Our heroes deepen our understanding of ourselves

by | Jan 29, 2015 | Self Discovey

"To understand a country, you have to understand their heroes." ~ Michael Notaro

Photo & Design: © Carma Spence

By understanding our heroes, we can understand ourselves.

Earlier this month, I attended District One’s Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) and was treated to a couple of keynote speeches by former Toastmasters International President Michael Notaro. His presentations were focused on Toastmasters and what it could do for people’s lives, but when he said, “To understand a country, you have to understand their heroes,” my mind expanded and I realized that what he as saying applied to so much more than the world of Toastmasters.

I’ve spoken about heroes before and the role they play in understanding our archetypes. But it had not occurred to me that understanding someone else’s heroes would help you understand them, as well. I had not made that leap until that very moment.

Notaro said that heroes entertain, inspire and inform us. I believe our heroes speak to our wants, needs and desires. We relate to them because they are like us is some way. We admire them because they model a way of being that we want to emulate. We follow their stories because they show us a path we can take, as well.

One thing I find interesting about heroes is how personal they can be. We can all recognize someone who is heroic without making that person our hero. For example, some people name famous generals such as Patton or Grant as their heroes. I recognized their heroic nature, but would not list them as my heroes. I don’t relate. Their heroism doesn’t speak to me.

My heroes don’t fight battles with guns and swords. They use their minds. My heroes include Ray Bradbury (American author) and Carl Sagan (American scientist).

Heroes can also be fictional. They fill the pages of comic books and novels, battle across screens in darkened theaters and living room televisions, and are brought to life on live and puppet stages across the world.

A hero is someone — living today or someone from history, myth or story — who we admire or idealize for his or her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. And yet sometimes, our heroes are just someone we like without being able to name anything particularly outstanding about them.

Carma the birthday girl

Me wearing my favorite Tigger hat

For example, one of my heroes (although I’m thinking that word is overkill) is Tigger from the Winnie-the-Pooh children’s stories. I see myself in him and I love his innocence and unbounded joy in life. Are these noble qualities? Perhaps, but would anyone call Tigger noble? I think not.

Again, I say: Heroes are deeply personal, even when shared with others. We love our heroes for our own reasons. And yet, although we may not be able to guess why someone calls a particular individual his or her here, we can infer something about them from their choice.

Here are some ways another person’s hero can help you understand that person.

  • What qualities does that person’s hero embody? Strength? Intellect? Honesty? Those qualities will be in alignment with that person’s values. For example, I value intelligence and most of my heroes are smart.
  • Is there a pattern to the heroes that person selects? Are they mostly in the military? in the sciences? fun-loving? charismatic? adventurous? Again, this pattern will indicate what that person values or aspires to be in their lives. Most of my heroes are thoughtful, kind and independent…all qualities I embody myself.
  • When someone talks about their hero, what traits do they emphasize? This will be the most informative. We all emphasize the parts of our heroes we value most, either because we see those qualities in ourselves, or because we hope to engender those qualities in ourselves.

Our heroes are tools that can be used for greater understanding of ourselves and others. They give us crystallized examples of humanity’s best qualities. And they are lenses through which we can view our values.

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