If you want your kids to thrive in the next decades in the commercial world, internet sage Seth Godin tells us that they need to learn to be good at two (and only 2) things:
Solve Interesting Problems
If you can raise a kid who can solve interesting problems and lead (which requires emotional intelligence and generosity). The way you learn to solve interesting problems is by solving interesting problems. The way you learn to lead is by practicing generosity and kindness for a higher goal.
Everything else, you can look it up on the internet, or you can hire a pay a commoditised skill person to do it for you.
Exams certainly don’t test these 2 skills. They check whether you can solve un-interesting repetitive problems that have already been solved. They don’t test how you affect other people and get them to be better because of your presence.
This video is about how to become someone who is inspiring to those around you.
There are 4 key ingredients of the people that get the best out of the teams around them. I shared this talk with over 800 school heads, teaching leaders and educational leaders at the Global Forum on Girls Education in Washington on June 19 this year.
The book mentioned in the video is “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner.
The Leadership Challenge is considered a classic on leadership principles. Kouzes and Posner have spent more than three decades studying the best practices of top leaders. In their book, they explain five practices that all great leaders engage in. Under these five practices, they also discuss ten commitments of exemplary leadership. Below are some of the ideas and quotes that stood out to me.
Practice 1 – Model the Way
1. The first step to being a great leader is to clarify your values.
“You must be able to “clearly articulate deeply held belief” (44).
“To find your voice, you have to explore your inner self. You have to discover what you care about most, what defines you, and what makes you who you are” (46).
Question: What values guide your current decisions, priorities, and actions? (69).
2. The second step is to set an example by aligning actions with shared values.
“Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (37). You have to practice what you preach. Do what you say you will do. (39).
“Titles are granted, but it’s your behavior that earns you respect” (16).
“Leader’s deeds are far more important than their words” (17).
“Leading by example is more effective than leading by command” (17).
“What you do speaks more loudly than what you say” (76).
Use stories to “pass on lessons about shared values” (91).
“How you spend your time is the single best indicator of what’s important to you” (96).
Question: How are you spending your time?
Practice 2 – Inspire a Shared Vision
3. The third step is to envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.
Vision begins with “one person’s imagination” (103).
“Leaders are dreamers. Leaders are idealists. Leaders are possibility thinkers” (105).
“Leaders need to spend considerable time reading, thinking, and talking about the long-term view, not only for their specific organization but also for the environment in which they operate” (110).
“Imagination is more important than intelligence” – Albert Einstein (112).
It is easier to drive fast when there is no fog on the road. This “analogy illustrates the importance of clarity of vision…You’re better able to go fast when your vision is clear” (123).
Question: What do you care about? What drives you? Where do your passions lie? What do you want to accomplish and why? (126). What ideas and visions do you hold in your mind of what can be? (100).
4. The fourth step is to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
“You can’t command commitment; you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (18).
“No matter how grand the dream of an individual visionary, if others don’t see in it the possibility of realizing their own hopes and desires, they won’t follow voluntarily or wholeheartedly” (117).
“The best leaders are great listeners (118).
“People commit to causes, not to plans” (121).
“People aren’t going to follow someone who’s only mildly enthusiastic about something. Leaders have to be wildly enthusiastic for constituents to give it their all” (129).
“Visions are about ideals. They’re about hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They’re about the strong desire to achieve something great. They’re ambitious. They’re expressions of optimism. Can you imagine a leader enlisting other in a cause by saying, “I’d like you to join me in doing the ordinary?” (130).
“Feeling special fosters a sense of pride” (134).
“Show people how their dreams will be realized” (138).
“Visions are images in the mind…They become real as leaders express those images in concrete terms to their constituents” (143).
Question: What common ideas are you appealing to? (152).
Practice 3 – Challenge the Process
5. The fifth step is to search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
“Maintaining the status quo simply breeds mediocrity” (156).
100% of the shots you do not take will miss going into the basket (166).
“Find ways for people to stretch themselves. Set the bar incrementally higher, but at a level at which people feel they can succeed” (169).
“Be on the lookout for new ideas, wherever you are” (181).
Question: What are you doing new today in order to become better than yesterday?
