Elie Wiesel once commented that the true hero cares more about the spiritual welfare of their community than for their own needs. So how is it that with the perennial wisdom on heroes taught to us by Wiesel, Joseph Campbell, C.G. Jung, and Marie Louise von Franz, we persist in falsely identifying and projecting this archetypal pattern onto individuals whose frail shoulders will never carry these cultural and spiritual responsibilities?
Is the saga of Lance Armstrong yet another story in our cultural and psychological tendency to glorify and inflate and then take great pleasure in seeing the demise of our ill-fated “heroes”? In part, Armstrong’s story speaks to our illusions and mistaken ideas about the nature of the hero archetype. Unfortunately, these individuals, the great athletes, movie stars, members of the nobility, and all those others ask to carry the designation of “heroes”,often fall far from the grace of the Gods.
Have we as individuals and as a collective lost sight of the essential characteristics of the hero, or is it that we have yet to experience a human incarnation of this illusive, eternal figure? Are our current political and religious leaders worthy of the respect and admiration given to genuine heroes? Now with the fall of Lance Armstrong, we are yet again, left with three vital questions:
1) What is the effect on our psyches in continuing to
make these projections that do not fit?
2) What will it take for us to be much more discerning in attributing heroic values and virtues onto individuals?
3) What are the archetypal patterns of the hero that
we need to cultivate in our own life?
The Lance Armstrong story is also our story of an afflicted relationship to the hero archetype, and to life patterns we engage in when struggling to become and identify with this archetype. When the individual seeks to be like a God and exceed all human capabilities, we fly too close to the sun, and our wax wings will melt, and ultimately the life we have becomes tragic.
Armstrong has lost the respect of his family, friends and all the colleagues who he has implicated in this process. Perhaps we too as a collective have lost yet again, because our hero making machinery has not only supported, but subsidized all the lies which kept his need to win, and his doping practices veiled from the public eye. Many knew the truth of his actions, but to tell the truth would be to lose another of our propped up heroes? He is
our Humpty Dumpty on steroids who can ride like the wind or hit the ball even further out of the park. And then there are the football players, who enter the stadium like gladiators whose physical prowess may be even stronger than Zeus, and whose tackles cause more and more concussions. These are the athletes and games we see as wonderful, and encourage our children to emulate. Do we ever ask who buys the tickets for these events?
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is not what has already occurred but what lies in wait for us, and will be expressed through this never satiated need to fit yet another figure into this collectively derived, illusionary image of the hero. Here like the mythical Procrustean Bed we contort and mutate the realities of these figures to fit this pre-conceived image of what we believe a hero should be. However, like Icarus who sought to exceed the limits of his human condition, these false heroes will also fall. The deeper issue for Lance Armstrong and others like him really is not so much about the hero as it is about psychological inflation in striving so hard to be what one cannot be, and hoping to be like the Gods. It is from this lofty, inflated position that one will inevitably fall, and the higher the ascent, the greater and more tragic is the fall.
Ultimately the hero is an eternal, archetypal reality that needs to find its way into our life in a meaningful and profound way. Can we be the hero for our sons and daughters who see in us an ethical, moral and good person? Do we have the courage to be a midwife for our own destiny, and work to bring the life waiting in abeyance to fruition, and in so doing advance in some small way, the
individual and human condition?
If you are interested in understanding more about how this storyimpacts all of us on an individual and cultural level, join me starting Thursday, January 31, for a free 2-part teleseminar series:
“When the Fairytale Ends: Lies, LANCE & Life Patterns.”’
Together with Olympic Coach Hank Lange, we’ll employ Jungian and depth psychology to analyze the patterns at play in this complex saga. Register by emailing Assisi@together.net or calling (802) 254-6220 .
Michael Conforti, Ph.D. is a Jungian Analyst, and is the founder and director of the Assisi Institute. Dr. Conforti's work has resulted not only in a training institute based on his discoveries, but also the development of a new
discipline, Archetypal Pattern Analysis.