A Modern Day Hero

heroOne of my heroes is my nephew, Will, who just graduated university with a degree in Cultural Geography.

When Will was a teenager in High School he saw a report on the news of the devastation of the town of Joplin, Missouri, by tornadoes. That spring, while the rest of his friends were planning sunny vacations for their spring break, Will quietly found a church group that was taking a group of teen-agers to help the town clean up and rebuild. Rather than asking for a ticket to Pensacola Beach, Will asked his parents’ permission to get on a bus and if he use one of their old sleeping bags.

You see, Will was willing to put Skin in the Game. He wasn’t content to see people struggling and just feel bad about it, nor was he content even to make a quick donation – he wanted to roll up his sleeves and stand shoulder to shoulder with them to do the hard work of rebuilding. So while his friends were whooping it up with fun in the sun, Will was sleeping on a floor picking up trash and broken glass all day.

Putting Skin in the Game, Will discovered something much deeper than fun – he discovered what it is to give of the self to help others. This experience put True North on his compass-of-Self. Helping others has oriented his life – he became a mentor in one of his High School clubs, then put himself in the uncomfortable position in college of upholding academic standards at his fraternity where he challenged his friends to do more than they thought they could, and he spent his free time volunteering to keep his city’s green spaces clean. Now, with his degree, he will form a career around helping others and the environment.

Skin in the Game is hero material. So often we see what’s wrong in the world, and want things to get better. We hope it can, wish it could, and think that surely there is someone out there doing something about it, somewhere. We think someone will invent something, pass a law, or that some agency will clean things up or enforce legislation. We look to technology to save us, obsessively ‘stay informed’ while remaining paralyzed in our chair, or ignore problems altogether thinking it’s all “too much” and “too big” for our efforts to matter. However, all of these are reactions, not responses. And response is both hero and dreaming material.

The first level of dream is story – the “what happens”; like, a tornado in Joplin, the increase of school bullying, or loss of green spaces in urban areas. But we can’t get trapped in the story – we have to move to the deeper levels of finding the patterns, the deeper meanings or origins, and identifying the necessity – what needs to be transformed. And still, we can’t stop there. The next step is to respond to that necessity.

As dreamers, in dreaming as well as in waking life, we have to put into the tangible what we’ve understood from the dreaming. We have to enact the transformation in physical reality. Putting Skin in the Game is that dreaming step – it is what separates reaction from response, stuck from transformation, making us Great Dreamers, or Heroes.

As soon as we begin to respond to necessity we realize that each of our efforts is important and needed, and that “each” quickly multiplies – what seems “too big” or “too much” is conquered by the efforts of many. I have spent a lot of time volunteering in community development projects in downtown Los Angeles, resulting in the planting of over 300 trees, among other things. Those trees didn’t get planted in a day, and it wasn’t because of a “someone else” or a fancy organization that it happened. It all started with just a couple of us talking to a couple of our neighbors and then telling our city council member what we wanted to do. We thought it was pie-in-the-sky, but to our surprise he told us that they had plenty of reserves in their office to fund and aid such efforts, they just didn’t have the physical manpower or time for their staff to do it. In fact, they were waiting for people like us! And suddenly these little efforts became shovels and picks and buckets and seedlings and the more we worked the more people we gathered and the more we accomplished.

The world gets built moment by moment by each and all of us. How we build it … well, that’s our choice. We can armchair the future, or we can become Great Dreamers by responding and putting Skin in the Game to build the world we want to live in. We’re all heroes in the making.

This fall I will be offering a new imagery class called Stories for Our Times. In it we will experience for ourselves several of the classic hero stories which contain within them the blueprint for surmounting challenges. You’ll find that the hero is often a seemingly regular person … with the courage to act. This willingness to face the unknown and respond – to put Skin in the Game – is what elevates them to “hero”. To find out more about the class, click here.

And now … What problem is waiting for you to engage and resolve?

Happy dreaming, and my many thanks to Will for remaining an inspiration…