Monday, 22 November 2021

The Story of Us

Shane Brigg

Let me plunge us all right into this adventure together …

I have been having some serious doubts about my writing for a while.

I had been thinking about the usual pattern of telling stories and I, as a writer, was experiencing a challenging impasse of sorts.

In the midst of considering some influential and life-challenging inquiries into leadership along with (formative) perspectives on basic biblical study (hermeneutics) I came to some powerful questions. These in turn led me to some big challenges to my metanarratives.

The leadership challenge for me is huge, but in essence it has challenged me to highlight a humbling servantship that at its core has me developing ‘un-leading’ principles and practice.

The hermeneutical challenge is in synergy with this servantship/leadership paradox.  

It has lead me to ask questions like this:

Were we meant to read the stories of the Bible more authentically? (aka in the context of the original writers, from God’s perspective? To the context of the original recipients?) (Duvall and Hays (2020)). What if we actually did read the stories of the bible authentically/differently? Would we understand it differently and would we live our lives differently? Would we minister differently?

Along with these questions, perhaps the most confronting thought for me as a writer was the idea that some of my preconceived notions of story telling started to be challenged (maybe even unravel a bit (a lot) ).

Take the hero’s journey for example ...

The hero archetype is generally defined as an individual protagonist who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A hero protagonist's traits help readers to understand them, connect with them, or follow their actions and understand why they do what they do.

I have been asking myself - like Papa (2016) - if the Hero’s Journey is “the chief organizing story” of human civilization and stories are the most powerful communication technology, to what extent might the Hero’s Journey be responsible for where we are at today?

Where I am at today? (“Gulp”)

How might the conceptualization of the Hero’s Journey be contributing to what we are experiencing on all scales of society, development, world issues, good things, bad things, personal vexes and maybe even sin?

What could happen if we told our hero stories differently?

What would happen if we did tell our hero stories differently?

What if the story of “me” was informed differently?

Wow. All of this is very deep and complex and way beyond the possibility of a brief encouraging read (Blog).

So I have reduced my thoughts here to a blog-length truncated thesis that starts with a “What if” question:

What if we told hero stories where the hero was a group rather than an individual?

The relationship between individuals and society has been the concern of human inquiry and praxis for thousands of years. It is addressed by sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and theologians. The bible has something to say about it too.

Many modern thinkers have taken some of their lead from Mead (1934) who theorised that the individual and society were inter-related . The “development of the individual’s self, and of his self- consciousness within the field of his experience” is pre-eminently social. Mind, according to Mead, arises within the social process of communication and cannot be understood apart from that process. this presupposes a social context within which two or more individuals are in interaction with one another (we grow and develop together, not separately).

Bellah et al (1985) and Hewitt (1989) discuss the tensions of community concerns and pursuit of individualistic interests. The tensions of individualism and collective is perhaps one of the challenges in our current social grappling. Several authors (eg. Lois 1999, Hall 2016)  have highlighted some problematic notions that the individualistic Hero narrative seems to encourage including :

 a)     A distinction between the hero and everyone else. It puts us – everyone else – in the position of waiting for the hero to come along and fix things. Very disempowering.

b)    A form of dualistic or elitist “me vs them” perspective .  Rather than transcend differences and encouraging cooperation, it creates and encourages separation.

c)    In the West the hero in the journey is generally a high status individual. Hence we often have heroes like King Arthur, Bruce Wayne, etc… This leaves many people out.

This is not to say that all that has been promoted as the Hero’s Journey is “bad” and/or has not served humanity. Its perspective (it could be argued) has helped in breakthroughs in the development of technologies and extended lifespans. But at the same time, humanity is deeply divided and we are destroying systems that sustain life. Our highly hierarchical, individualistic, tendencies are resisting the shift in how we are called to help to bring healing. The Individualistic Hero’s Journey is perhaps not the narrative we need right now.

Jennifer Lois (1999) attempts to answer this quandary in her paper “Socialization to Heroism: Individualism and Collectivism in a Voluntary Search and Rescue Group”. In it she examines the tension between self-interested individualism and norms of self-sacrifice in a volunteer search and rescue group . She draws on 3 1/2 years of ethnographic fieldwork to highlight how individuals were socialized into a heroic collectivist community with a commitment to make a positive, often sacrificial difference together.

The Group Hero is an emerging archetype of the Hero story that differs from lone hero stories. According to Claudia Hall (2016) of the California Institute of Integral Studies there are five specific ways:

1) Group Heroism is about participation in the larger cause,

2) Group Heroism is team based,

3) Each team member is different and everyone’s contributions are important,

4) The cause takes precedence over personality conflicts, and

5) Leadership (influence) is dynamic and team based.

She explores each of these themes using mass media examples of movies, comic books, and games, and compares how the Group Hero tenets differ from the presentation of heroism in more traditional lone hero stories. In group hero stories, success is dependent on the performance of a team. Thus, Tolkien’s Fellowship of The Ring, C.S. Lewis’ Pevensie Children in Narnia, and movie examples such as Guardians of Galaxy and The LEGO Movie can be seen as group hero stories because the main characters could not succeed without their team.

It is worth referencing that Claudia Hall applied her Group Hero archetype template to designing writing pieces that help to resolve the problem of school bullying.

