Heroic Arts

The Hero's Journey: Tests, Allies, & Enemies

The Hero's Journey: Tests, Allies, & Enemies

Author's note: This week is the sixth in a 12-part series on the Hero's Journey, or the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. The sixth stage is Tests, Allies, and Enemies. 

At the crossing of the threshold, we committed-through action-to finding a new way, and to making a difference by choosing to do something different than those around us have done before.

Now, the real work begins.

The Heroic Team: 6th of 6 Heroic Arts


The idea of the lone, singular hero is a myth. Too often, we take on great heroic challenges by ourselves, carrying the weight of success and failure on our shoulders, and the myth of the singular hero makes that weight even heavier.

But, we're not alone.

Even the strongest and most powerful superheroes have family, friends, and other ordinary people who provided critical help and support along the way. Some superheroes are part of larger teams (such as the Avengers or the Fantastic Four), while others have valuable companions (Batman-Alfred Pennyworth, Superman-Lois Lane, Wonder Woman-I Ching).

In the real world, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights alongside Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, and Hosea Williams; and Oprah Winfrey includes Gayle King and Maya Angelou among those who provide encouragement, friendship, and guidance.

The greatest heroes in our world surround themselves with amazing, inspiring, and strong people, who serve as allies, coaches/mentors, and supporters. Without them, our heroes' legacies may be very different.

The last five weeks, we have examined the heroic arts of the Hero’s Question, the Heart of Courage, the Rock of Strength, the Speed of One, and the Practice of Sacrifice. This week is the final installment of a six part series to assist you in the hero’s journey. Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo identified the key arts necessary to nurture “Heroes-in-Waiting”. They are: Question, Courage, Strength, Speed, Sacrifice, and Team.

In Iron Man 2 (2010), Tony Stark (Robert Downer, Jr.) is confronted with the reality that, despite his incredible accomplishments as Iron Man, he cannot continue to save the world by himself. At the outset, Tony proclaims, "I did you a big favor ... I successfully privatized world peace," and it is obvious that Tony's heroic journey is a self-centered, solitary one. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) pleads, "This lone gunslinger act is unnecessary... you don't have to do this alone!", and Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) rightfully points out that Tony is a textbook narcissist.

Alone, he is on the brink of catastrophic failure, and he is at his most vulnerable as a hero and as a person.


On Tony's team, Rhodey, Colonel Nick Fury, and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) demonstrate the key roles of a hero's team.

  • Allies (Rhodey): People who are actively engaged in the fight; they stand side-by-side with the hero. In the final fight against Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), Rhodey mans the War Machine suit and fights side-by-side with Tony.
  • Coaches/mentors (Colonel Nick Fury): People who provide spiritual or tactical advice or guidance to the hero, but may not be directly involved in the hero's journey. As Tony is at his lowest emotional and physical point, Fury provides guidance for Tony to find a new power source, and places Tony's work in the larger context of his father's legacy.
  • Supporters (Pepper): People who may be the hero's close companions, but who are not directly involved in the fight and who don't provide tactical guidance. However, they often provide critical emotional support. In one of the closing scenes, Tony tells Pepper, "You deserve better. You take such good care of me. I was in a tough spot, and you got me through it."

In contrast to the villains' team, which dissolved with mistrust, the good guys each played their roles for the good of the team. Together, they saved the world.

Now, with your own team of allies, coaches/mentors, and supporters, you can change the world for one person, your organization, or your community.

CALL TO ACTION: Matt Langdon has an insightful activity of creating your own Round Table. In that version, you can choose literally anybody - alive or deceased, factual or fictional. For the purposes of building a network of support, focus on the people in your life who can be members of your stalwart team. Who are your allies, your coaches/mentors, and your supporters?

As you are assembling your team, it is important that the people on your team represent a broad, diverse group of people. There are three questions to ask yourself about each person:

  1. Does the person have the ability (influence or power) to make change? If the answer is yes, he/she may be a good ally.
  2. Does the person have valuable experience or knowledge? If the answer is yes, he/she may be a good coach/mentor.
  3. Is the person credible, respected, and trusted with you, within the community, and within the organization? If you are going to count on this person for any of the three roles, it is important that they have the highest integrity.

