Heroes are social animals — or why Han Solo needs a Chewbacca

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Companionships are essential for stories

In today’s chapter, I analyze why heroes value social companionships, team-work and friends and what lessons this beholds for the rest of us.

“Let the rest of the world beat their brains out for a buck. It’s friends that count. And I got friends”, says the troublesome Bette Davis in All about Eve who had enough of the quarrels in her life. She has one comfort that keeps her getting up in the morning: knowing that she has good friends she can rely on. And this is all that matters for her.

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you,” says Samwise Gamgee and carries his friend Frodo up the Doom Mountain in the final episode of Lord of the Rings.

“Oh, you’re the best friends anybody ever had. And it’s funny, but I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?”, says Dorothy in Wizard of Oz.

Heroes are social animals like all of us. They value companionships, they meet and lose friends on their journey and work in teams to master adventures, they couldn’t possibly manage by themselves.

The value of companionships

Admittedly, relationships can be messy and hard to establish and maintain, but it pays off in the end. By embracing the diversity of human beings, we find the way to true happiness. Even enemies can turn into helpers. There are challenges in your life journey you just cannot master on your own. Heroes value friends and teamwork.

It is a pearl of old wisdom that the team often is stronger than the sum of its individual members. And there is a lot of proof about this exponential synergy effects in history: Just think of the Beatles. True, some people believe that both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were geniuses on their own, but did they achieve only a fraction of the masterpieces they produced with their other band members?

If you look at other rock bands like The Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd, it gets even more apparent that the team was way stronger than the sum of their individual parts. Just listen to some of Mick Jagger’s solo efforts from the 1980s, and you know what I am talking about.

Think of the world of business. Think of duos like Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Paul Allen and Bill Gates (Microsoft). They all had a partner and a team around them to achieve the stellar accomplishments in business and technology. Many of the great industrialists and engineers have come in pairs. They found like-minded people who thought and acted in new and original ways.

In the world of sports, the value of companionship and teams are even more apparent. Even in non-team sports like tennis or formula one, the single athlete is always dependent on the helpers around him.

A team can always apply a mix of skills that go beyond the scope of any one individual. Also, a team is more likely to solve complex problems in a group that takes more than one mind.

Most magnificent things occur as the result of team effort, where the team members set aside their selfish interests and focus on accomplishing something collectively which they could not achieve on their own. As the political activist Helen Keller said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

One important thing to remember is that the best teams get their mix of personalities just right.

Old friends stood the test of time

It is true that everybody needs some downtime and be on their own. However, the need for companionship is real, it makes us human, gives us emotional balance and lets us enjoy life. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our need for “belonging” comes right after the fundamental needs of food, safety, and shelter.

Even if you made a rational decision with your brain to be on your own and avoid any form of relationship, that other big organ in your chest will always desire a human connection.

Since the dawn of mankind, people, like most animals, live in packs; this makes us feel more secure and in ease with the world around us. You form emotional connections to express ideas and emotions and get feedback from your tribe.

In short: for a person to be happy, finding the right companions and feeling a sense of belonging are critical. When this need is not being met, we experience psychological discomfort.

And what is the best of all companionship? It is of course: Friends!

Friends are the backbone of our life, they are there in good and bad times, they are there to give you a reality check when needed, they are there to listen, they cut the small talk, they give you advice, they encourage us, they continually give us new reasons to be happy, they are a brilliant soundboard and most importantly they get us out of that slump when needed.

We mostly love them, we sometimes hate them, but one thing we cannot deny: they are the spice of our lives more than anything else. Whether we want it or not, but friends are a reflection of us. We are more shaped by our friends than we usually realize and like to admit. Some psychologists claim that ultimately you are the average of the five people you hang out with most often; choose them wisely!

Especially when you grow old, having close mates is essential as they stood the test of time and the sheer fact that you kept them over all the years means that they somehow contributed to your well-being.

According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the depth and breadth of your social connections will impact our health as much as diet and exercise. Staggering, isn’t it?

We are a social species, hard-wired to form social bonds with other humans. This is a biological requirement that leads to happiness, self-worth and a sense of purpose.

Oh, and as annoying as they can be, friends make us happy: leading experts in the field of happiness research found out that people who are highly social with strong relationship ties are in general happier.

Beware of group thinking

Any disadvantages?

