This morning I woke up thirsty. I drank a tall glass of cold, clean water. I then brushed my teeth (ooh, that peppermint fresh breath.) I showered in hot, pulsating water. Later, I'll wash the dishes in warm, sudsy water. As a nightcap, I'll splash my face with warm, invigorating water. Occasionally, I treat myself to a shampoo and style. And, I have many happy memories of swimming in (or sitting by, if truth be told) the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, mountain lakes in the Sierra Nevada, running rivers in the American West, and swimming pools across the globe.
All thanks to clean, hot or cold (as I like), water.
Matt Langdon, the creator of The Hero Construction Company, an Australian living in America, aims to show young people that by doing little things every day they can become heroes. He has taught workshops in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Indiana, California, South Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin. He's currently working with Dr. Philip Zimbardo et al, Professor Emeritus at Stanford on the study of heroism.
I'm the product of a single parent home.
A couple of years ago I wrote about the importance of roles models for the sons of single mothers. It really hit home that my mum had done a good job of making sure that my natural tendencies to seek out masculine heroes were tempered by exposure to positive women.
While I think my environment (i.e. the lack of a father in the home) subtly guided my choices of heroes, I was pretty typical. For example, I had sports as a focus. But while most of my friends adored the generally brutal footballers, I was more drawn to the elegance and skill in cricket. I loved the Star Wars movies, the Narnia and Tintin books, but I also knew who Simone de Beauvoir was — not a claim any of my friends could make.
Fifteen years after leaving home (and country), I'm talking to kids about heroes for a living.
Ask a child who their hero is and you just saved yourself hours of trying to work out what kind of person they are. It's a personal question with a unique answer. It's also the question that kicks off all my Hero Workshops.
Ready for some generalizations?
Boys answer with sports stars while girls put forward singers and actors. However, the overwhelming source of heroes for kids between 4th and 6th grade is their family. Easily 90% of the answers include parents, grandparents, siblings and dogs. Yes, dogs.
You're probably now asking yourself, “Do my kids consider me a hero?” If they do, do you feel a new sense of responsibility? You're obviously doing a lot of things rights, but how can you embrace this role? How can you be a hero as well as a parent?
I think a lot of parenting today is redirecting. Parents are battling with mass media for a prize, the prize being our children. As parents, we have a number of options. We can take no part in the process, allowing the millions of dollars of research spent by companies to do their job.
We can dictate every exposure our children have, generally prompting them to find their own heroes anyway, keeping them secret.
Or we can be in the middle.
Watch what our kids are watching. Talk to them about who they admire. Show them new options without forcing them. As a parent, we are the ones helping decide whether Britney's underwearless lifestyle is worth aping, or whether Kelly Clarkson's down-to-earth integrity is the way forward.
Many of the movie studios are creating fantastic tools for parents — we just need to use them. Take Up for instance. We can laugh at the talking dogs and imagine what it would be like to make our house float away.
We also can take some time to talk about Up's themes and messages. Pixar has produced a great set of hero movies and should be congratulated.
I'm actually working on developing a movie with the creator of Fraggle Rock to specifically promote everyday heroism. Our goal is to release the movie with a lot of support material for parents and teachers. Imagine these conversations in our children's classrooms. And a whole set of tools to discuss at home.
Heroes are vital to every child.
How can we get the best kind of heroes in front of our children?
More importantly, are we our kids' best kind of hero?
As head of Cultural Enrichment at my children's school, I arranged to have Matt teach The Hero Workshop. Today at graduation, Mr. Eyster, the headmaster, cited the workshop as one of the year's highlights.
Who are your heroes? I learned a lot about myself when I identified mine. If you asked your children to list theirs, what would you learn about them? And what a great rainy day activity to gather photos from magazines and the internet (or even their personal drawings), making a collage of their heroes.
Because, among other things, going ‘on record' pushes me to ‘walk my talk'.
It is ironic, though, that not less than twenty-four hours after writing Asking for What We Want, I read Matt Langdon's post in which he outlined his Hero Workshop accomplishments for 2007 and goals for 2008 (you can either squint or click on the graphic).
My immediate thought was “Good for you Matt”. You've set concrete, achievable goals for yourself, goals that will make the world a better place. You've achieved them, and now you are setting more goals.
I considered following Matt's lead and putting my goals for ‘dare to dream' on this blog, but immediately quailed. The mere thought of doing what Matt had done made me feel uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassed — did I say uncomfortable?
Which led me to wonder — what is GOING on?
Why am I having a such a visceral reaction?
Here's what I've come up with thus far, though more questions, than answers:
1) When we list our accomplishments publicly, aren't we making the decision to acknowledge ourselves, to accept, rather than shun praise?
2) When we state our goals, are we not implicitly, if not explicitly, asking for support?
3) When men ‘list and state', how do they feel? How do we respond?
4) What about women? How do we feel? And do we respond as I did to Matt, thinking “Atta boy or girl”? Or do we instead think — ‘she's a bit full of herself, now isn't she?'
