It’s Our Story
We are not strangers to the heroic journey, although it may seem strange to hear that. For example, in our communities we are called to make a difference in an extraordinary range of issues. In our organizations we are called, and very often thrown into, major changes that fall into an equally impressive array of categories. As individuals we also experience journeys that may be journeys of normal development or journeys occasioned by some event or situation.
Almost every culture throughout time has used the heroic journey to teach its members how to create a life or establish, save, or renew a community. This is not about being grand “larger than life” heroes and having parades in our honor. It’s a personal journey that will entail going beyond the current norms, leaving the known world of our current reality, and crossing the threshold into a land with a great deal of the unknown.
The Natural Benefits
The classic heroic journey provides a set of benefits that no other single model or framework can match.
- It tells the truth about major change.
- It provides a framework for anticipating and understanding the experience.
- It provides guidance in choosing strategies and actions.
- It provides a map for maintaining direction and orientation.
- Others have “gone before”, we have examples and role models to follow.
- It is inherently ennobling and calls forth our best.
- It works for individuals, groups, organizations, and communities.
- It is our story as human beings: the path to self-knowledge, the discovery of the gifts we have to bring to the world, and true maturity and wholeness It is the affirmation of our life and creativity.
- It provides extraordinary common ground even for diverse groups in organizations and communities – it really is “our” story.
There are Three Acts and Three Types of Test
In its simplest form the heroic journey involves (Act I) beginning by leaving a known world; (Act II) traveling a path of tests and trials – letting go of old ways, discovering and mastering new ones and dealing with “inbetweenity”; and finally (Act III) a completion or “return” in a changed state – hopefully wiser, more whole, and more resilient.
Act I – Going Forth
The classic heroic journey begins with the crossing of a threshold, leaving a known world or comfort zone. A person may “heed a call” to go forth and accomplish something worth doing; they may be thrown into the journey; they may be be lured in or even blunder in.
This is where we also confront what are called “the guardians of the threshold’, which we must get past to cross the threshold and go forth. These guardians are designed to turn us back if we are not ready for the journey. For White people countering racism there are three natural and inescapable guardians – a sense of indictment; the fear of a range of potential losses; and the specter of incompetence. These three guardians are addressed in a separate section because of their importance. They are quite capable of turning us back.
Act II – On the Path
The journeys will entail a series of tests or trials that may occur in physical, intellectual, emotional, social, or spiritual realms. We grow by taking on these tests.
#1 Letting Go. The journey will require tests of letting go – letting go of many, though certainly not all, old ways in order to give birth to the new. We may need to let go of beliefs or ways of thinking, of our picture of the world, of some behaviors, of some relationships (with individuals or groups), some behaviors, and even of some aspects of our self-image.
#2 Discovery and Mastery. The discovery of the new ways and their mastery present a second set of challenges and tests. We may need to learn new skills, acquire new knowledge, develop new relationships, and even create new pictures of how we see ourselves and our world.
#3 “Inbetweenity.” The third set of tests will involve dealing with the uncertainty, disorientation, and ambiguity of the land between endings and beginnings (“Inbetweenity”).
The Good News About these Tests. The good news is that it is through being tested that we grow and develop – becoming more whole and more mature. The tough part is that all three types of test will be in play at the same time throughout the journey.
Act III – Completion or “Return”
The return may be the most difficult part of all because the impact of a hero’s return may imply changes that the rest of the “kingdom” may not look upon with great favor.
We, and perhaps our organization or community, will be changed and that will require changes in others because relationships are about “fit”, and we will have to find a new “fit” in often surprising areas. Our changes can ripple out in many directions and for long distances.
Sometimes Heroic and Sometimes Not
Almost all of us, at various times in our lives, have taken the risk to be heroic (we said “yes” to the heroic journey). They were the times when we were confronted by a major challenge and went forth from our known world or comfort zone into unknown territory where we were tested, saw certain aspects of our lives end and new ones begin, and thus came away significantly changed.
We also came away more mature and more whole and with more to contribute, more to offer the world, although some or many of the learnings may have been bittersweet.
At other times in our lives, we were confronted by opportunities or major change and did not respond by saying “yes” to the heroic journey. We may have refused the opportunity or the call, choosing to not take the risk or leave our comfort zone. We may have started out strongly and been turned back by fears, despair, or mistakes or were simply worn down before completing the journey. If thrown into a change, we may have taken the role of victim and made the best of it, which may or may not have been very good.
The question is, “Are we going to say yes to the journey to counter racism?”