Joseph Campbell’s Eight Elements of Heroism

This post is based on the following chapter in the Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies:

By Scott T. Allison

In his groundbreaking 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell built the foundation of contemporary heroism studies. Campbell boldly suggested that society’s understanding of heroism stems from a collective mythological consciousness shaped by ancient heroic narratives. He redefined heroism as a transformative journey, common across global storytelling, where individuals leave familiar settings, face trials, and return with wisdom to share.

Campbell emphasized that a hero is inseparable from their journey and its purpose, symbolizing a latent spiritual and redemptive force within everyone. He asserted that “the hero is symbolical of that divine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only waiting to be rendered into life.”

Campbell’s description above includes eight key elements that he believed were essential for understanding the essence of a hero. These elements are:

(1) the symbolic nature of the hero’s journey

(2) the divine or spiritual aspects of the journey

(3) the creative side of heroism

(4) the redemptive component of heroism

(5) the central role of imagery in guiding the hero

(6) the hidden features of the hero’s inner journey

(7) the waiting that is required for the journey to unfold naturally

(8) the life-giving qualities of the journey

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

1. Symbolic nature of the journey. Campbell viewed the hero as “symbolical,” meaning that the archetypal hero in mythological stories was a representation of something deeply important, such as the human capacity for courage, strength, and self-sacrifice. The hero is therefore a metaphor for ideals that are greater and beyond the individual person. Later, in his Bill Moyers’ interviews, Campbell (1988, 167) expanded on this idea and gave a succinct definition of a hero: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” The hero is a personification of an ideal, a transcendent principle of human life.

2. Divine or spiritual aspects of the journey. Campbell viewed the hero’s journey as a quest for connection with the transcendent or divine. The hero encounters supernatural beings, mentors, or experiences that symbolize higher spiritual forces, guiding them toward self-realization and a deeper cosmic understanding. Through trials and challenges, the hero gains revelations that bring them closer to sacred truths. Many hero myths include a quest for immortality or transcendence, reflecting human desires for a higher, eternal state.

3. Creative side of heroism. Campbell saw heroism as a creative process that involves self-discovery, transformation, and the integration of various elements into a new whole. The hero’s journey includes trials that require innovative thinking and creative problem-solving, a concept reflected in Franco and Zimbardo’s “heroic imagination.” Overcoming significant challenges leads to profound personal transformation, confronting fears, and achieving growth and self-awareness. Moments of revelation and insight during the journey are driven by creative thinking and self-reflection, making heroism akin to the creative act of reinventing oneself.

4. Redemptive component of heroism. Campbell viewed redemption as a crucial aspect of heroism, seeing the journey as a metaphor for the human experience. He believed that individuals often feel a sense of incompletion or “fallenness,” and the hero’s journey represents the path to rediscovering wholeness and transcendence. Redemption can involve atoning for past wrongs, healing from trauma, or overcoming personal shortcomings. Campbell considered redemption a vital step towards self-actualization and self-realization, essential for completing the hero’s journey.

5. Central role of imagery in guiding the hero. Campbell believed that images and symbols play a crucial role in guiding the hero’s psychological and spiritual development during their journey. These images convey deeper meanings, archetypal patterns, and universal truths that resonate with the human psyche. The hero encounters symbols representing various stages of the journey, such as crossing thresholds, facing dragons, or obtaining magical objects. Mentors and guides often appear in imagery, offering wisdom and support. Visual symbols also depict the hero’s symbolic death and rebirth, enhancing the audience’s connection to the hero’s transformation and growth.

6. Hidden features of the hero’s inner journey. Campbell highlighted that the hero’s psychological journey is more significant than the physical one. He believed that the hero’s external challenges symbolize internal conflicts and struggles. For instance, battling a dragon might symbolize confronting personal fears or destructive tendencies, while crossing a body of water could represent overcoming fears or subconscious desires. The hero’s physical journey serves as a metaphor for their inner psychological and emotional transformation.

7. Waiting and patience needed for the journey to unfold naturally. Campbell suggested that timing within the hero’s journey is important. The journey involves a particular ordering of stages that cannot be rushed or ignored. Waiting is part of the hero-forming process. Each stage represents a particular psychological process that the hero must undergo for inner transformation to occur. If heroes rush through these stages, they may not fully integrate the insights and learnings that each stage provides. Campbell cautioned that ignoring or skipping certain stages can be dangerous because it can leave the hero incomplete or unfulfilled.