I'll confess that even amongst my closest friends it's painful to say ‘Look what I did,” and so I don't very often. In fact, if you want to see just how masterful most women have become at deflecting (a signal at just how painful the praise is), the next time you are talking with a group of your girlfriends — ask them to talk about something they (not their husband or children) have done well this past year.
That's right – we probably won't; we will quickly and deftly re-direct the conversation far, far away from us.
The ideal of a feminine woman seems pretty hard-wired.
Does it feel this way to you also?
If this is true, then aren't we in a bit of a double bind?
Thanks to an introduction from Matt Langdon, in early August I met with Brett Farmiloe and Zach Hubbell from Pursue the Passion. Both recent college grads, Brett and Zach have been on the road for 100+ days interviewing people who are passionate about their careers.
In embarking on their very own hero's journey, Brett et al were intrigued by the following two data points: Half the American workforce is not satisfied with their job, and only one-fifth apply passion toward their career.
When Brett interviewed me, he did what any good interviewer does; he asked good questions, and seemed genuinely interested in my story. I'd be interested in your thoughts on the following:
Did you notice how the hero's journey of a man, differs from that of a woman?
If you were to be interviewed for 10 minutes about your story, what would you say?
Isn't it interesting that even in the U.S., there is still so much discontent? We may be placated, even pampered, but if we're not dreaming….
For any of you that read Of Corvettes and Porsches, you'll find the juxtaposition of that entry with this interview odd. My hope is that you'll take courage in my self-contradiction, that even as I am daring you to dream, and most of the time I do a pretty good job of walking my talk, I have my moments.
P.S. Off camera, I was able to ask Brett and Zach about their dreams. Their moxie is impressive: a dream, and a few dollars, and they were off.
Writing about my heroes (which you can find at the bottom of this post) was indeed revelatory. Here's why:
1) I was surprised by how much my heroes have changed over time — from Bewitched‘s Samantha to Peggy Noonan?
2) It was also interesting to observe that my childhood heroes were imaginary. A reminder just how much children identify with the imaginary, magical world. I wonder too if I over-agonize about the quantity of television my children consume. I clearly watched television as a child, yet most would consider me a contributing member of society.
Who were your heroes as a child? Who are they today? How have they changed?
2) My heroes have played a greater role in who I've become than I would have predicted prior to this exercise.
Example A: The fact that I so admired Samantha and Shirley Partridge as a young girl makes it a lot less surprising that I care about mothering well, my many years of “not wanting to have kids yet” notwithstanding.
Given your current vantage point, anything about your childhood heros that surprises you?
Example B: I'm rather astonished that my interest in attending UCLA was piqued because of their cheerleaders; were it not for a providential fluke, I would be a UCLA graduate. Which leads me to wonder what other decisions I've made on the basis of who I admire. Perhaps more importantly, why did I admire them in the first place?
What about you? Any decisions that you've made that now surprise you given how little forethought went in to the decision?
Example C: If I consider a cheerleader a metaphor for a hero of support, I've observed that in some aspects of my life I've internalized this role so thoroughly, it has actually been problematic as I've pursued my career. Sometimes you can be too good at something.
3) On the premise that my childhood heroes have helped shape who I've become, I am consequently hopeful that I can become like my current heroes, whether Peggy Noonan, Laura Laviada, Galadriel, or India.Arie. That I can, in fact, successfully undergo Psyche's journey, learning to be the ship AND the harbor, the hero of support AND the hero.
Who are your heros today?
What do they tell you about what you are hoping to accomplish?
Who and how you want to be?
My hero as a young girl was Samantha on Bewitched. She was pert, adorable, and no matter what kind of tangle she found herself in, she could make things better with a wiggle of her nose. I also idolized Shirley Jones, who played the mother in The Partridge Family with whom I became even more enamored when I saw her as the ingénue in the film Oklahoma. As an eight year-old, it was magical to see that the same person could be a mother and ingénue.
In high school, my heroes were pretty, popular, feminine cheerleaders. So much so that UCLA became my top college pick because I loved watching their song girls perform whenever they played Stanford in football (my father took us to Stanford football games every fall from the time I was 7-8 years old). Footnote: Stanford was actually my top choice, but I was on the waiting list, whereas I was accepted to UCLA.
My heroes today are women who successfully embark on Psyche’s journey: they’ve learned to say no, to exercise choice, to achieve goals without throwing their caring and compassionate selves under the bus. In other words, I see all of these women as living in a both/and world.
These heroes include: Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist who made her name as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, Laura Laviada, the former CEO and major shareholder of Editorial Televisa, Mexico’s largest magazine publisher (and who I had the privilege of interacting with when I covered the stock Televisa (NYSE: TV), Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, and India.Arie, a musician-singer-songwriter who it would appear loves Stevie Wonder’s music even more than I do. Until very recently, I would have also included Sydney Bristow, the fictional lead in the television show Alias.\
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