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A couple of months ago I wrote a post about a fascinating IPPR report on the language used to communicate climate change. The authors reckoned that a new discourse which they called "ordinary heroism" would be more effective at communicating climate change and encouraging people to take action.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about a fascinating IPPR report on the language used to communicate climate change. The authors reckoned that a new discourse which they called "ordinary heroism" would be more effective at communicating climate change and encouraging people to take action.

If I remember rightly, this discourse would have shades of Dove's campaign for real beauty together with an emphasis on communicating that the ordinary (but heroical) actions of people really could aggregate to make a significant difference to big problems (like climate change).

I've recently been introduced to Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he writes about the idea of the monomyth. The monomyth is a common pattern that ordinary people follow on the road to heroism that is found in mythology from different cultures. Campbell says that Christ's, Buddha's and Moses' journeys, for example, all follow the monomyth:

  1. The Departure (which includes The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, The Crossing of the First Threshold, Belly of The Whale)
  2. Initiation (which includes The Road of Trials, Mother as Goddess, Woman as Temptress, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon)
  3. Return (which includes Refusal of the Return, The Magic Flight, Rescue from Without, The Crossing of the Return, Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, Freedom to Live)
[more detail here]

So an ordinary guy receives a call into an unknown world, and once there faces all sorts of trials. On returning to his home world, he's able to use the experiences and gifts he earned to do good in his world.

Often my beef with (some) talk around behaviour change policy is that it treats people as mechanical entities, that will respond in the right way if we design the right intervention. Behavioural economics, for example, tends to rely on fallibilities in human cognition to bring about behaviour change "under the radar". An approach that treats people with more respect is a more engaging one - closer, in fact, to education.

Can we use Joseph Campbell's monomyth to help us create better processes of behaviour-change that lead to "ordinary heroes" (or citizens of the future, as the RSA would put it)?

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