8. Life-giving qualities of the journey. Campbell explained that the hero is “rendered into life” after completing their journey. This journey symbolizes an inner psychological transformation, moving from one state to a more enriched and mature one. The hero must experience a form of spiritual death and rebirth, reflecting a universal theme where death leads to new life. By leaving their ordinary life and confronting challenges, the hero undergoes profound growth, ultimately experiencing the richness and “rapture associated with being alive,” which Campbell often referred to as bliss.

Overall, Joseph Campbell revolutionized our understanding of heroism by showing how the hero’s journey — also the human journey — is the pathway to self-discovery and personal transformation. Campbell believed the journey represents the quest for a deeper understanding of one’s place in the universe, highlighting themes of death and rebirth as essential for achieving enlightenment and wholeness. Campbell’s insights into the psychological and spiritual aspects of this journey continue to inspire 21st century heroism scholars.

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Everyday Heroes: “Their Name Liveth for Evermore.”

By Clark Baxter

American national civic life is in disarray. The legislative branch of the United States government has voted several times to expel its leader, and any bill that finds its way to the President’s desk is widely regarded as the work of a profile in courage by the current speaker. American national dysfunction of this kind and to this degree has never happened before—even during the run-up to America’s Civil War 163 years ago.

But while the United States has gradually lost the ability to govern its national affairs in an orderly way over the past 25 years or more, local governments and communities—in every region, representing every political orientation of the country—have carried on, and many have prospered.

What and who has made this possible? The answer is local leaders—best referred to as “everyday heroes.”

The journalist James Fallows and his wife Deborah have spent years visiting these functioning communities and reporting the civic engagement that has transformed regions, cities, and even neighborhoods that spark the kind of positive civic activity that eludes our national leadership. The Fallows have collected the stories of several of these community transformations in a book called Our Towns.

As James explains it, “we wanted to look at parts of the country generally missed by the media spotlight. This would mean reporting in places often considered ‘flyover country’—small to medium size cities and rural areas that capture media attention only after a national disaster. We looked for places that faced adversity of some sort and that looked for ways to respond.”

In other words, to borrow from Joseph Campbell, Fallows went to places that needed a local “hero” to reimagine what the community might become, to lead the transition, and to inspire other to follow.

What follows is a brief overview of three communities that Fallows visited, a word about an undertaking that helped transformed them, and the local heroes whose imagination, charisma, and determination made this transformation possible. In the words of the poet Christopher Smart these transformations were, thanks to everyday heroes, “Determined, Dared, and Done.”

You will notice that none of these stories involves the military or sports—settings in which we’re most used to hear stories of heroes and heroic activity. Instead, the three stories I will briefly summarize involve how the vision of local “heroes” helped bring to life a revitalization of their community through efforts in commerce, education, and the arts.

First Stop: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh has already gone through a significant transformation from the manufacture of steel into a center for education, health care, and technology. But the population is half of what it was two generations ago and as in many cities, certain neighborhoods were left behind in the prosperity that followed this transformation.

In 2003 Henry Reese and his wife, the artist Diane Samuels, established something called “the City of Asylum,” intended as a sanctuary for exiled writers. They bought a former crack house, fixed it up, and invited Huang Xiang, an exiled Chinese writer and dissident who spent years in a Chinese labor camp, to accept a two year residence as the first “writer in exile.”

Over time Reese and Samuels bought an adjacent row of townhouses—which Huang Xiang and others have covered with art and calligraphy—and writers from 9 other countries have followed, each for a two-year residency.

This act of compassion for exiled writers has led to a “jazz poetry” month and a participatory art installation called “a river of words.” In turn, these things have brought this neighborhood of crack houses and other signs of urban despair back to life. New restaurants, a public garden, and a dynamic street life have transformed The City of Asylum, formerly an urban ghetto, into one of Pittsburg’s most visited attractions.

Next Stop: Greenville, South Carolina

As many of you know, South Carolina is, to say the least, politically conservative and its growth has depended on the appeal of an anti-union culture that has attracted several large companies—including most of New England textile industry—to relocate to SC and especially to Greenville.

But, as Fallows heard from many local leaders, when outsiders were and still are approached about moving to Greenville to start a new business they most often respond (and here I’m quoting a local business leader) “Greenville? You’ve got to be kidding?”

Greenville needed a re-boot.

One of the objections behind “Greenville? You’ve got to be kidding!” was what outsiders imagined was absence of first-rate schools for their children. So two local educators got to work.

