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The Three-Headed Hydra of apathy, envy and fear, the Hero and the Watcher

Are you a Three-Headed Hydra, a Hero or a Watcher? (Choose one.)

There is a short book about your childhood most people won’t read. Here’s why.

Reading a book about childhood trauma is, in many ways, like waking up from a bad dream. The fog that once obscured this tragic corner of life slowly clears, and the more you learn, the more you see children at risk all over the place, facing adversity and trauma, as you go about your everyday life. Turning the pages of a book on childhood challenges, you may well experience feelings of overwhelming sadness, anger, frustration and hopelessness. You may feel powerless, as though you are single-handedly facing some monstrous thing far too big to confront.

These words come from the preface of the book Anna, Age Eight, that shares the story of a little girl who would not reach her ninth birthday due to abuse. Anna’s story could have been yours. It’s a cautionary tale that lets us all know we navigate a world of trauma every day. We may have grown up in loving homes yet we still interact with traumatized people who didn’t.

And that brings us to where we are today, living on a traumatized planet waiting out a pandemic as the economy goes into free fall. Not unlike reading a book about trauma and a veil being lifted to reveal childhood adversity, reading an article about COVID-19’s impact on our lives can trigger all sorts of feelings. If you’re like most people, myself included, it would be a combination of confusion and fear, mixed with a strong desire to binge watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 from my bed.

A Survey

As much as I don’t like putting people into boxes, please allow me to do so in a little experiment. Over the last two months of physical isolation it feels as though the people in my life have fallen into three distinct categories. I suppose I just wanted to see if anyone else felt this way or perhaps my repeated watching of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is warping my perception of reality.

Category One: The Watcher

Watchers appear to be the vast majority of people. They watch. As an unprecedented worldwide event takes place, with far-reaching implications on almost every aspect of daily life, the Watcher observes from the sidelines. They watch the news, social media and anything of entertainment they can stream in. They like to be informed. They seek escape. The Watchers are, for the most part, a caring people. They work hard, wish well for others, and as long as their life is stable, being a Watcher is satisfying. The Watchers are happy there are heroes in the world and hate that three-headed hydras ruin everything. When asked if they would consider devoting eight hours a week (the equivalent of watching four superhero movies) to social engagement that could be part of meaningful positive change in a time of chaos, they reply with earnest, “That work is so important. Thank you for all you do.”

Then they retreat to watching. It’s what brings them a sense of security. Watching provides the fog to obscure the magnitude of what’s going. I can relate to the Watcher. It’s really scary out there.

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The Watcher likes to watch as the pandemic and economic disruptions unfold.

Category Two: The Hero

In my line of work, building local systems to ensure everyone has access to the ten vital services for surviving and thriving, I connect with Heroes every day. When they do swoop down, I am filled with hope, joy and admiration.

The Hero is a person who woke up from the bad dream, marched through the fog and is filled with an insatiable appetite for social justice and plain old fairness.

The Hero can not help but act when confronted with the corruption and incompetence brought on by the three-headed hydra of apathy, envy and fear. When the pandemic hit and we were told to stay home, physical isolation did not mean social isolation. The Hero was on video conferencing, reaching out to other heroes and forming collectives focused on the health and safety of their community. Books were read and strategies formulated. Plans were made and actions taken.

If we navigate, county by county, our way out of this surreal post-pandemic phase where jobs and community services are evaporating daily, it will be because of the Hero. To you heroes reading this, I give my heartfelt gratitude.

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The Hero is wide awake and takes action, connecting with other Heroes.

Category Three: The Three-Headed Hydra

While I have not done a study, it appears to me that for every hero I meet, there is a three-headed hydra doing it’s best to block innovation, problem-solving and any attempt to change the status quo. I know the Hydra acts primarily out of fear and I do my best to be forgiving. The problem is that we don’t have the luxury to indulge the Hydras of the world, especially those who run the organizations that can help. In government, nongovernmental agencies, philanthropy, business and the media, the Hydra is holding on with a death grip to maintain a sense of control. This is not easy in a pandemic where economic disruptions shift funding and influence daily.

In an unstable unstable environment like today, the Hydra acts as a cornered animal and lashes out to protect itself. Like any capable sociopath, the Hydra will attempt to continue on into the new normal with oozing charm. The fog that once obscured the tragic corners of life, including the selfish motivations of the Hydra, is lifting. The Hydras in your world are being exposed.

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The Three-Headed Hydra of apathy, envy and fear is depending on our passivity.

The Hero, Watcher and Hydra: Who are you?

One can learn a lot by watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. I‘ve been introduced to the entire line of Godzilla movies, with the franchise starting in 1954. What strikes me is how all the films appear to mirror life today. A heroic monster versus a hydra-like beast battling for the fate of the earth as the frightened residents watch in terror.

While current times have the feeling of a sci-fi film, we are not living in a movie where a giant moth guided by tiny psychic twin sisters will save the day. I wish we were. And people don’t fall neatly into the three categories of Hero, Hydra or Watcher.

Where we are is a place none of us have been before. There are, however, a few thoughtful actions to consider. We can use data to identify who is hurting or going to be harmed as a result of the pandemic and economic disruptions. We can use the collective impact model to create a shared vision of how to create systems of care in all our communities. We can face the fog, move toward the light and commit to measurable and meaningful activities.

It all starts with a choice. We can choose any role we wish in this grand experiment. Which one feels right to you?

The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Any questions? The How-To-Be-A-Hero manual is available here:

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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