6. The sixth step is to experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.
“Nothing new and nothing great is achieved by doing things the way you’ve always done them. You have to test unproven strategies…break out of the norms that box you in…venture beyond the limitations you normally place on yourself” (188).
“Big things are done by doing lots of little things” (196).
“It is hard to argue with success” (197).
“Small wins produce results because they make people feel like winners and make it easier for leaders to get others to want to go along with their requests” (199).
“Learning is the master skill” (202).
Question: How are you changing, improving, growing, and innovating?
Practice 4 – Enable others to Act
7. The seventh step is to foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
“The team is larger than any individual on the team” (21).
“‘We’ can’t happen without trust” (219).
“When you create a climate of trust, you create an environment that allows people to freely contribute and innovate” (222).
“Placing trust in others is the safer bet with most people most of the time” (223).
“People have to believe that you know what you’re talking about and that you know what you’re doing” (226).
“Once you help others succeed, acknowledge their accomplishments, and help them shine, they’ll never forget it” (234).
“Demonstrate that you trust them before you ask them to trust you” (239).
Question: Who are you willing to trust?
8. The eighth step is to strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.
“The paradox of power: you become more powerful when you give your own power away” (244).
“Feeling powerful…comes from a deep sense of being in control of your own life” (246).
“Individual accountability is a critical element of every collaborative effort” (252).
“The more freedom of choice people have, the more personal responsibility they must accept” (253).
“If your constituents aren’t growing and learning in their jobs, they’re highly likely to leave and find better ones” (261).
Question: Do the people around you feel powerful?
Practice 5 – Encourage the Heart
9. The ninth step is to recognise contributions by showing appreciation.
“The climb to the top is arduous and steep. People become exhausted, frustrated, and disenchanted, and are often tempted to give up. Genuine acts of caring draw people forward. “recognition is the most powerful currency you have and it costs you nothing.” (23).
“Say Thank You” (294).
“Spontaneous, unexpected rewards are often more meaningful than expected, formal ones” (292).
Question: Do you say “thank you” enough?
10. The tenth step is to celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
“Leaders never get extraordinary things accomplished all by themselves” (30).
“Celebrate accomplishments in public” (307).
“Get personally involved…leadership is a relationship” (315).
“Make celebrations part of organizational life” (323).
When I run seminars on leadership, I often share the lessons learnt from the work Kouzes and Posner did to create their book “The Leadership Challenge”. They identified the 4 most important characteristics of a leader that gets the greatest discretionary effort out of the people around them.
How do you know if someone is competent? The simple answer: they have books on their desk.
The proxy for Competence is whether you have books on your desk. If you care about being competent, you will be competent. If you don’t take care of your learning, if you don’t have a plan for your own development needs – you might accidentally be competent now, but with the changes in the environment you will rapidly lose that competence.
Here’s a recent interview at UCD Smurfit Executive Development where I talk about the need for leaders to take charge of their personal and professional development.
What are the next development steps you will be taking for your own competence?
This is a guest post from Riya Sander. Riya is an overseas teacher. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines.
All too often, I hear adults tell children to simply “do the right thing”.
This is not enough. We need to help children figure out:
what is the right thing or
how to decide what is right.
Teaching in various schools, in various countries, I’ve seen a wide range of responses: from completely ignoring ethics to teaching ethical decision making at all levels of the school curriculum.
Some parents ask if ethics and education belong together. Ethics are the shared values of a given group or culture. There are some ethical values that are widely shared, and others that vary widely depending on the local culture. This is one of the conflicts that children must be taught about.
Not just “It is Wrong”, but Why is it Wrong?
One ethics teacher, Alyssa Kelly, described teaching ethics this way: “The emphasis is not on moral instruction but on finding reasons why something might be right or wrong.” Instead of teaching students what is right or wrong, ethics courses for primary school students focus on teaching them how to decide for themselves what is right or wrong.