In 1980 Virginia Uldrick, a local musician, teacher, and according to Fallows ”a force of nature,” founded a summer program that, over time, became The Governor’s School for the Arts, a public (underline public) boarding school (underline public boarding school) for art, music, writing and other expressive arts. In time, the city of Greenville donated an 8 acre landscaped campus and $27 million in seed money. The school opened full time to high school juniors and seniors in 1999

The Governor’s School attracts students from all over South Carolina. About a third qualify for free lunch and pay modest fees as they are able. Many come from Columbia or Greenville; others from small towns that the kids who grew up there themselves describe as “the third bend in the river.”

By the metrics, “The Gov,” as students call it, has proven itself: National Merit finalists, Presidential Scholars in the Arts recipients, and, as of the publication of Fallows’s book, 100% acceptance to such premier colleges and professional schools as Juilliard and The Rhode Island School of Design.

In addition, the success “The Gov” led to the formation of another innovative place—the AJ Whittenberg Elementary School…of Engineering. Let me repeat that—an elementary school for engineering—a product of the imagination and drive of Phinnize J. Fisher, a local teacher.

When Whittenberg was preparing to open, in 2010, few people had heard of it and applications were spotty. A year later, local high school kids were hired to canvas Greenville neighborhoods. And as word got out applications spiked. Once parents learned about “The Gov” interest became so strong that the local Lowe’s home store offered discounts on camping gear for parents who camped out on the campus waiting for a chance to place their kids on the wait list.

Whittenberg’s applied science orientation is a perfect fit for Greenville’s business climate: parents working at local GM, BMW, MIchelin, Duke Energy, Lockheed Martin and other engineering companies were eager to enroll their kids in a school where 1st graders explored the physics of hoisting in the air the Wicked Witch of the West at the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz; 2nd graders do their school work on their personal iPad, and older kids join a nationally ranked robotics team that was headed to Germany to compete internationally.

SIdebar—the Google page of the Whittenberg Schoool does not list a “founder.”And when I called the school to see if they could name a founder or two the woman I spoke with suggested that Margaret Thompson, the school’s first principal, was “heavily involved.”

Google does not include an entry for Margaret Thompson, making her a true and unsung local hero

When kids graduate from Whittenberg, many move on to the Phinnize J. Fischer Middle School, which recently opened with a STEAM curriculum—STEM with an additional “A” for “Arts.” As Fallows reports, “part of the push to STEAM came from the local business community, which wanted to nurture a workforce steeped in technology and practiced in the softer skill of communicating, teamwork, organizing, and public speaking.”

Fallows does not mention specifically how and how much the local business environment has benefited from these innovative schools. But the growth of Greenville by 21% just since 2010 suggests that families are moving here in droves; and it isn’t a stretch to suggest that innovative schools like these have addressed the “Greenville? You’ve got to be kidding” problem head on.

Next Stop: Columbus, Mississippi

A generation ago the socio-cultural climate of Columbus was generally similar to that of Greenville—only worse. Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom of any economic ranking of the 50 states. At the time of Fallows’s visit, the median household income of the families in the US was a little over $50,000. It was about $37,000 in Mississippi and closer to $30,000 in the Greenville area.

The region needed jobs.

Introducing Joe Max Higgins, the co-founder of the Golden Triangle Development Link, a non-profit that has attracted capital to improve the airport and other infrastructure. These improvements have in turn attracted such companies as Eurocopter, the Golden Triangle’s first major success.

In the words of Mr. Higgins, a born and bred southerner, “Eurocopter was a really big deal. In a county and state where most people think that women are all barefoot and pregnant—and we’re all members of the Klan—we’re now making shit that flies!!”

Other companies followed, but—as with Greenville, only after Columbus turned to initiative #2: improving and even creating local schools—like The Mississippi School for Math and Science .

Time prevents my detailing everything that makes this high school special, but picture a classroom with an 8 foot grandfather clock in the corner—that a student made himself out of brightly colored plastic pieces. A lab in which students programmed a robot to conduct search and rescue missions. Or a humanities class in which high school students—most of them preparing for a career in science or engineering—read a short story set in India and discussed whether a person’s immigrant status accelerated their self discovery.

As Fallows notes: “Abso-stinking-ikely” was one hearty response that pretty much revealed the energy and engagement of the class.

