“Once upon a time, in a faraway land . . .” This is the beginning of all fairy-tales. The stories told to us when we were children, our first encounters with the “art of story-telling.” But how do these fairy-tales actually influence and shape our day-to-day lives?
All of us have a “life story” we would like to live, subconsciously or consciously. Our choices, our life goals and the nature of the relationships with the people in our lives have much to do with our own chosen “archetypal fairy-tale.”
Fairy-tales have many different overall plot lines: the story of the hero who defeats evil (“Jack and the Beanstalk”), the triumph of love (“Beauty and the Beast”), the coming-of-age story (Pinocchio becoming a “real boy”), and the trickster story (“Puss in Boots”). Yet life is not as black and white as it is fairy-tales — it is multi-faceted. The same people who view their work lives in a more Puss-in-Boots way may see their personal lives as a hero story, or vice versa. We want to view our lives as black-and-white — I’m good, he’s bad, I win, you lose — a very either/or sort of mentality.
We try to fit our lives into one of these stories, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Furthermore, in day-to-day relationships two individuals may have different competing ideas of what “story” they wish to create in their relationship. This can cause tension as they compete with each other over which archetype will actually take form in the relationship — and of course, in such a competition, nobody wins.
This becomes even more complex when we think about all the different archetypal plot lines we find in different cultures. For example, in Greek mythology, Circe and Calypso are female characters that are much more willing to use their feminine wiles compared with the feminine characters of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.
People may also see a historical or contemporary figure as an archetype they would like to follow — for example, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, J.K. Rowling, Marilyn Munroe and Casanova. Are these people role models? Or are they something more? To a certain extent, such figures have been elevated to mythical status. Their life stories seem the stuff of legends. And people do try to live their life using such people as examples.
In our personal lives, we have an overwhelming number of archetypes to follow. College students wonder, “should I be exploring my sexuality? Or should I be focusing on romance?” Of course, the male and female archetypes that exist in the media and our lives strongly influence our decisions.
It is very important to understand your own biases and preconceptions, so I am going to ask you this — which stories are the ones that you try to model and shape your life around?
And, here’s another question — are we truly deciding our lives if we are choosing someone else’s version of what our life story should be?
I would personally answer that our choices say quite a bit about ourselves, and it is the journey of our actual lives, not just the story we choose to model them on that really counts.
Just don’t tell me which archetypal fairy-tale I got that from.