By Caroline MyssChildren need heroes in their lives almost as much as they need their parents. I said “almost” but it’s a close second. I realize that this may strike many people as a bold statement but let’s look at the world through the eyes of a child.In an ideal world, children are loved and nurtured by their parents. Parents are responsible for teaching their children moral codes, right behavior, respect, discipline, and all the other basic life skills essential to the early years of life. All the while children are learning these fundamental lessons from their parents and teachers, another skill is awakening in them organically – their survival instincts. Somewhere around age seven, the instinct to survive kicks in just like clock work in every human being.
The survival instinct is part of our animal nature. It’s a gut instinct that functions faster than reason. It activates our fight or flight mechanism. It sends feelings to our gut that tell us that the stranger walking down the street is dangerous or not. It tells us that we need to leave room or stay. Our survival instinct matures as we do; that is, as we become more able to respond to it, to trust it more, we rely upon it more.
All great Heroes are great because they rely upon their survival instincts. Heroes are the quintessential examples of what the human being is capable of who knows how to count on his own inner resources, his own instincts, his own fight or flight mechanism. Heroes are the ultimate survivors not only because they are clever with weapons, but also because they are connected to one clear voice. They are not distracted in a world of chaos. They can make it in this world, no matter what. Children notice a hero connected to one clear voice.
Children know instinctively that they need to survive in this world – with or without their parents. They gravitate to larger-than-life Heroes because they represent the ability to defeat any challenge that life can offer them. Children see the flaws in their parents because they live with them. They see their parents defeated far too often by their challenges for a case of Hero-worship to develop, although every now again a child does feel that a parent is his or her Hero. That is a lovely but infrequent parent-child relationship.
We live in a society that loves its Heroes but tragically has very few genuine ones. Sports figures are not Heroes – they are athletes. Movie stars and recording artists likewise are not heroes and yet many times they are referred to as such. A Hero is someone who has successfully achieved a task that in someone benefits others or himself in a transformational way. Athletes and film stars do not meet those requirements except when playing roles in their films.
What happens when a society becomes devoid of genuine Heroes? Our kids are living in exactly that dilemma. They will seek Heroes because kids inherently want to find role models showing them how to survive, how to rely upon personal instincts, how to model self-esteem. We can’t produce false Heroes but we can talk about the Hero’s Journey in school. We can talk about self-esteem, gut instincts, and what it means to listen to their one clear voice.
In a society starved for genuinely Heroes, we should do what we can to help them become the real thing in their own life.