And a sidebar: The persons who founded the schools were by any definition local heroes. But observe another hero—the teacher in Mississippi—in a school ostensibly focusing on math and science—who got his kids excited about a story set in India. That’s a hero too.

Fallows goes on to report that “many alumni of MSMS have already reached their dreams of of becoming doctors, engineers, veterinarians, and academics. One of the grads he met was headed to Harvey Mudd College, a top engineering school in California. But after that he plans to return to Mississippi to start his pwn engineering company. The rising generation of well-educated Mississippians intending to start a local business—mission accomplished.

James and Deborah Fallows dropped in on and wrote about 29 cities. Other journalists, including Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour, have done the same. It remains only to ask about the obstacles these local heroes encountered. Every hero faced difficulties raising money and marshaling the attention of Covid leaders. But the main obstacle they stared down and overcame was not outright resistance… but indifference.

Obstacles, whether a lack of money or an impossible physical barrier can be overcome with tactics, energy, and skill—as witness Columbus’s voyage across the un-crossable Atlantic and NASA’s sending a man to the unreachable moon.

But indifference is harder to overcome. If, as Joseph Campbell, had suggested the usual hero adventure begins with someone “who feels there’s something lacking in the normal experiences of his society,” it seems axiomatic that the the more generations of people who say “I like things as they are,” the harder will be the journey to replace the inadequate present world with the better one the hero alone sees.

The Bible teaches that “the poor you shall always have with you. To which some heroes in America’s Bible Belt and elsewhere, respond “Let’s see if we can fix that.

Local heroes have lived among us for millennia—as witness the 44th chapter of the apocryphal book of Ecclestiasticus, which opens as follows:

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.

There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.

Everyday heroes do not “rule in their kingdoms.” And many “perished as though they had never been born.” But their name “liveth for ever more” in the communities they enriched by their vision of a better future for their communities, by their courage in facing head-on the many obstacles that stood between their vision and the future they saw, and the strength and courage to overcome them.

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Heroism Phenomena Identified by Scott Allison’s Research Lab 2005-Present

Below is a partial listing of heroism-related phenomena discovered by Dr. Scott T. Allison’s research lab from 2005 to the present day.

1. The Death Positivity Bias – 2005

The tendency of people to evaluate the dead more favorably than the living. This is one way we “heroize” people.

Allison, S. T., & Eylon, D. (2005). The demise of leadership: Death positivity biases in posthumous impressions of leaders. In D. Messick & R. Kramer (Eds.), The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research (pp 295-317). New York: Erlbaum.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Death positivity bias and heroism. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

2. The Frozen in Time Effect – 2005

People’s tendency to resist changing their impressions of dead heroes compared to living heroes.

Eylon, D., & Allison, S. T. (2005). The frozen in time effect in evaluations of the dead. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1708-1717.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Frozen in time effect and heroism. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

3. The Underdog Abandonment Effect – 2008

The tendency of people to no longer root for underdog heroes when both their success has low self-relevance and low consequences.

Kim, J., Allison, S. T., Eylon, D., Goethals, G., Markus, M., McGuire, H., & Hindle, S. (2008). Rooting for (and then Abandoning) the Underdog. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 2550-2573.

4. The Great Eight Traits of Heroes – 2011

The discovery that people believe that heroes possess the traits of wise, strong, charismatic, caring, resilient, reliable, selfless, and inspiring.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2011). Heroes: What they do and why we need them. New York: Oxford University Press.

5. Social Influence Based Taxonomy of Heroism – 2012

The scientific identification of heroes as Transforming, Transfigured, Traditional, Transparent, Transposed, Tragic, Transitional, Transitory, Trending, and Transcendent.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2013). Heroic leadership: An influence taxonomy of 100 exceptional individuals. New York: Routledge.

6. The Heroic Leadership Dynamic – 2014

A system of psychological forces that can explain how humans are drawn to heroes, how they benefit from these heroes and their stories, and how heroic tales help people become heroes themselves.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2014). “Now he belongs to the ages”: The heroic leadership dynamic and deep narratives of greatness. In Goethals, G. R., et al. (Eds.), Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

7. Epistemic and Energizing Functions of Heroism – 2014

The conceptualization of the functions of heroism that includes epistemological needs involving the imparting of wisdom and emerging needs involving healing, growing, and inspiration.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2014). “Now he belongs to the ages”: The heroic leadership dynamic and deep narratives of greatness. In Goethals, G. R., et al. (Eds.), Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

8. Need-Based Heroism (AKA The Johnny Carson Effect) – 2014

The tendency of people’s current need states to determine their choice of heroes, with these need-states changing as a function of people’s developmental stages and their changing life circumstances. (named after Johnny Carson’s quip that after all his divorces, his hero changed from Babe Ruth to King Henry VIII)

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2016). Hero worship: The elevation of the human spirit. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 46, 187-210.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Need-based heroism. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

9. Six Benefits of Suffering – 2016

The identification of benefits of heroic suffering as offering (1) redemption, (2) developmental progress, (3) humility, (4) compassion, (5) social union, and (6) meaning and purpose.