Well, there is a dark side to almost everything. Your best friends, the people who know you best, have the most significant power to betray you on both intellectual and emotional levels should the relationship sour. Needy friends can also get in your way of dealing with more critical issues. There will always be toxic friendships and relationships.

The key is: choose your friends wisely. One advice is to listen to your gut when meeting new people. It usually makes the right decision for you. The best friends are commonly those who share the same values. Groups and companionships based on the same values have the strongest ties.

As CS Lewis puts it: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? Thought I was the only one.’”

Another thing that can go wrong especially in bigger groups is a psychological phenomenon called “group thinking” and “group polarisation.” This happens when the group develops its own mind so that individual group members stop being critical or in the case of “group polarisation” take a more extreme decision than they would have individually. Think of the Challenger catastrophe or the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, where group thinking literally leads to bad decisions and ultimately ended in a disaster.

But in the grand scheme of things do the advantages of good friendships and relationships outweigh the negatives by far.

Friendships can save heroes’ lives

Good examples of the importance of heroes’ friends and helpers are everywhere.

Butch Cassidy had Sundance Kid, Thelma had Louise, Harry met Sally, Harry Potter had Hermione and Ron. Han Solo had Chewbacca. There are also many teams out there. Remember the Magnificent Seven. The dirty dozen. The A-team. The Peanuts, the Goonies, and the Avengers. The list goes on forever.

Friends are an integral part of every hero’s journey. They are there and so natural to the hero that they do not need many words or explanations why there are in the story. Remember when Sally said to Harry: “It’s so nice when you can sit with someone and not have to talk.”

And even a solitary superhero like Batman found a friend in his butler Alfred and the solitary James Bond had a Q and a Felix Leiter he could rely on.

Ironically it is often not the hero but her or his friends who make the movie interesting. Would Seinfeld only be remotely funny of it wasn’t for his best buddies Kramer and George?

There is a whole genre dealing with companionship called “buddy movie”. Mostly found in comedies like Blues Brothers, Dumb and Dumber or Wayne’s World, or action films like Rush Hour, Bad Boys or Beverly Hills Cop and sometimes even in dramas like the Shawshank Redemption.

Very often, friends are there to help the heroes grow or teach them a life lesson.

Leon, the professional contract killer, is a solitude sociopath and his life only changes when he makes friends with the little girl played by Natalie Portman. He not only grows as a human through this unlikely friendship but ultimately, the little girl gives the rough killer a purpose for his aimless life.

Remember Stand by me? The entire movie is quintessentially about teenage friendship. At the very end of the film, the protagonist and narrator is now grown up and yearns the old times: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”

Sometimes the hero’s friends can be really annoying. Just imagine you had a friend who forgets your name every 5 seconds. Well, Marlin in Finding Nemofound a friend exactly like that in the depth of the ocean: Dory, the fish with a short-term memory loss. But in the end, it is Dory who has the decisive idea of how to find and rescue his son Nemo.

There are scenarios when there are no other people around, and still, the hero looks for social companionships. Think of the Tom Hanks character in Castaway; he becomes best friend with a Volleyball called Wilson. Clint Eastwood is a lonely prisoner in Escape from Alcatraz and makes friends with a pet mouse.

Everybody knows something you don’t

Companionships. Friendships. Teams. I hope that this chapter convinced you that they are essential in every story as well as in every life.

Having friends who understand you and contribute to your life with all their bluntness and imperfections is a blessing beyond measure.

Humans are still the most complex and most fascinating species on this planet. Everybody has a new story to tell, everybody you meet knows something you don’t, and everybody opens a new door for you and makes this beautiful world just a little bit bigger.

Meet them.

Ever noticed how easy it is for small children to make new friends? Reason being, they don’t overthink it. Judgment and critical reasoning do not get in their way. They trust their instincts.

The world is brim-full with good people like you. Time to meet some more!

Get out there and revitalize some lost friendships, strengthen weakened friendships and develop new friendships! We are all living on borrowed time and we will not only be remembered for what we did in life but especially whom we touched throughout our journey called life.

As the famous choreographer, Twyla Tharpe said: “What you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”

True words. And also listen to the Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian said: “Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil.”

Simply put, good friendships and social contacts are some of the best stuff in life.

Go out and foster yours. Heroes do.

Written by

Nicolai Schumann is the founder of Universal Storyteller and teaches storytelling at universities and to corporates. www.universalstoryteller.co.uk

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