This excites me considering the paradoxical challenges I offered in my stumbling introduction. It excites me because the Group Hero metanarrative seems more in-line with the biblical narrative I encounter as I re-read scripture through a collectivist contextual lens.  It was like the heroes of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the 28 Chapters of Acts now had a group hero sensibility (It is about participation in the larger cause, the cause takes precedence over personality conflicts, and Influence is dynamic, egalitarian and team based). In turn this has meant that the story of the people that we call our faith gathering (church family) are intertwined not just in a story of potential individual heroism but of an ongoing ‘Chapter 29 of the Book of Acts’ collective heroic journey. It is not just a story of individual heroes or of “their story” or of “my story”, it is a “story of us”.  

The “story of us” is an extraordinary perspective and meta-narrative about the people, places and events that have shaped our history and can frame our future. Because it is collective, it is more community-oriented than individualistic.

What does it mean to be community? The English-language word "community" derives from the Old French comuneté,  which comes from the Latin communitas : "public spirit" (from Latin communis, "common"). Communities may have intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, and risks in common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. Community is an important aspect for our wellbeing. It helps us to be able to receive what we need and give what we have. Building relationships with people and having a place to feel at home. 

As a school chaplain/youth worker/pastor of over 35 years I know the power of helping to empower healthy communities. 


To be in community means to have neighbours and people in your corner.

Who is in your corner?

There are times when things can feel tough, but there are people around you who are wanting to give. This kind of hero story telling says “Please don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with others no matter what your differences/challenges: we can face this together”.  

Having this kind of community is something very special! Especially in the occurrences of our contemporary world. It is special and important to have ways for people to connect and engage in as a broader community. Perhaps this is why I am impassioned by this concept of telling stories through Group Hero narratology.

Building Community is like writing a “Story of Us” that expresses the values and shared experience of the ‘us’ in our contemporary settings (neighbourhoods /towns /cities /states /nations). This means our ‘us’ can and will change over time, but many things will stay the same over many years. Mutual humility, servantship, teachability and adaptability are part of that story of us. Embracing and living these tenets helps to create a sense of unity, togetherness, and focus on our shared values.

What could happen if we told our hero stories differently?

The story of us helps to transform our worlds.

Think about the story of us for a minute by focusing on choice points……

“Choice points” are moments when you faced a challenge, made a choice, experienced an outcome, and learned a lesson together with others.

Ask yourself:

When did I feel I had to act to help others and what did I do with others to help?

Once you identify a specific, relevant choice point, dig deeper and ask yourself:

What was the outcome of this choice and how did it feel?

What did it teach me?

Some of us may think that our personal stories don’t matter or that others won’t care to hear them. But as we do community or social change work together then we have a responsibility to give a public account of ourselves – where we come from, why we do what we do, and where we think we’re going.

In your story of us is your community motivated to action to make a positive difference in other’s lives. It is also about the choices and challenges your community has faced. That said, a compelling story of us doesn’t just highlight challenges, it emphasises stories of combined progress to help give people hope. As Marshall Ganz (2009) wrote, “Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change.”

Hope wrought together becomes part of the narrative of our group heroism. 

Anyway, with all of this said

- and perhaps having opened up a semantic pandora’s box –

I can’t shake this call to take this journey, and so I have begun ……

a)    a re-write of several of my in-progress pieces,

b)    a synopsis crafting of an entire new story with a collective (Group) Hero (a blended family grappling with their own personal inherited ghosts to face off together and ultimately be resolved to make a positive (heroic) difference)

c)     my own personally deep soul searching

I would love to join with you in this great adventure. 

Inspiring Hope. Empowering Change.


Bellah, R. (et al), 1985 Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. University of California Press

Hewitt, J. (1989). Dilemmas of the American Self . Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Duvall and Hays (2020) Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (4th Edition) Zondervan Academic

Ganz, M. (2009) “Why Stories Matter” in  Sojourners Magazine, March 2009 (Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 16)

Hall, C.  (2006) “The Group Hero: An Archetype Whose Time Has Come” In Exploring the Collective Unconscious in the Age of Digital Media (pp.214-231) 

Lois, J. (1999) “Socialization to Heroism: Individualism and Collectivism in a Voluntary Search and Rescue Group. “ In Social Psychology Quarterly. Vol. 62, No. 2, Special Issue: Qualitative Contributions to Social Psychology (Jun., 1999), pp. 117-135 (19 pages).American Sociological Association

Mead, G. (1934) Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist, edited, with an Introduction, by Charles W. Morris, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Papa, M. (2016) Awakening to a Path Beyond the Hero’s Journey

Walker LJ, Frimer JA, Dunlop WL. (2010) “Varieties of moral personality: beyond the banality of heroism”. Journal of Personality 78:3, June 2010 pp: 907‐942.


  1. Just read your post for the third time ... much to contemplate and digest. You've raised an interesting challenge, especially from an author's perspective; how do you effectively engage readers with a group hero?

    I think of stories that involve heroic groups, eg a team of firefighters - these embrace both the collective heroism of team pulling together, and individual personal struggles that either threaten or build (or both, one in consequence of the other) the group and its dynamics. Often it takes a significant series to develop the true sense of the group as a unified entity, and along the way, readers/viewers probably develop 'favourite' characters. To do this well within a single novel, and still allow readers to connect and identify at a personal level? I commend you for taking up the challenge and encourage you to journal about the ups and downs of that writing journey because, if successful, you will have the wisdom of experience to share with other authors.

  2. Thankyou. It has certainly opened up a Pandoras box of challenges. I'm up for the adventure. Already I have others joining in the adventure so we get to face the various episodes of the challenges together. ;)