Allison, S. T., & Setterberg, G. C. (2016). Suffering and sacrifice: Individual and collective benefits, and implications for leadership. In S. T. Allison, C. T. Kocher, & G. R. Goethals (Eds), Frontiers in spiritual leadership: Discovering the better angels of our nature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Suffering of the hero. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

10. Six Types of Heroic Transformation – 2017

Six commons patterns of transformation in heroes that involve changes in their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral, and motivational state.

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (2017). Setting the scene: The rise and coalescence of heroism science. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Heroic transformation. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

11. Three Heroic Transformative Arcs – 2017

The tendency of heroes to transform from a state of egocentricity to sociocentricity; from dependence to autonomy; and from stagnation to growth.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2017). The hero’s transformation. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

12. The Personal Heroic Imperative – 2018

Each human being’s built-in mandate to fulfill their heroic imperative by imagining and creating their own heroic growth.

Efthimiou, O., Allison, S. T., & Franco, Z. E. (2018). Heroism and wellbeing in the 21st century: Recognizing our personal heroic imperative. In O. Efthimiou, S. T. Allison, & Z. E. Franco (Eds.), Heroism and wellbeing in the 21st Century: Applied and emerging perspectives. New York: Routledge.

13. Transcendent and Trapped Immortality – 2018

The tendency of people to perceive dead heroes and villains differently. Specifically, we believe deceased good-doers achieve transcendent immortality, with their souls persisting beyond space and time; and evil-doers to have trapped immortality, with their souls persisting on Earth, bound to a physical location.

Gray, K., Anderson, S., Doyle, C. M., Hester, N., Schmitt, P., Vonasch, A., Allison, S. T., and Jackson, J. C. (2018). To be immortal, do good or evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44, 868-880.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Transcendent immortality and heroism. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

14. Heroic Lag – 2019

The delay between the point in time when a hero first expresses their heroic message and when mainstream society adopts that message.

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2019). The romance of heroism and heroic leadership: Ambiguity, attribution, and apotheosis. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Heroic lag. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

15. Heroic Consciousness – 2019, 2024

Heroic consciousness is a state of heightened awareness, reasoning, emotional experience, self-identity, intention, and will, all aimed at saving lives, pursuing a noble cause, and promoting the greater good.

Allison, S. T. (2019). Heroic consciousness. Heroism Science, 4, 1-43.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Heroic consciousness. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

16. Seven Barriers to Heroic Transformation – 2019

The tendency of people to avoid heroic transformation because of self-ignorance, impoverished environments, personal trauma, victim identification, absence of mentors, mental/physical illness, and lack of psychological flexibility.

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., Marrinan, A. R., Parker, O. M., Spyrou, S. P., Stein, M. (2019). The metamorphosis of the hero: Principles, processes, and purpose. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 606.

17. Heroic Leadership Imperative – 2020

The mandate of transforming heroic leaders to meet the individual, collective, and transcendent needs of their followers.

Allison, S. T. & Goethals, G. R. (2020). The heroic leadership imperative: How leaders inspire and mobilize change. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

18. Heroic Wholeness Imperative – 2020

The mandate of leaders to promote psychological wholeness and well-being by meeting the higher-level transcendent needs of followers.

Allison, S. T. & Goethals, G. R. (2020). The heroic leadership imperative: How leaders inspire and mobilize change. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

19. The Hero Androgyny Phenomenon  — 2020

The tendency of heroes to possess both masculine and feminine traits, i.e., agency plus communality.

Hoyt, C. L., Allison, S. T., Barnowski, A., & Sultan, A. (2020). Lay theories of heroism and leadership: The role of gender, communion, and agency. Social Psychology, 51, 381-395.

