The Lessons of Despereaux

Despereaux

I saw The Tale of Despereaux yesterday after many cancellations.  I was immediately drawn to the movie by its trailers filled with quotes on heroism and the scenes of a non-conformist mouse wanting to be a hero.  I’ve never read the book, but am planning on buying it now for our forthcoming child.  The movie itself was flawed in its execution I think, but the messages are loud and clear.

The first lesson was one explained to me by Phil Zimbardo.  He said we need to teach kids what it feels like to be strange, weird, and different because that is the life of a hero.

The second is one that has driven the Hero Workshop from its inception.  Heroes beget more heroes.  When we read and talk about heroes, it simply produces more heroes.  Who hasn’t dreamt of performing heroic actions after reading a great story?

It’s Good To Be Strange

“Reader, you must know that an interesting fate awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”

When you act heroically, you’re going to stand out.  Despereaux’s ears were not the only thing that made people notice him.  His courage, thoughts of a better world, and kindness made him stand out.  They also made him the object of disdain and mockery.  Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things, so there will always be a majority to think the hero’s behaviour is wrong, dangerous, or weird.  Heroes don’t cower and they don’t subscribe to the ideas of the masses just because those ideas are popular.

Heroes Get Inspired By Other Heroes

Princess: Are you a rat?
Despereaux: No!
Princess: Are you a mouse?
Despereaux: I am a gentleman.

Despereaux reads a book about a brave, honourable, and just knight which inspires him to be the same. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi were inspired by reading the story of Mahatma Gandhi.  Barack Obama has been inspired by reading the stories of Abraham Lincoln.  Whose stories are you reading?

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10 Responses to The Lessons of Despereaux

  1. Whitney Johnson December 29, 2008 at 2:55 pm #

    Great post!

    Loved this quote — “We need to teach kids what it feels like to be different, strange wierd, because that is the life of a hero!”

    Thank you.

  2. Matt Langdon December 29, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    Thanks Whitney. I’m looking forward to meeting you and talking to your kids about heroes. Just need to nail that date 🙂

  3. imadeitinacave December 29, 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    I was going to comment on that quote too, but Whitney beat me to it.

    Another comment:
    “Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things, so there will always be a majority to think the hero’s behaviour is wrong, dangerous, or weird. Heroes don’t cower and they don’t subscribe to the ideas of the masses just because those ideas are popular.”
    If heroes are always going against the majority, the ideas of the masses, who deems them a hero? History?

    Too bad the world’s not like in Hercules (Disney movie), where you are a true hero only when you have a constellation formed in your likeness.

  4. Bolaji December 30, 2008 at 12:38 am #

    Matt,

    Great post. Thanks for your insight. I agree that “digging the skin you’re in” is the most important aspect of a hero. 95% of people, particularly kids, focus on fitting in. The remaining 5% are mostly “ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things”.

    Well, not exactly. Ordinary is in the eye of the beholder.
    Ordinary is what the masses view as boring, unremarkable, or un-noteworthy.

    But those who are comfortable in their own skin know better. They don’t have to be big, strong, or fast. To be remarkable. They don’t have to conform to society’s formula for success.

    They can be weird, different, unique… but still be guided by a set of principles that directs their uniqueness as a force for good.

    Great post.

  5. Matt Langdon December 30, 2008 at 1:01 am #

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    Imadeitinacave: I didn’t say always going against the majority. A hero just doesn’t go with the flow because that’s what’s expected. They’re okay with saying something that doesn’t mesh with the majority’s views.

    Bolaji: Thanks for the links/references on your site recently. I was really pleased to see I was in your top ten list.

  6. Linda704 December 30, 2008 at 9:19 am #

    Extending on the comment of Bolaji “Ordinary is in the eye of the beholder.” My friend and I have a favorite expression: “Normal is boring.” Of course, first you have to decide what normal is, but that is the point! 😉 Great post. I have a copy of Despereaux somewhere–I really need to find it and read it!

  7. Matt Langdon December 30, 2008 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks Linda. Normal is boring. I love it.

  8. mssc54 January 1, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    I noticed you visited my blog and see you blog title.

    Here is the story of our true life hero.

    Buddy was an army combat medic and was KIA by a Taliban sniper while rendering aid to Afghani Army National soldiers.

    http://mssc54.wordpress.com/our-american-hero/

    http://mssc54.wordpress.com/buddy/

  9. David Rendall January 7, 2009 at 10:25 pm #

    This is fantastic! I love the idea that heroism is linked to strangeness. I liked this post so much that I shared it with my blog readers (www.daverendall.typepad.com)

    Zane Safrit told me that I should check out your Hero Workshop and I’m glad I did.

    Thank you.

  10. Matt Langdon January 7, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    David, thanks for dropping in. And thanks a lot for mentioning me on your blog. Feel free to join the hero conversations.