Written by: Danny Brooks
I recently rewatched one of my favorite movies from my childhood: The animated Hercules from 1997. If you’ve never seen this movie, it’s about a boy (Hercules also called Herc) who doesn’t fit in and is searching for somewhere he belongs, as he says in one of the movie’s most popular songs “I Can Go The Distance”. Hercules is obviously based off of the hero from Greek myth and doesn’t fit in because he has super powers from his father Zeus and Hera. In the movie, he is kidnapped from his parents by the antagonist of the movie and later saved and adopted by a simple farming couple who always wanted a baby and couldn’t have one. Hercules is actually made fun of for being too strong and not knowing how to control his strength. The other kids are so scared of him that they won’t even let him play Frisbee with them.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt like an outsider for being too strong. If anything, I’ve always been made fun of for being too weak in this gym rat, protein shake culture we live in. Somehow though, Hercules was always a very relatable character, even though he and I didn’t fit in for different reasons. Being made fun of or bullied and not fitting in is not a fun experience for anyone no matter what the reason. If you have experienced it, it’s a lot easier to relate to others who have even if it’s for something completely different.
Hercules eventually trains to become a hero, defeats some monsters, saves some people, and quickly becomes a celebrity. Even then, he stays pretty humble and doesn’t let that distract him from his ultimate goal. For some of the movie, Herc is searching for his real parents after he finds out he was adopted. He discovers who they are, but then to be with them he must become a hero. Not just a celebrity hero either. He has to become a true hero. All of the stuff he did to become famous isn’t what defines a true hero. At one point in the midst of a busy schedule, tons of people who want to see him, and honestly a pretty good depiction of a busy day for a real celebrity, he gets frustrated and says something like “what’s the point in all of this?!” because it isn’t helping him reach his goal. This made me like his character even more, because I have always felt the same way about popularity, fame, and money. Even though I was never very popular in high school, when I finally did make a lot of friends and start making some money it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It never makes your problems go away. It turns out that the same things that get you through the hard times are the same things you still value in the good times: close friends, supportive family, a great song, a hobby you enjoy, sitting on the porch to watch a summer storm, or whatever it is that gives you life.
Finally, I can relate to Hercules because he had some trouble connecting with his dad and had to go searching for him. He searched for both parents, but the movie really focuses in on his relationship with his dad. Psychology has discovered a lot of things about having good parents, both parents, and even specifically a dad is very important for development and mental health. This always made me uncomfortable because I didn’t have the greatest dad all the time. I won’t tell my whole story, but if you have had me teach in your class then you’ve already heard it. Let’s just say I related to Hercules in trying to search and find a father figure. This included trying to find the best in my dad despite seeing him at his worst. When I heard how important it can be for a boy to have his dad as a role model, a teacher, and so much more, I worried that I was lacking something. Maybe I would grow up and always be missing something because of my home life. When I thought back on it though, I had plenty of people who cared for me and filled that role when it was sometimes left empty. I learned to look at what I had instead of what I lacked. I have a grandpa that taught me a lot, I had mentors in high school that were great role models, and I had good friends that took me under their wing even though we were the same age. Hercules couldn’t always connect with his dad either, but he found Phil who trained him to be a hero, he had great adoptive parents who loved him, and he finds Meg who ends up being a loving girlfriend. So with father’s day coming up, I know emotions can be stirred up and it can be easy to focus on what we don’t have, but give credit to those people who HAVE been there for you. Show them that you appreciate them and be thankful for them.
To summarize what I learned from Hercules, I will go through some basics that connect it to Go for the Gold (GFTG). First, in GFTG we talk about goals. Herc didn’t let the bullies, the fame, or his life situation keep him from his goals. So whether good or bad circumstances, whether you are bullied or a bully, whether an outcast or popular, whether your family is great or super dysfunctional, don’t let that define you and keep you from your goals. You can’t always change your situation, but you can change yourself and hopefully one day change your surroundings too.
Second, in GFTG we talk about relationships and how to keep them healthy and look out for signs that they aren’t. Again, we can’t change others. I tell people you have to do 3 things to have healthy relationships: find them, work on ones you’re in (if the other person is willing), and dump people who aren’t. The kids that bullied Hercules in the beginning are not main characters the rest of the movie because Hercules doesn’t allow them to be. We are sometimes forced to put up with certain unhealthy people, but not forever. Don’t allow bullies to remain main characters in your story, whether they are groomers/manipulators, abusers, or just selfish people. Hercules didn’t work to try to fix everyone who was mean to him nor did he try to win them over. That’s a great way to drive yourself crazy. He moved on and found a place he fit in. He found people that would have healthy relationships with him without him forcing them to do so. You can’t force other people to see things your way. All you can do is try to talk with them and reason with them and some people don’t want to talk or reason. This is where boundaries come in. Another great topic we cover in GFTG. Use boundaries to protect yourself from the people who are counterproductive to your goals. I’m not saying cut off your friend because they aren’t as good at stuff as you are. If your goal is to have friends who treat you with respect and your friend is rude all of the time, then by all means, find new friends.
Heroes are usually people who were misfits and learned from it. Some misfits whine about it and never change anything. Heroes make a choice to take responsibility for their part in life while not blaming themselves for the things they can’t control. Heroes don’t get distracted by the shallow things like money and fame and keep looking for love, healthy relationships, and ways they can help others. This is what I learned from Hercules as a kid and what I learned by teaching the Go for the Gold program as an adult.