Students are faced with challenging social situations on a regular basis. Not every moral instruction can be blindly applied to every situation. When I ask my students if it’s okay to lie, they respond “no” in unison every time, in every class, regardless of what country I was teaching in. The nuances of “right” and “wrong” are more subtle when students have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Ethical Decisions are Never Black and White
I once had a female student whose friend was contemplating suicide. The suicidal girl told her friend what she was thinking of doing to herself, but asked her not to tell anyone. She asked her friend to keep her plans a secret. The friend, my student, was distraught. Someone was in danger, but she was asked to keep that danger a secret. Thanks to her ethics classes, she was able to reason her way through the situation. She later told me that, although she felt bad about breaking her promise to keep her friend’s secret, the resulting intervention and the fact that the broken promise helped to save her friend’s life was worth it. The suicidal girl was angry at the time, but became very thankful to her friend after therapy.
Ethical choices apply to what students say as well. With the growth of social media and its use earlier and earlier by students, we do them a great service by teaching them how to make ethical decisions about what to do and what to say before they reach the quagmire of social media. An acronym I frequently use with my students, which fits well in the ESL curriculum, is before you post/write/speak, THINK. Consider these factors: is what you’re about to say True, Helpful, Informative, Necessary, and Kind. We then discuss what these words mean to each of us. Students always enjoy the play on words: they learn about thinking, and each of those factors requires serious personal thought.
Did you T.H.I.N.K.?
“Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.” Alyssa Kelly
Once we’ve learned this acronym, students often help each other remember what to do: “May, did you THINK before you said that to Kai?” This is one of the great benefits of having these kids talk through questions that make them think. As teacher Alyssa Kelly said, “Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.”
One of the keys to this type of program is starting early. The earlier primary school students start to learn about how to think through ethical questions, the easier it will be for them. Skills learned early in life are foundational. This type of problem solving will lead to greater skill in more and more complicated problems that students will encounter later in life.
The Benefits of Early Ethical Education
Ethics and education go hand in hand. In addition to teaching children facts and figures, teaching ethics begins to lay the groundwork of metacognition: thinking about how we think. If we can help them develop an awareness of how they think about things and how they make value decisions early in life, we set them up to make better choices throughout their lives as well as preparing them for higher level thinking that will be of great use later in their education.
About the Author: Riya Sander is an overseas teacher. She holds a master’s degree from Australia Institute of Business & Technology. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in ESL countries i.e. Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines. She currently works for Point to Point Education, a dynamic education recruitment company.
“Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” Peter Drucker
Mediocrity is effortless.
Excellence requires effort. Excellence requires a culture of excellence. In the absence of cultures of excellence I will find an excuse to let myself slip from my best.
Do you surround yourself with cultures of excellence?
“Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default.” Mike Myatt
Are you clear on your values and purpose? If not, you are bouncing from one opportunity to the next. You take today’s good opportunity to lay bricks rather than building the great cathedral of your life. The clue to the existence of a clear personal culture is that you say “No” to most things. You are not bouncing from one interesting distraction to another interesting interruption.
The ability to start things is a good step towards a positive personal culture. The ability to finish things is the goal. Are you better at starting things than you are at finishing things? (I am. It takes real effort for me to declare a project finished.)
I have my own explicit written personal culture. I first wrote it down 7 years ago as I emerged from a very difficult time in my life:
I have a much updated version that I keep with me today. I don’t share it publicly, but have often shown it to those who have shared their own personal mission, vision and values with me. You can find my email if it is important to you.
“A family culture happens whether you’re consciously creating it or not. It’s up to you and your wife to determine whether that culture is of your choosing. If you want a positive family culture, you must commit yourself to years of constant planning and teaching. A culture isn’t something that’s created overnight; it requires daily investment.” Brett McKay
The family culture is the first culture we experience. Your earliest experience of co-existing with others was in your childhood family. If your parents were clear about their values; the behaviours that express those values, the non-acceptable behaviours; and the rituals that keep these values visible: then you had a great start. If your parents did not work to jointly define and live this family culture, you still had a culture… but with unclear and unsatisfying results.
There are 3 pillars of group culture: Values, Norms and Rituals.
Values – Each family’s set of values will be different and shaped by different education, religion and country values. Some families see competition as positive, some see it as negative. Some see position as giving rights (“You’ll do it because I am your father!”), some see dignity and agreements giving rights (“You’ll do it because we value kindness.”)
Norms – explicit and implicit rules of engagement. For example, how do we resolve conflicts? Shouting and passive-agressive stand-offs? Calm discussion and seeking to understand the other? How do we share chores? Does one person work while others sit watching? or does everybody find a way to help when clearing the table after a meal?
