By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
This is the fourth and final in a series on leadership as gleaned from Chris Lowney’s book, “Heroic Leadership.” It has to do with heroism as “eliciting great desires.”
“Leaders imagine an inspiring future and strive to shape it rather than passively watching the future happen around them. Heroes extract gold from the opportunities at hand rather than waiting for golden opportunities to be handed to them.”
This applies not only to leaders in the corporate world but also to people in general who perform heroic acts. The famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell wrote of heroism: “The hero (heroine) is someone who has given his-her life to something greater than him-herself….We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of ourselves.”
During the month of September we remember in a special way the police and firefighters who heroically responded to the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001. The chaplain of the New York Fire Department was Fr. Mychal Judge. When the towers were hit he chose to suit up, and go where he was needed, into the upheaval. To save a life, he gave his own. As did many other heroic men and women.
There are famous men and women who have lived heroic lives and ‘unsung’ heroes who by their personal sacrifice make a difference in the lives of others. What they all have in common is a dynamic process, conscious or not, called “The Hero/Heroine’s Journey.” It consists of three phases: Departure, Struggle, and Return (ref. Joseph Campbell and Richard Rohr).
DEPARTURE: This is the point when the person leaves all that is familiar, such as their current environment or situation. To embark on this journey means to let go of what seems safe and to cross a threshold into unknown territory. In departing, the leader is challenged to face his/her fear of the unknown and move toward a seemingly more dangerous but richer zone of consciousness.
STRUGGLE: This is where the hero/heroine descends into the darkness and is transformed. However, this change cannot happen without experiencing pain of some kind. During the struggle phase of the journey, true transformation can only be born out of pain (one thinks here of someone like Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before becoming president of South Africa). This phase of the journey is the crucible in which the raw untested material is fired, eventually producing that which is pure.
RETURN: At the end of the journey, the hero/heroine returns at last to where he or she began. Their journey is a circle where one returns to the beginning. He or she returns enriched with a new level of consciousness that those who have not made the journey may not understand. With this new level of consciousness, the hero/heroine experiences a serenity that is not shaken by any lack of understanding or doubt of those around him or her (here I am reminded of Sojourner Truth – 1797-1883 – who was born in slavery and died a free woman. She is best known for her speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?,” delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851.).
The Hero/Heroine does not go on this journey alone. As the author of Hebrews points out, we are pre-ceeded by a ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Chapter 11); their spirit continues to energize us.
(September 24, 2013)