So, you’re walking down the street one day, and it’s the worst day of your life. Everything is falling apart. You’ve never had to go through anything like this before and it’s just. So. Hard.
Then some joe who’s trying to “comfort” you comes along and has the nerve to say “welp, at least trials build character!” and you just want to smack him. “Trials build character? CHARACTER??? Well, if this is how you get character, I don’t flippin’ want it! I hope you fall down with your hands in your pockets, you jerk.”
I’ve never met any person that enjoys going through bad experiences. Some people tend to handle the bad with more grace than others, but obviously no one likes to deal with crap in their lives. For some people, life seems like one big bad experience that wears them down, day after day.
Trials build character.
It may seem cliché, but many of those seemingly trite sayings that have stuck around for a long time can probably owe their longevity to some applicable truth.
Now, there are all kinds of heroes. Superheroes with super powers, underdogs, arrogant heroes, humble heroes, born heroes, made heroes… and don’t forget nerd heroes! Of all the heroes in the fiction and nonfiction realms of stories, I have found one very common characteristic.
More specifically, the gumption to overcome in spite of tragedy.
In this post, I have a rather broad definition of tragedy and maybe I should use the word “trials” or “affliction” instead. In any case, what I’m trying to say is that every hero has faced some sort of tribulation and the challenge to overcome it.
Let’s look at some of our favorite fictional do-gooders.
Sometimes, a hero’s life is ridden with tragedy from the beginning. Harry Potter suffered child abuse and ridicule from his own blood relatives. Batman witnessed the grotesque murder of his parents. Katniss Everdeen lost her father and was subjected to significant poverty (and that was before she volunteered for the Hunger Games). Superman was orphaned and displaced (the poor guy’s home planet exploded). In Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, Kvothe’s beloved camp is set ablaze by a dark and sinister enemy, killing virtually all his family in the process.
Other heroes don’t necessarily start out their adventures with tragic events, but it’s not usually long before something they love is lost; if nothing else, their comfort and security are out the window in no time. (For example, Bilbo Baggins lost the security of Bag End at the beginning of his adventure).
My point is this; The challenges that our favorite heroes must overcome and how those challenges change them are what make a great story. You’re not going to rave about a story where a would-be hero gave up the task and went home instead.
An author named Don Miller sums it up like this:
If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet.
The other thing that heroes have in common? Flaws. And fear. And not knowing the outcome of their adventure.
I don’t know where you are in your adventure at the moment. Maybe you’re in the darkest place you’ve ever been, or maybe you just had a really second-rate shoddy day. But remember, all of our favorite heroes didn’t see the end either, and maybe your tribulation is just a part of your epic story.