Cartoons Aren’t Child’s Play — The Wisdom Of The Avatar

Avatar_AangIf a show is good, it is worth watching repeatedly — at least that’s what I tell my family when I re-watch a Seinfeld episode for the 100th time. The same holds true for cartoons. I don’t buy into the theory that only kids should watch them. I enjoy absorbing the humor found in modern classics like King of the Hill, The Rugrats, SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb and Avatar.

At times, all of these shows impart bits of wisdom for the discerning ear, but when it comes to the art of living, Avatar tops the list.

To borrow from the terminology of Joseph Campbell, Avatar is a messiah story. As Campbell would explain, 12-year-old Aang has embarked on the Hero’s Journey. Although Aang is a rambunctious kid when the series opens, by the end of the second season, Aang is ready to enter the Avatar state — that moment when his earthly experience melds with the supernatural.

It is his destiny.

Running Away

At first Aang, like Jonah of the Bible, runs from his destiny because the burden of being an Avatar is too overwhelming. After all, the purpose of Aang’s life is to save the world from destruction.

To make the transition to the Avatar state, Aang seeks out a spiritual guide to help him unlock his seven chakras. Under the guidance of this guru, Aang faces his fear, guilt and the other obstacles blocking his internal quest.

Once he enters the Avatar world, Aang’s destiny rapidly unfolds.

In the third season, Aang begins the last leg of his arduous journey. He must face his nemesis and save the world. Aang not only succeeds in fulfilling his destiny he defies conventional wisdom — and creates a new paradigm — by sparing the life of his enemy.

This one act elevates his position in the Avatar world and signifies Aang’s unique contribution to the ages.

Road Less Travelled

But the real story of the Avatar is — Aang’s journey is our journey. Each of us face the same battle — conquering our baser desires for the greater good. So as this tale of a man-child asserting himself and growing into his role unfolds, we are being taught to observe, learn, do, grow and face our life’s purpose and then live it.

We are being taught that overcoming obstacles is part of the process. We are being shown that facing our fears and doing the right thing is not always easy, but it is best. Taking the road less travelled, as Aang’s life proves, is hard, but in the end it’s the only path that validates his purpose.

The Avatar story also drives home the point that although, as individuals, each of us is responsible for our own destiny, none of us walk alone. Just like Aang we have sojourners. Part of the reason Aang succeeds is — whether by choice or fate — he has been blessed with the correct comrades. Aang is surrounded by people — especially Katara and Sokka —  who pull him closer to his destiny.

With their help (and others) Aang plays the cards he’s dealt, does the work to become an Avatar and, in the end, creates a better world.


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Categories: Personal Essays

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