A Blog of the Global Justice Movement

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey


By Jeffrey Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico

(c) 2012 Acton Institute • ISBN: 978-1-938948-31-2 $10.00 • 156 pp.

At first glance this book, a collection of inspiring selections from history and literature interspersed with commentary, seems to be just another effort to raise people's spirits in a world in which the State, viewed by many as the only recourse in times of trouble or need, has been revealed as a false hope and an idol with feet of clay. That assessment, however (while accurate), would be incomplete, and therefore unjust. Rather than being simply a random collection of "feel good" quotes, there is a definite structure to the selections and commentary. It is, as the title tells us, a "field guide for the hero's journey."

Which hero? You. The message we got from this book is that the potential to be a hero lies in each one of us. The book details a list of nine steps on how to be a hero. We say "steps," not the authors, and it's probably a bad term, or at least a misleading one. It implies a sequence of actions to be taken in order, a sort of "PERT chart for life." This is not, however, that kind of book, nor that kind of program. If you're looking for specifics on how to be a success as a person — which seems to be the authors' definition of hero — you won't find it here . . . and should be extremely suspicious of it when something of the sort is recommended.

Instead, what we found was a list of general principles to keep in mind on life's journey. None of these are original with the authors, nor do they make any such claim. The principles are (or should be) obvious, once we think about them. This book is extremely valuable as a reminder of what we should already know, and as an inspiration for developing and maintaining our own program. It does not give you a program, though, respecting your human dignity enough to leave that critical process to you.

In that respect, we do not think that "field guide" is the best description for this book. It may put off some potential readers, probably the ones most likely to take inspiration from it, the incipient entrepreneurial types who, while valuing advice, reject dictation. Others, searching for program specifics, may start to read it under the impression that they will be presented with a sure-fire list of no-fail actions to take to become a hero. These, while also in need of a little (or a lot of) inspiration, will tend not to read past the first couple of pages when they realize that's not what this book is about.

That would be a pity for either group. There is a great deal of good to be gained from reading "The Hero's Journey," as one would expect from a distillation of a few thousand years of human thought — Father Time is a much better editor than any mere human, after all.

Aside from the title, we found only one substantive flaw in the book, and even that is something that I didn't see, a "sin of omission," if that's not putting it too strong. I do not believe there is enough warning about the dangers of those invisible barriers that can inhibit or prevent us from attaining our fullest human potential.

Our institutions can be just as much "stones in the road" as anything else, but are less susceptible to correction by individuals, sometimes even impossible to correct through individual action. As Pius XI noted in § 53 of Divini Redemptoris, individuals are frequently helpless to ensure justice . . . unless they organize with like-minded others and work directly on the institution that is causing the problem.

#30#

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