Rituals – routines, sanctions and celebrations. Family meals – are they in front of TV when each individual is hungry, or does everyone gather and share? Weekends, mornings, nights… what are the regular routines? Rites of Passage – what way do you celebrate the passing of the seasons, the reaching of an individual goal, the birthdays, the local and religious festivals? There are 3 levels of ritual: Daily, Weekly and Life Changing.
These elements exist whether you chose them consciously or not. There are no accidental cultures of excellence and meaningful community.
Resource: The Art of Manliness blog on Creating Family Culture:
The country in which you live will have a major impact upon your implicit sense of what is right and what is wrong, the right way to behave and the right way to treat others. Geert Hofstede told us that there are 6 major areas of difference between national cultures: it is worth knowing these 6 and where your own country is on each of these 6 in order to appreciate yourself and those who come from other national cultures.
I uploaded my first educational tips video to youtube in January 2011. I wanted to reach out to a wider audience than can come and attend IESE Business School in Barcelona or in Madrid, or those who read my blog.
Today, there are 77 short educational videos on the channel, and with 1.3 Million views, the channel has been a success far beyond what I ever would have expected.
The Future Evolution of my YouTube Educational Channel
What are the 3 words that managers find hardest to say?
They are possibly the 3 words that parents find hardest to say to children. They are 3 words that teachers very rarely say to their students.
They are not “You’re the Best”. They are not “I love you”. What might they be?
The 3 hardest words for a manager to say are “I don’t know.”
The need to act under the lack of full information does not give the excuse of not needed to do the work. One must do the work to examine the data that is available, to seek advice from wise counsel, to speak to others who have experience; but the analysis once done, must end. A decision must be taken by the leader.
Orchids are not Fragile
I am reading Nassim Taleb’s latest book “AntiFragile” at the moment. I received 2 gifts of this book for Christmas – I do hope it is not because I am generally seen as “fragile” and in need of some increased strength…
I remember a conversation with my friend Xavi, who runs a gardening business. We were talking about Orchids. He explained “there is a widespread idea that Orchids are difficult plants, they are fragile. This is not true. Any plant that has survived the millions of years of evolution to survive in its form today is in no way fragile. It is not suited to certain environments, but it is not fragile.”
Most complex organic systems not only survive uncertainty, chaos, disorder, time… they thrive. They grow stronger though dealing with their environments. There are forests that need fire – certain trees can only grow past a certain point if they face fire. A human muscle will atrophy if not used, it will grow stronger through being worked, through being damaged.
Modern education equates volatility with risk, equates non-standard with failing. Statisticians hate the outliers.
Nassim’s central idea is that we cannot predict risks, but we can predict a system’s capability to cope with risk. We cannot predict an earthquake, but we do know whether the 400 year old cathedral or the poorly built modern apartment block will fall first. We cannot predict a financial crisis, but we can predict which bank will fail first. We cannot predict loss of employment, but we can see which human will come back strong the fastest.
Leading in the Real World
The real world has surprises. Hemmingway said that the “true” parts of his stories were the most un-believable. Fiction is never as crazy as reality.
There are 3 things a good leader must learn to be able to do:
Act under Uncertainty
Take the Painful Decisions
Own the Decision
Acting Under Uncertainty
I teach a class towards the end of the course on the MBA program where my objective is to create uncertainty. As the students give their answers, I give no expression, neither verbal nor non-verbal as to whether I agree with their answer. This creates tension in the class. The students are used to a class where they say their answer and the professor either writes it up on the board or grimaces. If the professor writes it up, I got the answer right. If the professor grimaces, I change my answer until I get a nod and a note on the board.
I believe education from “The All-Knowing Professor” creates a dangerous tendency for future leaders. In the real decisions of life, there is nobody there to nod their head, nor to say “no” or “incorrect”. There are many people making lots of noise, and the leader needs to commit to their course of action without achieving 100% consensus, or 100% of the information that could prove the course of action. Leaders must be able to do enough work to be fairly sure they have a good course of action, and then commit to that course of action; and get others to commit.
If MBAs are learning always to wait for someone else to give then certainty, then they are not learning to lead. We need to ensure that tomorrows leaders are getting practice in the world of uncertainty. They are getting practice at having to move forward without all the information.
