A few years ago, I abandoned the alcohol trade in Ontario because I enjoyed the idea of paying off our mortgage as opposed to expanding it.
To paraphrase, the lesson I learned that the ‘how to sell to the LCBO folks’ DON’T tell you is that it’s EXTREMELY difficult to make any money when you try to get between a government monopoly and the suppliers that control it. In the case of the LCBO, there are maybe half a dozen agents and industry-level suppliers that probably account for about 80-90% of all business with the LCBO.
Instead of feeling like an ant in a world filled with giants armed with massive boots, I withdrew from this industry, but have yet to find something to keep me fulfilled from a professional standpoint.
And then Covid hit more than 2 years ago. Even if I wanted to work, my competition increased about 10-fold in a very short period of time.
I turned to online courses and eventually found lots of options via Coursera, Udemy, EDX and others, but my favourite so far is Pacifica Graduate Institute in California and their online ‘Retreat’ program.
I’ve always been interested in storytelling, writing and discussions related to mythology, religion and the myriad peripheral subjects that are related to these things.
STORIES and STORYTELLING are the fundamental traits that differentiate us from all other living creatures on Planet Earth.
Humans have been sharing ideas, lessons, morals and millions of other topics via their communication abilities.
Throughout history, a wide array of different stories emerged from different cultures and languages.
Some folks like Adolf Bastian (creator of what we know of as Anthropology, or the study of humankind); Joseph Campbell (key scholar behind development of the monomyth and the ‘Hero’s Journey’); earlier psychoanalysts like Carl Jung (who developed archetypes, or ‘typical’ character types that would often reappear in different stories); and writing guides like Christopher Vogler with his ‘Writer’s Journey’ all helped identify some ‘trends’ that could be seen and even anticipated with a wide range of seemingly different stories.
Understanding The Monomyth
Here’s a nice snapshot image of what the monomyth or Hero’s Journey is all about:
We’ve seen it a thousand times in various forms and structures, from organized religion to Star Wars and other mainstream movies and entertainment media. The monomyth permeates music, gaming, writing and most other forms of art once you start looking for it.
It represents the DNA of most of humankind’s storytelling structure, especially for epics and voyages related to self-discovery and problem solving.
It normally revolves around a basic notion of exploring for the purpose of conquest or capturing a reward of some sort, but not always.
The monomyth is more prevalent in Western culture with origins related to male military expansion and empire-building, but there’s lots of room for romance and softer emotions when talking about the monomyth.
What’s important about the monomyth is that it acts like a compass of sorts, helping to point us in the right direction as we try to understand the themes and pitfalls that our heroes and heroines go through in order to find fulfillment in life.
As a compass, it’s really just a guide and there are exceptions to the patterns laid out by people like Campbell.
The monomyth is far from perfect as well, because some people actually get offended by generalizations that are applied to their religious or cultural heritage. There are those that truly believe that ALL other myths are not their RELIGION, hence the monomyth couldn’t possibly apply to what they believe.
A Broken Compass?
People use a compass when they’re lost. The modern equivalent is GPS or Google Maps.
In fact, looking at the depiction of Campbell’s Monomyth, it actually looks like a compass, doesn’t it? We set out on our journey to the east as the sun rises and then as we enter our twilight years, the sun sets, creating a perfect metaphor for life itself.
Despite the connection, it feels like we humans are somewhat … lost.
Is it possible that after all this time, the monomyth has been pointing us in the wrong direction?
Is the compass broken?
In keeping with this analogy, it’s been shown that the Earth’s magnetic pole is on the move, primarily due to climate change and the influence of the Anthropocene Era.
It seems like we are finally becoming aware that we are literally AND figuratively going the wrong way.
But how do they know where we’re going?
THE Story of Our Time
Boomers can remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated.
On September 11, 2001, I certainly remember the moments when planes crashed into the World Trade Center and elsewhere. Memories seem like individual freeze moments, etched into my DNA.
The are still many folks that may have been around for different phases of World War II.
These are all events that have affected us, but for most of us, indirectly.
The story of our times is Covid-19 and how EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US has been affected by it personally.
IF we’re allowed to get together with friends or family, this wins up being pretty much the ONLY discussion that everyone contributes to.
There are many themes, many subplots, but the core narrative has kept humanity talking about the same subject for more than two full years, and it’s likely we won’t stop if or when we’re finally past the worst of the disease.
We’re still not sure where we are in the ‘Hero’s Journey’ as developed by Campbell. Are we in a state of bliss? Are we about to cross a certain threshold? What elixir has been wrought by single people or the whole of humanity?
And who ARE the heroes of this story? Or villains?
Mentors seem clear, but because the story is still unfolding, maybe it’s not as clear as we think. Some folks who are part of large convoys in Canada don’t see people like Teresa Tam or Fauci as mentors. They think they’re part of some great plot to control humanity.
