Winter is easily the time of tales as the nights lengthen and people bundle together to warm one another with laughter. Yet clearly summer won’t be denied as folks go out into the dark in search of bonfires and accommodating winds. We seek the cooler parts of nature to give us an excuse to draw close and have our silences filled with the stories of others.
No one person can experience everything except by the use of their imagination, and still that needs a little nudging from good books and movies and friends. We have a never-ending supply of stories to entertain us, but what story do you want to hear? We know the stories and characters that can be told, but what do we want to hear?
It goes back to warmth. It goes to pulling in close to one another to give each other more than warmth, we bolster one another, give one another strength. We strengthen ourselves with the stories which draw us in the deepest.
When the tales we tell about ourselves always portray us as the hero or the victim, it’s easy to think we take all our strength from the hero tales. A victim is someone at the mercy of the world around them, of the people around them. A hero takes action, takes control of the story not yet finished and makes things happen.
You and I both know that hero tales can take a terrible turn when the person telling the story doesn’t realize that how they’re acting their values upon the world caused harm and that memorializing it proudly is cause for concern. Both kinds of stories – hero and victim – have their faults, and both have their virtues. In the virtuous sense, the sense we crave, it might be better to think of them not as heroes and victims but as journeymen and apprentices.
When a film is billed as a coming-of-age story, they’re talking about a journeyman making his way or place in the world. The origin of the word journeyman refers to an individual day-laborer, someone you’d hire for work for the day. Yet the meaning of the word evolved as the hired hands became better skilled and were consistently reliable, a true journeyman will never want for work because they are known and trusted and produce the right results.
In the stories we crave a journeyman would be someone trustworthy who takes action, gets results, and grows from their experiences. Heroes are too high above the rabble to be taken seriously as an example for how we should live, too static even as they are always on top of things and seem to have been born perfectly capable. Journeymen give us implicit permission to take charge even as we are trying to figure things out, to make mistakes and not lose faith in our path.
Since we know that every story we tell is a hero story or victim story, then we also know that coming-of-age stories need their own counter-partner; initiation stories. While coming-of-age stories are about coming into your own and staking a claim in this crazy world, initiation stories deal with learning about this world that we live in and certain things we must do (because of societal rules and laws of physics) in order to keep going. Apprentices – as I’m sure you know – are students, beholden to the master-worker who is teaching them and severely limited in the their ability to affect change in the world around them.
So then why crave apprentice tales? What can we gain from from being reminded “this is how the world works and you just have to deal with it”? An apprentice has to shift their mindset in order to take in the life lesson, and by listening to or watching their story we get to experience that shift with them. A storytelling experience happens to us and afterward we get to face the world with our eyes opened a little wider.
When the Tale is Told
It’s so easy, so instinctual that all the stories we tell be of our heroics or how we were made victims. But life – being so much more dynamic than good and evil – requires stories that lead to more stories that lead to more stories. We take action and get what we want or don’t and have to adjust our strategy as we take action again; something happens to us and we learn from it and use that learning later when we are in a position to take action.
The hero/victim framework serves us well to make friends. Let the journeyman/apprentice add-on help us to make progress in our own lives, the lives of those around us, and – ultimately – this crazy world.