Taking the Painful Decisions
Odysseus must choose between definitely losing a few of his men by passing closer to Scylla, or possibly losing all of his men passing nearer to Charybdis, the whirlpool. There was no “good” alternative. MBA cases, video games, TV series tend to allow the hero to find a “good” outcome. They allow the business to survive with nobody losing their job. They allow the main character to finish the journey and get back to a comfortable life. If you have a good option and a bad option, this is not a decision. It is obvious. A leadership decision is always between 2 bad options.
Many of school’s choices are between a good and a bad outcome. Most of life’s choices are between two bad outcomes.
Own the Decision
When I was young, 12 or 13 years old, I was once caddying for my father. We were at a par 3 and we discussed what club to hit. I suggested a 7 iron. He thought it was not enough, but after a pause, took the 7 iron anyway. He had a look at the green, the flag. He took a few practice swings. He stood up to the ball. He swung the club making good contact with the ball. It soared up and was in line with the pin. It hung in the air for 2, 3 seconds… and then dropped… 15 meters short, landing in the sandy bunker.
He made a pained grunt and as he returned the club to me I said “sorry, I gave you the wrong club”. He said, “No, you are the caddy, but I am the golfer. I chose wrong.” At the time I remember feeling bad. I felt that I wasn’t “respected” by him, that he didn’t treat my advice as serious advice. Now I think that he acted then as he has always acted. He owned the decision. I gave advice, but at no point did it become my “fault”. He owns his decisions, whether in golf, in business or in life.
Learning to take responsibility for the choice, where it is the leader themselves who must choose, is a challenge. It takes psychological maturity to own a decision that cannot necessarily be justified with the data. It takes psychological strength to deal with the slings and blows of others who have not had to take the decision. Leadership is solitary. Any education of leaders must help the leader find the mental strength necessary to be alone.
Being alone and being lonely are different. Alone is a choice. Lonely is the desire to have someone else to take away the burden.
A good leader has mentors, friends, advisors… but when the decision comes, it is they and they alone who are responsible.
Increasing your Question to Answer ratio
In an uncertain world, the art of “Muddling Through” is of greater importance than the art of long-term strategic planning. Dealing with the chaos requires accepting the chaos, and then taking quick steps to understand the map, the compass. In management life, giving answers shrinks our understanding; asking questions increases our understanding, our capacity to adapt.
How many of your statements are answers and how many are questions?
The person asking the questions is in control of the conversation. It is hard to remain open to other’s ideas. It is hard to stop saying what it is that I want to say, and giving the other what it is that they need to hear.
The Best Questions…
The best Leadership Question: “What is the next right thing to do?”
The best Teaching Question: “What do you think? What other options do you see?”
The best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish. Imagine yourself there. What does it feel like?”
The best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
The best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
The best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.) What other criteria are important in making this decision?” (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)
As part of the Greek and Roman Mythology course that I have been following for the last 10 weeks, our teacher Dr. Peter Struck has been drawing out a number of “universal human laws” from the myths.
We read of Odysseus, of Aeneas, of gods, of monsters. We read material from 7,000 years ago up to 2000 years ago, the poet Ovid in 40AD. What is it that is held in these stories? What are the authors communicating to us?
Functionalism explains human society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions, and institutions. A functionalist reading of myths might extract the universal human laws.
Here is the list of the Universal Human Laws:
The Universal Human Laws
Nostalgia is the most powerful force in the universe.
If you want to persuade people you should know your audience.
It’s not good to be food.
A leadership decision means choosing between two bad options.
When you tell a lie, you should keep close to the truth.
Secrecy creates intimacy.
A deep connection with the land is a common human expression.
People at the top of the power structure and people at the bottom of the power structure tend to embrace the idea of teleology (destiny, universe is moving towards a natural order of things).
What do you think of these 8 universal laws? What strikes you about these 8? What seems to be missing?
I finished my first expedition into the world of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – this week. I have completed a 10 week course on Coursera run by a team led by Dr. Struck of Penn State University. The course was titled Greek and Roman Mythology.
How was the experience?
In four words: Hard work. Enriching. Fulfilling.
