How does the power of myth tell us who we are?

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There are a number of ways that myths give us insight into who we are as individuals and as humans in general. Historically, myths reflect values that certain people have held in different times and places. For instance, when we look at Greek myths, we see over and over again that cleverness is rewarded by the gods (Kronos was tricked into eating a rock; Odysseus developed the plan for the Trojan horse). Or if we look at Biblical stories, we see that faith is rewarded (the story of Job; the story of Abraham and Isaac). Other myths may show us that in some cultures, strength or compassion are important. By looking at the myths that we subscribe to, we can better understand what different cultures, as well as our own, hold to be important.

Alternatively, we can think of our own lives as epic myths. Individuals like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell suggest that humans are linked through stories and that we naturally put our lives into predictable story patterns (see Campbell's idea of the "monomyth," or hero's journey); the field of cognitive narratology suggests that there is something to these claims. Myths and epic stories from across the world share similar patterns, and we can use these patterns to think about our own lives as such myths or epics. The sociologist and self-help writer Brené Brown has used this technique in some of her sociological work, asking successful businessmen to describe their lives using these patterns. By thinking of our own lives as such stories, we can identify high and low points, points of struggle, and points of success, and gain a greater understanding of how we came to be who we are.

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