The Practice of Sacrifice: 5th of 6 Heroic Arts

Impossible is nothing

You are going to change the world. But not today. You are committed to questioning assumptions and looking for opportunities. You are committed to being involved at a deep, meaningful, personal level. You are aligning your words and actions with your values, and you are finding the one, singular reason to challenge any obstacles in your way.

But, just as you don't go from jogging around the block to running the New York City Marathon, the hero's journey requires patience, practice, and training.

You are on the right path, and each step brings you closer and closer to actualizing your goal of being somebody who acts on her or his personal and organizational values. A hero.

The last four weeks, we have examined the heroic arts of the Hero’s Question, the Heart of Courage, the Rock of Strength, and the Speed of One. This week is the fifth of a six part series that will assist you in the hero's journey. Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo identified the key arts necessary to nurture “Heroes-in-Waiting”. They are: Question, Courage, Strength, Speed, Sacrifice, and Team. Today, we focus on Sacrifice.

In the beginning of the movie Spider-Man (2002), Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) invites us to discover his identity. "This, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl. ... The woman I loved since before I even liked girls."

Spider-Man's story is an exemplary tale of sacrifice. As Harry Osborn (James Franco) reveals, there is nobody Peter cares for and loves more than Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Nonetheless, in the end, he sacrifices what he wants more than anything else to act on his values.


"I want you to know that I will always be there for you. I will always be there to take care of you. I promise you that. I will always be your friend ... That is all I have to give." In Parker's narration and reflection, he adds, "Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: 'With great power comes great responsibility.'"

Throughout the movie, we observe and feel the struggle and tension between Parker's desires, dreams, and goals, and his responsibilities as Spider-Man.

In our world, we exalt acts of heroism as one-time, world-changing events, and they often are. But, we fail to realize that those extra large acts of heroism were preceded by countless small acts of sacrifice, by dozens of medium acts of sacrifice, and maybe even by a handful of large acts of sacrifice.

Each time you extend a helping hand at school, at work, or in your community, it is one, two, or five miles of training. Then, when those small acts of sacrifice become comfortable, mix in occasional medium acts of sacrifice, while continuing the small acts as a part of your training, just as marathoners in training may mix in a 12- or 18-mile run in their training. Finally, when the opportunity arrives to make a significant action based on your values, you'll be ready.

Happy training.

CALL TO ACTION: Identify five small acts of sacrifice that you can do this week. These small acts may be anything from helping a person with a disability, senior citizen, or single parent carry groceries to his or her car, to helping a neighbor take care of her or his yard, to walking a friend home at night.

This month, commit yourself to at least one medium act of sacrifice. You may consider giving 12-20 hours of your time to a charitable or humanitarian organization, or another comparable commitment that is meaningful to you.

The only criteria are:

  • It is a selfless act. That is, you do not have anything to gain by your sacrifice.
  • You give your time. In today's world, our time often is our most precious resource. It can be easy to donate goods or money, but also impersonal. Please give of your time and yourself.

The Speed of One: 4th of 6 Heroic Arts

Hero Stand Out 2

"We are who we choose to be... now, *choose*!"

In Spider-Man (2002), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) not only provides a physical obstacle to Spider-Man's (Tobey Maguire's) acts of heroism, but the Green Goblin also challenges the hero psychologically. The Green Goblin encourages Spider-Man to give up his heroic purpose: "You and I are not so different ... I chose my path, you chose the way of the hero. ... In spite of everything you've done for them, eventually they will hate you."

"Why bother?"

For many of us, we have our own Green Goblins that cause us to pause, and to prevent us from becoming involved. To overcome this challenge, we need to summon the hero's Speed.

The last three weeks, we have examined the heroic arts of the Hero’s Question, the Heart of Courage, and the Rock of Strength. This week is the fourth of a six part series that will assist you in developing the necessary skills to be somebody who acts on her or his personal and organizational values. A hero. Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo identified the key arts necessary to nurture “Heroes-in-Waiting”. They are: Question, Courage, Strength, Speed, Sacrifice, and Team. Today, we focus on Speed.

When we overcome our own reluctance toward becoming involved, we become the first to stand up. We demonstrate the hero's Speed. By being the first to speak out, by being the first to stand up, and by being the one to lead the way, we are empowering others.