20. Puer Aeternus as an Obstacle to Heroism

The Puer Aeternus complex describes an adult, often a man, who remains in an extended state of adolescence, exhibiting traits commonly associated with youth. The phenomenon represents a significant barrier to personal growth and heroism due to its characteristic evasion of the hero’s journey that transforms people into their best, most heroic selves.

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Spyrou, S. P. (2020). Donald Trump as the archetypal puer aeternus: The psychology of mature and immature leadership. In K. Bezio & G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Leadership, populism, and resistance. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

21. Heroic Autonomy  — 2021

The imperative of the hero to perform the last and most crucial heroic act alone and independent from their friends and mentors.

Allison, S. T. (2021). Beth Harmon’s hero’s journey: The psychology of heroism in The Queen’s Gambit. Richmond: Palsgrove.

22. Heroic Balance  — 2021

The ability of the hero to achieve a healthy life balance needed to achieve their heroic mission. Heroes needs to balance intuition with reason; emotion with logic; self-confidence with humility; autonomy with dependency; personal life with professional life; and more.

Allison, S. T. (2021). Beth Harmon’s hero’s journey: The psychology of heroism in The Queen’s Gambit. Richmond: Palsgrove.

23. Dynamic Negotiated Exchange Theory of Heroism –2022

The dynamic negotiated exchange model of heroism refers to the processes by which the implicit exchange agreement between heroes and hero beneficiaries undergoes change. The change is often negotiated in response to a major crisis, such as the COVID pandemic of 2020-22.

Allison, S. T., & Beggan, J. K. (2022). The dynamic negotiated exchange model of heroism and heroic leadership: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. Interdisciplinary Journal of Leadership Studies, 1, 15-31.

24. Motional Intelligence — 2023

A form of kinesthetic intelligence that enables leaders to move the emotions of their followers. It is the ability of heroic (and villainous) leaders to use their body movements and voices effectively in a way that inspires and mobilizes followers.

Allison, S. T. (2023). Motional intelligence and leadership. In G. R. Goethals, S. T. Allison, & G. J. Sorenson (Eds.). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

25. Hero Illiteracy — 2023

The lack of knowledge about heroism, or a misunderstanding about what comprises heroism. The condition can afflict an individual or an entire society. It can include an inability to distinguish heroes from villains and an erroneous belief that money, fame, and celebrity status are the determinants of heroism.
Allison, S. T., & Beggan, J. K.  (2024). Hero Illiteracy. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

26. Heroism Attribution Error – 2023

The tendency of people to confuse fame for heroism, such that they attribute heroism to celebrities who are famous for non-heroic reasons.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Heroism attribution error. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

27. Intuitive Heroism — 2024

Intuitive heroism refers to how individuals naturally and intuitively make sense of heroism. People have their own ideas about what heroes do, what heroes are like, and what motivates heroism. These intuitive notions of heroism are accurate in some ways but also contain factual errors and misunderstandings about heroism.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Intuitive heroism. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

28. Perfect Confluence and Heroism — 2024

The “perfect storm” is a term often used metaphorically to describe situations where a convergence of multiple factors leads to a particularly significant or catastrophic outcome. The perfect confluence refers to any convergence of circumstances that results in a particularly positive or heroic outcome.

Allison, S. T. (2024). Perfect storm, perfect confluence, and heroism. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

29. Heroism-by-Proxy — 2024

Heroism-by-proxy describes a psychological phenomenon that occurs when an individual develops a strong psychological association with a hero or a heroic figure, leading to a sense of personal heroism. Heroism-by-proxy can be constructive when it inspires heroism but can be destructive when it engenders either complacency or a psychological identification with violent, divisive leaders.

Allison, S. T., Beggan, J. K., & Goethals, G. R. (2024). Heroism-by-Proxy. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

30. Amalgamated Heroes — 2024

An amalgamated hero is a legendary, cultural hero who is derived from a complex blending of similar historical figures and our own cognitive embellishments of those figures.

Allison, S. T. & Hutchins, R. (2024). Amalgamated heroes. In S. T. Allison, J. K. Beggan, and G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies. New York: Springer.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Heroic Cree Musician

By Jesse Locke

Beverly “Buffy” Sainte-Marie is a Cree musician, visual artist, educator, and social activist. Beginning as a folk singer in the early 1960s with the politically-charged lyrics of songs such as her anti-war anthem “Universal Soldier,” Sainte-Marie released the groundbreaking electronic album Illuminations in 1969, and has continued to push creative boundaries throughout a career spanning seven decades. Her numerous accolades include winning the Polaris Music Prize for her 2015 album Power In The Blood, and becoming the first Indigenous person to win an Academy Award for her song “Up Where We Belong” from the 1982 film An Officer And A Gentleman.

