?

You may, as I have, noticed lately lots and lots of people connecting what they do with the “Hero’s Journey,” that famous archetypal story structure made famous by Joseph Campbell. In the past week alone, I’ve seen people hooking the Hero’s Journey up with everything from leadership training to how to network to strategies for getting through the pandemic. 

The Hero’s Journey has become the foundation of Hollywood films.

But that’s only because it already replicates what’s been happening in the human experience — way before films were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
 
The Hero’s Journey gives a name to an eternal structure for how our folk stories become satisfying to listen to as well as to live.
 
But today let’s get small.

Why is that word used so da– much?

There’s the the grief journey, the customer journey, the band named Journey, the Journey shoe brand, the Dodge Journey, the mental health journey, the parenting journey, even the Girl Scouts Journey.

The word is plum everywhere. And why?

Here’s my stab at it: It’s one of our root metaphors for what it is to “go” through life. To experience something in time. To be in one “place” at one point and at a different “place” at another.
 
The image of the journey gives spatial reference points to the fact that we feel we’re different after something momentous has happened or after we’ve “gone” through a key process or after our consciousness has “shifted” in some way.
 
“I’m in a different place now.”
“He’s in a better place.” (whether mentally or when some people respond to news of someone’s death)
 
Calling something a journey is a way of giving placefulness to time-based events that seem linked.
It’s a way of making real.
 
When I use the word “journey,” I’m always reminded of high-school French, where I learned we inherited the word in English from “journée,” that distance one could travel in a day’s time.
 
That linking of time and space. A way to see and regard the invisible that one feels. A way to make the living one does a thing.
 
Pretty good for one word.

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A Man’s Job

It looked as though it was the women’s job. To talk to me, as a visitor.

In a southwestern suburb of Chicago, the patriarch of the family, close to 80, and his broad-shouldered son-in-law did most of the talking through dinner, largely about matters of sports and engineering. He had fixed an elegant salmon, while his wife—the kind of mother you don’t refuse when she tells you this Sunday dinner a visitor is coming over and you had better do what she says—had prepared the wholesome side dishes, including a crunchy raw broccoli salad. All good brain food. The women made small talk with me.

They hadn’t needed to ask me to dinner in addition to having me over to test THE HUMAN JOURNEY® with them those years ago.

But they were a religious family and hospitality, I guessed, was part of how they do things. We would have dinner and then we would settle into the living room to dig in, to see how the structure of THJ® would take a family of a second husband and wife close to 80, her three middle-aged daughters, two single, one married, and their son-in-law, on a journey of discovery of the ingredients that had formed them prior to birth, the choices they had made in adulthood that had carved out their characters, and the will they had to scythe out a new path into a shared future.

Why were the four women slackjawed by the time the evening was over?

Did it have anything to do with what their laconic octagenerian—perhaps not one for therapy, long intimate talks with his wife or stepdaughters, or extended out-loud reflections—was sharing?

How, when he was grieving his first wife, still having to go to work each day in the greeting-card shop he owned, he was able to heal by helping others select the right card and, at the register, to be a patient listener to the tales of love, relationship, and, occasionally, loss they wanted to share with him?

Or was it the how he was sharing it, seemingly without concern for the time he was taking, the personal discoveries he was making, or the rapt engagement of his family?

The structure of THJ®, the ground rules of the experience, and the presence of an outside “Conductor”—a stranger to him—of the Journey opened out the way for him, I was guessing—and for his family. I suspected there would be further questions posed to him as he and his wife got ready for bed that night or as he and his daughters cleared the table together the following Sunday evening.

That Sunday night was the beginning of a new way for the family to see him and each other, the start of new questions and fresh answers, and a different way of walking together on THE HUMAN JOURNEY®.

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