Custom, Culture, and Your Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell didn’t believe a woman could go on a Hero’s Journey.  Read my post here You can’t be a hero – you’re a girl!.  You and I both know he was wrong.  The Hero’s Journey is agnostic.  Anyone, any age, any culture can go on the Hero’s Journey.

Like all of our beliefs, Campbell’s beliefs about women were shaped by his culture.

My current culture, these past few weeks have been  emotionally trying for women and men who have been triggered to relive sexual assaults, suffer the disbelief, and the pain and shame usually brought with those memories. Other people have written far more eloquently on this subject than I would, but I will add that I truly hope I live to see the day when we go past the point when those who have been assaulted are automatically believed and get to the place where sexual assault just doesn’t happen anymore.

This weekend I heard an interview on NPR with Casey Gerald, author of his memoir There Will be no Miracles Here.

Here is an excerpt:

CASEY GERALD: (Reading) He rested his worn hands on my shoulders. Tears rolled down his tired cheeks. Go all the way, son. Go all the way. I was not sure how to get to all the way. But I felt in the hands of the men and heard in the voices of the women and saw in the eyes of the little children that if I went all the way, then they would go, too. And it seemed that they had been waiting so long to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You capture so well the burden there, the pressure of carrying the hopes of a whole community with you. What was that like?

GERALD: It’s a very lonely path. But more importantly, it’s a very dangerous path. I write in the book about the process of going from a kid to being a symbol. You know, you take a kid like me from a forgotten world like Oak Cliff, and you send him off to Yale and Harvard Business School, and you put him on the cover of magazines, and you put him on the stage at TED. And it allows us to imagine or to pretend that there is not a conveyor belt leading most people in this country from nothing to nowhere.

You see, I’m a glitch in the American machine, which works off this fantasy called the American dream. But as long as I’m quiet about that, as long as I don’t confess how little sense this journey makes, then the world can keep on ticking. But I become a liar. I become an illusion.


I just put this book on my “to read” list.

At first glance, Gerald’s story seems like an anti-Hero’s Journey, but I think his is a quieter, less obvious, unique-to-him, Hero’s Journey – not the one others in his culture set out for him. What a wise man he is to have seen it.

It is intimidating to go against our friends, family, church, school if the path of your Journey challenges your culture.  This antagonism is what stops most people before they take that first step Across the Threshold.  It is an understandable reaction that touches a primal fear: being ostracized from the group, feeling completely alone.

When your Journey pushes up against the edges of your culture and you push through, you do two things. You make your own Journey happen, and your actions also knock a hole in the cultural fence for others to slip through.  What a gift!

Once it’s  been opened, the hole gets bigger the more people move through it until one day only the oldest in your culture can say, “Remember when there was a fence there?”  And the young people will roll their eyes and smile indulgently.


Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s