Breaking the Master, Servant, Hero Cycle


There are people who cast other people in one of three roles: master, servant, or hero. The master is the oppressor. He is  is essentially the bad guy who wants to tell you how to live. He dominates and takes from you so that he can have more or better things. The master is unsympathetic and has no compassion for how any of this makes you feel. He is right, righteous, and powerful, so there is nothing you can do about it.

If the master is all powerful, the servant is powerless. He serves either from altruism or because he has no choice. He’s a victim of birth, economics, gender, religion, nationality, or color. There is no way out because the system is stacked against him. His goodness is never rewarded. His plight is hopeless.

The hero is exceptional. She champions the cause of the downtrodden because she knows what it is like to be oppressed. She’s attends rallies, is vocal about her beliefs, and casts those who do not believe as she does as masters. She does this in the name of progress and virtue.

This might sound like an accurate portrayal to you. If so, I ask you to consider whether or not it’s Effective. Being effective means that you are choosing thoughts and behaviors that meet your short term and long term needs while creating minimal negative impact on your life and the lives of others.

When you think in terms of master, servant, and hero, everyone gets pigeonholed in really disempowering ways. If you see yourself as an oppressor, that can’t be good for your self-esteem. Since there is no way out, you’re stuck being the bad guy whether you’ve earned it or not. There is no forgiveness, no escape.

If you are the victim, that’s equally bad. You also have no escape and no power. All you can do is wait to be rescued.

If you are the hero, your role is to identify masters and stamp them out. This necessitates judging people in a very black and white way. This is never fair. We’re all multifaceted people who are works in progress. None of us are demons. None of us are saints. When you put yourself in the position of smashing villains and protecting victims, you perpetuate the victim’s status by taking away the opportunity for him to uplift himself. I am not suggesting that help is not necessary. Just pointing out that teaching a man to fish is far more useful than giving him one.

So, what do you instead? Step outside of whatever block you find yourself in, and practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment with an open mind so that you can see what is there rather than what was there or what you think is there. It’s a nonjudgmental space that leaves room for understanding, connection, agreeing or disagreeing, gratitude, love, questions, and so many other things.

Most of all, it’s a place where people can be the complex creatures that they are without making everyone into enemies or allies. It takes power out of the equation so everyone starts from a place of equal footing. It also allows everyone to leave the same way regardless of whether you ultimately agree or become friends.

If you want to change the master, servant, hero dynamic in your relationship, circle of friends, or community, let it start with you. Stand up for things that are wrong without painting the perpetrator as the devil or starting a civil war. Ask for help without being helpless. Pursue your dreams without dominating other people.

Practice mindfulness daily. Ask “how are we alike” more often. Before you speak, ask yourself if your words are true, kind, and necessary. If not, keep them to yourself. Enjoy the diversity. It keeps life interesting. Understand that you didn’t spring fully formed from the sea foam. Your unfolding was a process. That’s true for everyone. Allow them to have their process. Sometimes it will mean that they are not being their highest and best self. That’s okay. We will all get there in the end.