Lip Service: the Hero with a Thousand Excuses
Legend has it that it’s better to give than receive and better to serve than to be served upon. However, oftentimes inconveniently, following through requires much more heavy lifting than giving our word. If you’ve ever agreed to accompany a friend confronting an abusive family member, or even just offered to help someone move, you know that what’s most important is showing up. Heroics aren’t just grand acts of bravery; according to The Oxford Pocket Dictionary, it’s also “behavior or talk that is bold or dramatic, especially excessively or unexpectedly so.” The integrity and dedication required of acts of service are why they are heroic, and why lip service is purely disservice.
Don’t take my word for it. Folklore from around the globe tells the same tale.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, American mythologist and philosopher Joseph Campbell researches hero myths spanning thousands of years and miles, observing that they share a fundamental structure. This “monomyth” signifies the universality in storytelling across human societies. The archetypal “Hero’s Journey” includes the following stages: 1) The Call to Adventure; 2) The Refusal of the Call; 3) Meeting the Mentor; 4) Crossing the Threshold; 5) Tests; 6) Approaching the Innermost Cave; 7) Ordeal; 8) Reward/Bliss; 9) The Road Back; 10) Resurrection; and 11) Master of Two Worlds. This omnipresent story arch, according to Campbell, expresses across time and space that which humanity views as a life lived valiantly.
While every story has a beginning, middle and end, each does not begin with a hero, and there’s only one way a protagonist goes from zero to hero. In the beginning, there’s a problem. In the middle, that problem is faced, and by the end, all is resolved.
Only upon stage four, Crossing the Threshold, does a hero actively choose their odyssey and truly begin to embark upon their quest. In fact, during stage two of the Hero’s Journey, potential protagonists even refuse the call to adventure, sometimes actively and other times passively. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker crossed the threshold when he escaped Tatooine, as did the Pevensie children of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when they traveled through the wardrobe into Narnia. It’s the point of no return as the hero sets out on their journey, upgrading intent to action.
By contrast, lip service doth not a hero make. In our personal quests towards joy, adventure and triumph, truly, the moral enemy for us mere mortals is an avowal of advocacy sans action.
How different Pixar’s The Incredibles would have been if, during the final fight scene, Frozone’s question to his wife, “Where is my super suit?”, went unanswered and the next day he then had to explain his failure to show up with, “Well, I couldn’t find my suit.”
The last thing you want to be is the “hero” with a thousand excuses.
To be epic, we must not view trials as tribulation and shy away from our potential to be a good friend, a good coworker, a daring artist, a loyal listener, a hero. Agreeing to help someone move isn’t heroic, but it is stepping out your front door before 9a.m. on the weekend, driving across town, and trying to help your pal fit 19 over-flowing boxes and 5 over-sized pieces of furniture in a moving truck. We must embrace our ability to be tested and grow into our better selves.
For heroes trapped in a labyrinth, the only way out is follow-through. No ifs, ands, or “but I don’t feel like it today.”