Sainte-Marie was born on the Piapot First Nation reserve in the Qu’Apellle Valley of Saskatchewan, Canada. Her exact birth date is not recorded, but it is believed to be February 20th, 1941. At the age of two or three, Sainte-Marie was taken from her biological parents as part of the Canadian government policy of the ‘Sixties Scoop’ and adopted by Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, an American couple living in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Winifred identified as Mi’kmaq (Zoladz 2012) and encouraged her adopted daughter to reconnect with her own Indigenous ancestry. In 1964, Sainte-Marie returned to the Piapot reserve and was officially adopted by the man and woman believed to be her biological parents, Emile Piapot and Clara Starblanket. At that time, she was given the Cree name Medicine Bird Singing (Warner 2018a).

As a self-taught musician beginning at age three, Sainte-Marie’s early influences included international musicians such as French singer Édith Piaf and Spanish flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya (Warner 2018b), helping to establish the sound of her powerfully emotional vibrato singing style. Sainte-Marie studied Oriental Philosophy and Religion with a minor in Teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but interrupted her initial plans to work as an educator in India to pursue music full-time. Traveling to New York’s Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early 1960s, Sainte-Marie earned critical acclaim for her live performances and signed to Vanguard Records, launching her professional career as a musical artist.

Sainte-Marie has overcome countless challenges throughout her career, including being taken from her biological parents, suffering abuse from family members and romantic partners, and being blacklisted by radio stations under the direction of the U.S. government due to the political nature of her lyrics (Seymour 2018a). In a 1999 interview at Diné College, Sainte-Marie explained, “I found out ten years later, in the 1980s, that Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House stationery praising radio stations for suppressing my music” (Norrell 1999). Despite these obstacles, by maintaining a message of hope in all aspects of her music, education, and activism, Sainte-Marie has persevered with a career that has earned her widespread acclaim. She has lived in Hawaii since the late 1960s.

Sainte-Marie has released 17 albums, beginning with her 1964 debut, It’s My Way! The album includes many of her best known songs such as “Universal Soldier,” “Cod’ine,” and “Now That The Buffalo’s Gone.” Her songs became known for their factual accuracy, with lyrics such as “he’s 5-foot-2 and he’s 6-foot-4” from “Universal Soldier” based on the height parameters for soldiers in the Vietnam War. (Seymour 2018b) Alongside setting herself apart from other folk artists of the 1960s with lyrical themes such as drug addiction, incest, and decolonization, the cover photo of It’s My Way! features Sainte-Marie performing with the mouthbow. Believed to be the oldest stringed instrument in the world (Sainte-Marie 1996), it features prominently on her first three albums.

Sainte-Marie continued to write and record prolifically throughout the 1960s, with her second album Many A Mile (1965) highlighted by the song “Until It’s Time For You To Go”, which has been frequently covered by other artists. On 1966’s Little Wheel Spin And Spin, Sainte-Marie released one of her most ambitious political protest songs, the nearly seven-minute “My Country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying,” which discusses Canadian residential schools and the genocidal violence perpetrated against Indigenous people. Fire & Fleet & Candlelight (1967) included her first experiments with electronic music, while 1968’s I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again, recorded in Nashville with country musician Chet Atkins, marked yet another stylistic departure.

On 1969’s Illuminations, the 28-year-old artist became even more experimental. Working with electronic musician Michael Czajkowski, the album’s songs were augmented with the Buchla Model 100 synthesizer, manipulating Sainte-Marie’s voice and guitar with a variety of effects that sound strikingly different from her folk singer origins. Illuminations begins by setting Leonard Cohen’s poem “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” to music, before descending into a cycle of songs about the natural, spiritual, and metaphysical worlds. Though it failed to achieve commercial success at the time of its release, the album has become a critical favorite. The British experimental music magazine The Wire included Illuminations in their list 100 Albums That Set The World On Fire While No One Was Listening (Kopf 1998) and the album was celebrated with a 50th anniversary reissue in 2019.