I guess the question would be ‘to what end’? Possession has NEVER worked, so why try it now? Possession and control just results in the owner losing everything in the end.
Introducing … The UniMyth
“Life doesn’t have to be something that just happens to us. Just put the glasses on … you’re gonna see” Ryan Reynolds as Blue Shirt Guy in Free Guy
I propose a new word: the UNIMYTH.
I thought GNOMYTH might be a good alternative, but the UNIMYTH has a slightly better ring to it.
Some suggest the idea of a ‘macromyth’, but this word doesn’t convey the sense of enormity and totality that the Unimyth does (at least for me).
The root of the word UniMyth is ‘universe’ or “the whole world, cosmos, the totality of existing things“.
All together. Whole. All in one. All things. Everybody.
The whole world and everything that exists so long as Planet Earth exists.
For the last two years, the pandemic has been a story of totality for the entire Planet Earth.
Pretty much everyone you meet or talk with is having THE conversation about Covid or something related to it. Dinner conversations, idle chats, work requirements, government passports and so on.
We’ve heard that this situation is unprecedented. I agree, but primarily because we – as in ‘almost the whole planet’ – are all telling a very similar story ALL at the same time. That consistency truly is ‘unprecedented’.
Talk about synchronicity.
For the first time, it seems like humanity is collectively on the same page and we’re all paying attention (some more than others) to details about how to keep ourselves and loved ones from an unseeable beast.
Despite the troubling situation, I am fascinated by this realization that a Unimyth is in play for what could be argued for the first time in our entire history. It seems like we’re all living the same story arc.
Elements of the Unimyth: Finding the Middle Ground
Critical to the monomyth is the notion of polarization. Remember how the compass needs a pole to help you find the way?
Christopher Vogler, writer of The Writer’s Journey (25th anniversary edition), added an entire chapter on the notion of polarity and polarization. The core concept goes back to ancient Greece where playwrights would use different actors to present different points of view in order to intentionally build tension, with a small social group known as ‘the chorus’. This device helped the audience catch what they might have missed. They repeat the message and emphasize key points.
In fact, the Greeks even had a god called AGON. Here’s what Vogler had to say about this god:
Around the globe, people have imagined the creation of the world as a polarized situation. God divides light from darkness and the heavens from the earth. The potent force of polarity was recognized in the person of the Greek god AGON, the force of struggle and conflict, ruling over athletic events and contests of all kinds, even legal disputes, for agon also means a judgement. The spirit of Agon is imbedded in the polarized terms “protagonist” and “antagonist”. The English word “agony” derives from agon and signifies that the process of struggle is sometimes painful and arduous.
It’s basically human nature and our observation of a wealth of dualities that surround us every day, pointing us in opposing directions at all times, but what if there were a better way to find some middle ground, so that direction didn’t matter?
We’d always be at the centre of ourselves and our mythologies would slowly come to represent that.
Maybe that’s what Buddhism is all about? I’m joking, but not really.
Elements of the Unimyth: The Mask
Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero With a Thousand Faces.
This seminal work explored the idea of the monomyth, but also relied on the notion that humans use masks to project AND protect themselves as they live their lives.
We all have something to hide. We all put on a brave face.
Is it any surprise that masks have become a central element to living in the pandemic?
During the pandemic we have literally had to put on masks in order to protect ourselves, but to also project our support for measures taken to protect the lives of anyone/everyone who could potentially be affected by the coronavirus.
It’s not much of a surprise that we’re seeing a split in opinion go two ways:
- Those that enjoy the added protection and security afforded by a mask (basically, introverts)
- Those that despise the mask because they believe it hides people and their true intent (typically, more extroverted personae)
We’re also seeing the positive and negative results from public mask use. Fewer people than ever are catching the common cold, the seasonal flu and even pneumonia. Conpsiracy theorists claim this is because Covid is being described as a misdiagnosis of these common ailments.
Which leads to the negative: masks hide our feelings, our emotions and our concerns. There’s an element of secrecy that is contributing to a growing suspicion related to the lockdown measures. The broader result is that human interaction itself is being ‘dehumanized’.
Polarization isn’t healthy. It perpetuates exhausted tropes about who we are and projects the image that we are somehow opposed to everyone else. The reality is that the only person we should ever truly compete is ourselves and the rest of our efforts should go towards elevating our existence on Earth and how we collectively use its resources.
Elements of the Unimyth: The Rituals
We have become Masks without rituals, avatars without lives.
The pandemic has been hard on all of us, but I would argue that those most profoundly affected by lockdowns, restrictions, massive adaptations and more are our children.
Primarily, those youth that range in the age of 12 to 18.
