Our New World: beyond the tribal mindset
For many people the last 20 months have been a primal instinctive turning inwards to protect themselves, their own family, their own tribe. It’s our fundamental response to danger. I remember as a new mother being shocked at my transformation into a fiercely protective lioness at any threat to my son. I didn’t know I had it in me! So, I understand why many, actively supported by their governments, have been exclusively focussed on their own. It has saved millions of lives.
But there is a shadow side to this and there have been costs. There is a big difference between being wisely protective of our own and holding on too tightly and regarding everyone/thing else as the ‘other’, i.e., the enemy. Holding on too tightly to anything… our identity, a person, a situation, an idea… comes from an unconscious, unprocessed emotional place deep inside us. We can explain it away beautifully but ultimately it comes from a fear that we are not facing in ourselves: fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of being abandoned. Whatever our deepest fear is, if we do not own it, we inevitably project it onto others and we make them the problem. This makes us blinkered to what might actually be going on within our domain, ironically leaving our loved ones exposed to where the real danger might lie. This rigid mindset also stops us learning other, healthier ways that will keep ourselves and our loved ones infinitely more protected.
Since July, I have been working with face-to-face teams again. I am passionate about teams and pre-pandemic I would be delivering international Leadership Team programmes on a monthly basis. Since returning, I have found the same dynamics at each team event: an initial nervousness but then the shyness has moved very quickly into a warm connectivity and openness, with an excited buzz and energy. It has also been very moving to witness how people are willing to take risks and share. I’ve been working with high-performing leadership teams for many years and core to the beginning of any teamwork is setting the scene and creating a circle of trust. People are different now: they are opening up faster. There has been a sea change which brings me great hope.
One of the leadership team events was a 5-day programme in September at London Business School. I have been working on this international programme for 20 years and I love it. Each time I witness the same arc-dynamic with my group. They start off deeply conscious of their differences and are…quite rightly… cautious about opening up to people who might not understand how or why they are different. But always, by the end of the programme, the group becomes a beautifully bonded team that is not only deeply respectful of their diversity but also experiences a profound awe in their commonality, in how much they share as human beings. There is immense freedom in this learning on many levels.
I have also begun delivering workshops again, one of these being Leadership and the Art of Storytelling. A key part of this workshop is Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’. For his pivotal book, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ Campbell researched a thousand myths from tribes all over the world and from all ages, including the Greek myth of Ulysses. He identified a core, universal thread, a monomyth, which he created into a mythological structure: the journey of the archetypal hero: The Hero’s Journey.
In his introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell defines this monomyth:
‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.’
Campbell describes key stages along this journey:
1. The hero's adventure begins in the ordinary/known world. S/he must ultimately depart, often after much resistance, from this ordinary world, when they receive the call to adventure.
2. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.
3. The hero will embark on a road of trials, where they are tested along the way. The archetypal hero is often assisted by allies. (Think Hermione and Ron!) As the hero faces various ordeals, they then encounter the greatest challenge of the journey.
4. Overcoming this leads to a metaphorical death and subsequent rebirth, psychologically transforming the hero. A client recently told me that a phoenix is only called a ‘true phoenix’ when it rises from the ashes of death and transformation. This is the victory. Think of Gandalf in The Two Towers after his fall into the abyss and subsequent transformation to a greater wizard.
5. The hero is given a reward, a ‘boon’ and must decide to return with this boon to the ordinary world. It is very dangerous to refuse to return. That way madness lies!
6. Upon the hero's return, the boon or gift may be used to improve the hero's ordinary world for themselves and also for others, in what Campbell calls, the application of the boon.
This is a psychological framework that speaks to us and gives rich meaning. Since its publication, Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey archetype has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. It was a major influence on George Lucas and his first Star Wars trilogy, Joseph Campbell subsequently becoming Lucas’s mentor and living on his Skywalker ranch. One of my clients looked at me soon after we began our coaching relationship four years ago and said: “What you’re really doing is training us to be Jedi Knights.” How right and intuitive he was!
Last month, the magnificent Ted Lasso, after a panic attack which forced him to enter therapy and face his fears, said: ‘Like the man says, follow your bliss.’ The man is Joseph Campbell, who also said, ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.’ It was entering that cave that saved Ted Lasso, watched by millions of people around the world. Again, signs of a sea-change and hope.
Another popular hero is Neo in The Matrix. A very unwilling hero to begin with, common to most heroes at this initial stage. We hear the call to adventure, but we fight it. It’s either too scary, too inconvenient and/or it will upset others. So, like Neo, we mind our own business and keep our heads down and get on with our lives. But, like Neo, the call gets louder, and more things happen to disrupt our lives and push us on our journey. The more we resist the worse it gets, until finally, battle weary and ego battered, we surrender and unconsciously accept the call as the only way forwards.
Our experience over these 20 months has been unique to each of us, but for most of us it has pushed buttons and forced us to face some of our deepest fears. Many will stay stuck in fear and not heed the call, but I am seeing many others responding to the invitation to embark on the hero’s journey. What used to be a very private and personal quest, taken by a very few, is now gaining traction. We humans are Guardians of Earth, and our planet needs rebuilding. This can only be done if we extend beyond our tribal, insular mindsets and, like the miracle of the vaccine, come together as one.
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood