My Fisher King Wound

There is a Chinese story about fish. It begins with fish overhearing two fishermen talking about water. The fish decides to quest in order to find this mysterious substance. After many years he comes back to his fish friends who ask him if he found it. And he says “Yes, but you wouldn’t believe what I found.”

I found a version of this story in a book called He by the psychologist Robert Johnson. Johnson is a Jungian psychologist and his book is all about how the myth of the Holy Grail can be used to explain male psychology. He theorizes that every man is like the Fisher King. The Fisher King, according to Arthurian legend, suffers from a wound that cannot be healed except by drinking from the Grail. He is unable to drink from it, though. In such a condition, he must wait for an “idiot fool” to come and ask the question that will save him – “Whom does the Grail serve?” For Johnson, every man has a Fisher King wound. We all have something that is broken that we are seeking to fix.

I know that I have a Fisher King wound. Mine is a sense of inadequacy. I seek others’ approval. I want to feel loved and needed. And because I cling to this wound so hard, I make it impossible for others to love and need me.

A lot of traditions have a name for this wound. Christianity has the concept of original sin or of sin, more generally. Most of my struggles with sin come out of this wound, I think. For example, I struggle with pride because I think if I put on enough of a confident show, people will like me better.

I am often convinced that if I just searched harder for love, happiness, or God that I will find what I seek. But there is no searching. The fish does not need to search for water. He is in water. The answer comes when we approach it from the perspective of the idiot fool. If we ask, more than likely, we will see that the answer has been before us all along. We do not need to search for love/happiness/God; we are in it.

Mythologizing Greatness

I asked a friend the other day if she could marry any person in the world regardless of age, class, or other such restrictions who it would be. She answered Barack Obama. That makes some sense to me. She’s pretty liberal and stuff. So it’s cool.

I don’t really know how I would answer the question myself. I feel like I would probably pick a celebrity too, like Emma Watson or Zooey Deschanel or Janelle Monae or someone like that. There are probably a lot of people who would call that shallow, I suppose. But I think it’s something really different than shallow. It has to do with the “Great Man (or Person) Theory.”

The Great Man Theory developed in the nineteenth century as a way of talking about history. It theorizes that important changes are made by a few good people or heroes. In the modern day, the GMT got translated into leadership theory, and now people talk a lot about how influential one person may be for a corporation or an organization.

The GMT, though, has been mostly┬ádisproved. History is not changed by one person. It’s changed by a bunch of driven people working together, some more publicly than others.

The big problem with the GMT, though, is it mythologizes people. We think that there is this class of people out there that never deals with any of the things that we deal with – that they are always focused on changing history for the better. This is just false. People are people are people. Abraham Lincoln failed at almost everything he did until he became president, including a marriage.

Sometimes when I’m really down for whatever reason I like to tell myself that maybe I’m just not one of those people who can change things – that I’m not committed enough, not focused enough, that I let the day-to-day weigh on me too much. But I think that’s mostly a lie. The people we look up to, the people who are making a difference are not people who are living without relationship issues, or self-confidence issues, or family issues. They are just people who have decided that there are more important things. And they are people who have figured out how to convince other people that there are more important things as well.

I’ve been learning a lot about Teach for America recently. And whether you agree with their mission or not, there’s one thing you have to admit. Wendy Kopp has figured out how to make people realize that education is far more important than your romantic relationships, your career problems, or sometimes even your ambition. If you talk to a TFA recruiter, you probably won’t be able to get off the topic of education for hours and hours. Because Wendy has made it that important.