Heroism Lessons from the Voice of the Vatican

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been visiting Rome and Florence, Italy with a group of 30 students and a marketing professor. The focus of the course has been brand management, with a focus on the luxury and mass market brands of Italy, including Bulgari, Nero Giardini, and a number of food and wine brands.

But by far the most powerful meeting for me was our visit with Sean-Patrick Lovett, the Director of English Language Communications for the Vatican. Although he specifically addressed the challenges and strengths of the de-facto multi-national corporation that many of us call the Catholic Church, it was impossible to leave that meeting without hearing a call to adventure for all of us to rise to the challenges of our disinterested and deeply divided world.

Following are a handful of Sean-Patrick's main points (which are not direct quotes), as well as my reaction and reflection on those.

Sean-Patrick Lovett: Indifference is our greatest threat. If we cannot even agree to discuss our differences, we will never solve the problems we share.

I am 100% guilty of this. In fact, I have struggled with this idea for a long time, but particularly within the last year. I find myself vacillating between not participating in every argument I am invited to, and wanting to engage in civil discourse, as that contest of ideas is vital to the success of our communities and our world.

One of the most misunderstood elements of heroism and the Hero's Journey is the Ordeal. For many, the Ordeal is easily associated with a battle with someone or something beyond one's self. However, for most of us, the greatest battle we will ever face is indeed ourselves.

We find ourselves on the attack against those who are (or who are perceived to be) against us. We identify our team and theirs, launch assault on top of assault, and pummel our opposition into submission. In the end, we find that we have not only failed to win the war, but that the costs of war are high in energy, relationships, and time.

When we experience enough of those losses, we look for the "high road," where we separate ourselves from the fray and embrace the indifference that Lovett warned against. When we withdraw ourselves, we are conceding the fight for the sake of our own ego and self-preservation.

Sean-Patrick Lovett: There are three keys to not only fighting indifference, but also to making a meaningful difference in the world, and those are Communication, Compassion, and seeing ourselves as part of a larger Circle in our communities and in our world.

The idea that every one of us is connected to every other person in the world, that we all are part of a larger Circle, cannot be understated. We may dismiss the idea out of hand, labeling it as hippy nonsense, socialist rhetoric, or good ol' naivete.

Any number of philosophers, politicians, and writers have invoked this idea, but this profound truth can be found at the center of most, if not all, doctrines of faith.

In the context of our Vatican visit, consider that the definition provided by the Bible identifies sin as separation, and there are countless warnings against division and separation.

In the very same speech in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., says, "... the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice," he states, "We are all... tied in a single garment of destiny... I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."

The defining moment of the Hero's Journey is not an external fight against a flesh-and-blood foe, but in fact an internal struggle against one's self, which results in empowerment and transformation.

For that reason, the Circle is not only representative of the wholeness (lack of separation, or "holiness") of an individual or community, but also the manifestation of strength. Our strength comes from our togetherness.


If our Circle is our foundation of strength, then Communication is the scaffolding and structure upon which our relationships are built. Our courageous and vulnerable communication provides the support for trust.

It does not take very long to see the erosion of authentic communication in today's world where a large part of our discussion involves eviscerating our opponents through pre-packaged bombshells shared with us through social media.

To be clear, I am not pointing any of my ten fingers at anybody but myself, as I have been as guilty as anybody of carpet bombing my social media followers with the latest zingers and talking points from the sources I choose to follow.

But has any one of those ever changed a single person's heart? Let's just say that if my doubts were droplets of water, I would be washed away by a wave of dubiety. 

On the other hand, have I changed anybody's heart as we sat at a table together? I can't speak for my impact on others, but I know that others have had profound impacts on me in those moments.

Once we possess the clarity that all of us are inextricably bound together, and the courage to engage in authentic and vulnerable communication, we gain the potential for true Compassion.


We oftentimes think of compassion as demonstrating charity or offering sympathy, but compassion goes beyond any fleeting emotion or momentary act. The Latin origin of the word "passion" means to endure or suffer, and the Latin origin of the word "com" means together or with.

Endure together. Suffer together.

It is through our Communication and Compassion, noticing that both of these contain the Latin signifying togetherness, that the Circle is complete. Whole.

The Hero's Journey also is a circle, a never-ending cycle, in which the final stages of the journey require the hero to empower and uplift their community. In other words, to come full circle.

As you look at your community and the world around you, how can you bring your circles together through communication and compassion?

Chad Ellsworth