These are the years when social activities spur development – mental, physical, social, economic – for all of us, but most importantly, our children. Joseph Campbell frequently states that the human species is one of the few that requires 12-13 years and just when they’re reaching a sense of independence, we cut them off.
Rituals help humans act on their curiosity. We’re intrinsically curious and many aspects of our lockdown environment stifle this curiosity. What affect will this have on youth?
Games are frequently a key part of development, but so too are games of love, relationships explored for the first time, anger, fighting, rage and so on.
We’ve long divorced ourselves from the association of the hunt. It’s been decades since the bulk of humanity has had to sharpen arrows and pack their guns to track down their protein. In fact, as more humans turn to vegetarianism/veganism as their diet, the notion of rituals associated with sacrifice fade.
What impact will these changes have on all of us, including our youth?
The Unimyth(s) will have to deal with this. The stories that emerge from these times will hopefully be much more significant than just another fictional universe being created. Our new stories must help us cope with the trauma of the last two years. We need to develop tools and mechanisms that support our youth.
Our icons, symbols and stories change with time in accordance to helping us adapt to the circumstances. What symbols will be more important than others? What stories will emerge from the trauma of a global shutdown?
The landscapes of our youth are also fading into a rapid bour of digital images, virtual realities and a long tale of data that is used for advertising and other tracking purposes.
If anything, it’s incumbent on us to act if only to encourage them to take care of us as we age.
As our lives become increasingly influenced by Covid and a micro virus, to what extent will we flip things from fear to reverence? This has happened before: the buffalo and the Plains Indians; the power of the horse; even celestial events like solar eclipses and lunar transitions.
Will there be an annual cycle that we adhere to in order to keep the virus at bay?
Of course, time may prove that I am completely in the wrong. Perhaps Covid is giving our kids more tools than we can imagine and maybe, just maybe, it will be they who have to teach us older folks how to adapt to a new reality.
Perhaps the new stories will be less about aggression and territorialism and more about cooperation and a yearning to fulfill physical and social needs. Or acting out aggressions by video / digital proxy and being somewhat more normal ‘in real life’.
Elements of the Unimyth: Rapid Adaptation
Humanity has had to adapt to a massive array of new information within a VERY short time-frame.
Some people absorb information at different rates than others.
That said, those that could afford to work from home did so and had overwhelming corporate and government support to set up home offices and other adaptations to the work environment.
This, despite being told for years that the only way most organizations would ‘trust’ their employees would be is if they were all under the watchful eyes of management.
Other changes have taken place universally, including the use of sanitizer & masks, getting vaccinated, using new procedures and other actions that are intended to limit the spread of disease.
Of course, because some people adapt differently, they resist these changes and even questiont them.
The vast majority of the population that will go on long after this pandemic will need to figure out a way to accommodate their requests for accommodation, lest we spark a rebellion or resistance to ideas of tyranny and control.
Elements of the Unimyth: The Return to ‘Normal’
The ‘normal’ state that we had in 2019 or earlier was not normal.
We are bad managers of the planet.
Defense budgets are bigger than ever and represent the vast majority of most government spending. The fight will go on for a very long time.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a new sense of secularism was emerging only to make it easy for the Nazis to rise to power and a continued state of corporate-government plutocracy to continue in most countries in the west.
Polarization is pulling us apart, not bringing us to central positions.
Our planet is on fire. Or drowning. Or buried in waste.
So how can we create a ‘new normal’?
I’ll repeat: the story of conquest has to be shelved and a new story of our collective gain and reward has to emerge.
Using the Unimyth Mindset to Save Planet Earth
The last 2 years has been chock-full of new information about how we’re supposed to live our lives all the while abiding by a whole new set of rules that guide us in order to minimize deaths from Covid.
Perhaps we need the same approach to saving our planet and the millions of non-human species that depend on our maturity and our ability to rapidly alter our ways, lest we destroy what a gift thos planet truly is.
With this context, maybe we should ask ourselves: “How do we make climate change the ONE topic we should all be talking about?”
I believe that those cultures that are closer to nature historically speaking are the most capable right now of helping us shape our stories towards the Unimyth.
These people have spoken about LEGACY for a very long time.
Legacy cannot apply to the immediate generation. We have to refer to First Nations and Indigenous cultures that routinely speak of planning for Seven Generations, or roughly being accountable to 150 years worth of future inhabitants of our planet.
Legacy seems be lost in the notion of most of our routine day-to-day pumpkin latte swilling, toss the cup in landfill, drive to get groceries lifestyle.
Legacy is disconnected with a need to reacquaint ourselves with the awesomeness of nature and the billions of other species that inhabit Earth.
Legacy has to be central to the Unimyth.
These are exciting times. The very core of our existence relies on our ability to adapt to the immense changes that we will have to embrace in a very short period of time.
I’ve introduced the idea, now let’s talk about it.