The Green Goblin gave Spider-Man several reasons to give up, from a lack of appreciation (they love ... to see a hero fail), to ambition (imagine what we could accomplish together), to coercion (a sadistic choice ... let die the woman you love ... or suffer the little children), and finally to self-preservation. The villain gave the hero so many reasons to give up, but Spider-Man needed only one to carry on.

"Because it's right."

In the Heart of Courage and the Rock of Strength , you gave some thought to possible negative consequences in different situations, and you identified how your core values, past experiences, and future goals will give you the strength to act on your values and to know what's right.

Now, your challenge is to find the One reason that will compel you to be the first to act, despite any doubts, embarrassment, or fear you may have. By being the first, you will give others the opportunity and power to stand with you.

This is the Speed of One.

CALL TO ACTION: Be a hero ... in 3D! With the arts of Question, Courage, and Strength in mind, think about your opportunities to be the first to intervene by using the 3D bystander intervention model. You may want to think about one of the situations from the Hero's Question that contradicts your personal or organizational values.

  • Direct – intervening in the situation directly. 
  • Delegate – finding someone who can help you intervene in the situation if you aren't comfortable doing it yourself or if you know they will be more effective.
  • Distract – intentionally distracting the potential perpetrator and/or victim away from the situation.

The Rock of Strength: 3rd of 6 Heroic Arts


"It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." With all due respect to Batman, who we are underneath defines what we do, which in turn defines us.


The last two weeks, we have examined the heroic arts of the Hero's Question and the Heart of Courage. This week is the third of a six part series that will assist you in developing the necessary skills to be somebody who acts on her or his personal and organizational values. A hero. Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo identified the key arts necessary to nurture “Heroes-in-Waiting”. They are: Question, Courage, Strength, Speed, Sacrifice, and Team. Today, we focus on Strength.

The strength you need to act on your values obviously is not the type of strength you'll find at your local Gold's Gym or Lifetime Fitness. (There goes my opportunity for corporate sponsorship.) The strength you need is deep within you, and the only training you can do to build that strength is mastering your past, your present, and your future.

What does it mean to be a master of your past, your present, and your future? To be this type of master, you have to build a foundation of your experiences and values, to be grounded in the person you want to be, and to be committed to your personal goals.

Past - You have a strong identity, including all of the experiences and values deep within you. As Bill Shore said in the Cathedral Within, "A prerequisite of building out and up is to begin by digging down deep and within." The towers of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. are 98 feet above ground, but 324 feet total. More than two-thirds of their strength is "down deep and within". Your core values are equally important.

Present - To make the best choices, you have to know your options. Conventional wisdom is that you may be dealt a particular hand in life, but how you play that hand is up to you. If you choose to focus on only one way to play, you may not make the best choice.

Future - You have a focus on your personal goals, and you're aware of choices that may prohibit you from reaching those goals. If you make a particular choice in the present, how does that choice get you closer to your goals? Or how does that choice take you farther from your goals? And remember, ... inaction also is a choice.

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne is consumed by anger and guilt following his parents' murders. He joins and trains with the League of Shadows, in order to learn to act on his value of justice. His training culminates when Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) asks Wayne to execute a farmer who had murdered his neighbor and stolen his neighbor's land.

It is at that time that Wayne masters his past, his present, and his future. Wayne calls upon his value of compassion, and tells Ducard that compassion is what separates him from those he pursues. He examines his options, in first attempting to convince Ducard to choose a new path and then looking for a way out. Lastly, he commits to his goal of bringing justice to Gotham, without sacrificing his personal values.

By mastering past, present, and future, Bruce Wayne developed the necessary strength to be a hero.

CALL TO ACTION: What are your values? You can choose to use this Values Exercise to help you identify your core, foundational values. The exercise contains 27 values, which may or may not reflect yours. Feel free to add to the list if you don't see some of your values.

Begin by crossing off your five least important values. Then, cross off five more. Continue the process until you have only seven remaining. Make note of your seven most important values. Then, cross off four more, and make note of your three most important values.

Take your top seven and top three lists and talk with your family, your clergy, your coaches, your teachers, etc. Ask them if they agree with your choices, and how you can continue to demonstrate those values.