Coursera stated up front that the course would require 8-10 hours per week. I assumed that given how smart I am (yes, the arrogance remains strong…), I would be able to do it in half the time… but no. I was wrong. The course consisted of 1-2 hours of video lectures each week, 3-4 hours of readings and a 20 question multiple choice quiz covering the week’s learning. Two short essays were required in week 6 and week 9. I found myself submitting the second essay at 2:34am on a Sunday night.
The course was more work than I had expected. The quizes required a dedication of attention that was far beyond the mere background watching of TED talks or other educational youtube videos. The essays encouraged a deeper reflection on the material.
I learnt more in this 10 week online course than in my own university courses. Firstly because the course is well designed and the structure doesn’t allow me to leave the hard work for the last week of the class. Secondly, because I truly wanted to read these ancient myths and think about what they mean for us as human beings.
The role of the bricks and mortar university is going to change. It is already changing. There is still an important role in bringing people physically together. There is still a role in certifying progress, in providing credentials. However, the process of learning is not well served by 300 people in a lecture hall listening to an academic. Learning online, directly from the best, structured in an optimized digital format is the future of the knowledge and skill learning aspect of education.
“This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths.
Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over?
This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.”
We read and analysed the following works during the class:
Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Demeter
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
My Final Essay. What relationship is at the core of Myth?
This is the last essay that I submitted for the course. Finished at 2:34am on Sunday night. Yep, flashbacks to my days of university were frequent 😉
Question: We’ve seen numerous kinds of relationships under scrutiny in the myths we have studied: (1) relationships between humans and the divine; (2) familial relationships, e.g., fathers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and sons, etc.; (3) relationships between individuals and communities; (4) relationships between the individual and himself/herself. For this essay, you need to decide which ONE of these 4 types of relationships is most important for the myths we have read, and explore why it is so. Of course, a wise person will see that there is at least some importance in all of them, but for this question, you must choose the most important ONE, and then explore why it is.
My Answer: Myth is about the Relationship to One’s own self
The early Romantic German philosopher Novalis said “The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.”  Myth is this meeting between inner and outer world. As heroes meet gods, kings, queens, monsters and challenges, they discover themselves.
Joseph Campbell speaks of the two paths: the left hand path, and the hero’s journey . The left-hand path is finding one’s role in society. The hero’s journey is a journey of self-discovery.
The most important relationship in the myths that we have read is the relationship between the individual and himself. The relationships to the divine, to family, to communities are important but serve as a canvas for the hero to discover himself.
The first inscription above the temple of Delphi is “Know Thyself” . Each hero is seeking to “Know Themselves”.
As discussed in the course lecture week 8, the central question of Oedipus Rex is “Who am I?” Is Oedipus who he is because of land (Cithaeron, Thebes, or Corinth) or genes (birth parents, adopted parents). “Oedipus shows us how our identities can dissolve before our very eyes.” 
In the Odyssey, a person discovering themself with the help of the divine is Telemachus. In Book 1 he is a victim until intervention by Athena allows him to discover his hero, leader aspect. Upon this transition, he commands his mother: “Nay, go to thy chamber, and busy thyself with thine own tasks, the loom and the distaff, and bid thy handmaids ply their tasks; but speech shall be for men, for all, but most of all for me; since mine is the authority in the house.” [7, line 356]
In the Bacchae, the god Dionysis wonders if he is really accepted by the pantheon of gods. He is different, his rites and rituals are different. Gods are not immune from the process of self discovery. Even gods are not blessed with self belief. They too must find their own identity as they face the challenges of life.
Virgil’s hero Aeneas follows a parallel journey to Odysseus, but with a “Pietas” character that the Roman culture valued highly. Virgil is writing at a time of Roman Empire and Stability as opposed to Homer at at time of Greek Exploration and Expansion. [5,8] Pietas, or sense of duty, requires that Aeneas finds his identity in a context of an obligation to society. He is not free to just be himself. He must find the integration of who he really is with what his society needs from him.
The central question of the myths is “Who am I?”. Relationships with others are important – me to Gods, me to family (Oedipus), me to society (Aeneas in Games), me to father/mother (Telemachus), but they serve as a canvas for the central relationship, “knowing myself”.
Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon. David W. Wood, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007.
The Power of Myth. Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers: Anchor, 1991.