By the end of the 1960s, Sainte-Marie’s music was well known thanks to cover versions of her songs, even if she was yet to become a household name herself. These include Donovan’s interpretation of “Universal Soldier”, and covers of “Co’dine” by Gram Parsons and Janis Joplin (adding her own modified lyrics), followed many years later by the alternative rock band Hole on their 2010 album, Nobody’s Daughter. “Until It’s Time for You to Go” is one of Sainte-Marie’s most covered songs, with 157 unique interpretations (Farber 2022a) from artists such as Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Françoise Hardy, Cher, Neil Diamond, and The Monkees.

The 1970s were another busy decade for Sainte-Marie, beginning with her first collaboration with songwriter and producer Jack Nitsche on 1971’s She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina. Its followup, 1972’s Moonshot, launched her working relationship with Nashville-based musician Norbert Putnam, who co-produced her next four albums. (Warner 2018c) Sainte-Marie concluded her contract with Vanguard Records with 1973’s Quiet Places, and signed to her new label MCA with 1974’s Buffy, featuring the glam-rock sound of “Sweet Little Vera” and the poetic, political lyrics of “Generation.” Sainte-Marie ended the decade with 1975’s Changing Woman and 1976’s Sweet America. The latter is highlighted by “Starwalker”, the first song in history to feature a sample of Indigenous powwow music. Sweet America also marked a 16-year hiatus from studio album releases while Sainte-Marie raised her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild.

Sainte-Marie has written songs for film soundtracks since her theme for 1970’s Soldier Blue, depicting the massacre of a Cheyenne village by Colorado State Militia. (Irwin 2009) Other soundtrack contributions include her songs “Dyed, Dead, Red” and “Hashishin” (the latter co-written with Ry Cooder) for 1970’s Performance, as well as scores for the 1984 short film Harold of Orange and the 1986 docudrama Stripper. Sainte-Marie is best known in this field for co-writing the song “Up Where We Belong” from the 1982 film An Officer And A Gentleman with her former husband Jack Nitzsche, becoming the first Indigenous person to win an Academy Award in 1983. Sainte-Marie has spoken openly about the abuse she suffered from Nitzsche during their seven-year relationship, including being injected with heroin in her sleep (Farber 2022b), before ending their marriage in 1989.

Sainte-Marie returned to music with her 1992 comeback album, Coincidences and Likely Stories, which made history as the first album made over the internet. Collaborating with UK-based co-producer Chris Birkett remotely from her home in Hawaii, Sainte-Marie sent electronic files with early Macintosh computers and the program CompuServe. (Frank 2022) Coincidences and Likely Stories also included a re-recorded version of “Starwalker”, using new electronic recording technology to improve the clarity of its powwow sample, and one of Sainte-Marie’s most acclaimed songs, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”, which she spent 14 years to complete (Warner 2018d).

Sainte-Marie continued her collaboration with Birkett on 2008’s Running for the Drum, sampling traditional Indigenous music on the songs “No No Keshagesh”, “Cho Cho Fire”, and “Working for the Government.” The latter was reworked into a 2015 remix by electronic music group The Halluci Nation, featuring vocals from Sainte-Marie. Her 2015 album Power In The Blood looked even further backwards with a re-recorded version of the title track from Sainte-Marie’s 1964 debut, It’s My Way! Her most recent release is 2017’s Medicine Songs, a career-spanning compilation of Sainte-Marie’s activist songs, featuring a new collaboration with Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq on “You’ve Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind).”

Sainte-Marie established the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education in 1969 to award Indigenous youth with scholarships to attend post-secondary schools. Two of her early scholarship recipients have become the presidents of tribal colleges. (Warner 2018e) She expanded this initiative in 1996 with the launch of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, an education curriculum providing an Indigenous-focused alternative to the typical Eurocentric lessons taught to children in North American classrooms. Tools included interactive CD-ROMs such as Science: Through Native American Eyes and innovative forms of online communication such as chat rooms and video conferencing. On the Cradleboard website, Sainte-Marie details the project’s accomplishments:

“In October of 1996, we received a two year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, and since that time have modeled the Cradleboard Teaching Project in Mohawk, Cree, Ojibwe, Menominee, Coeur d´Alene, Navajo, Quinnault, Hawaiian, and Apache communities in eleven states” (Sainte-Marie 2002).

In 1968, when she was cast on an episode of the television program The Virginian, Sainte-Marie took progressive action in the entertainment industry by successfully demanding that all other Indigenous roles in the show be cast with Indigenous people. (Humphrey 1968) Sainte-Marie appeared as a recurring character on Sesame Street from 1975 to 1981, where she continued to educate viewers on Cree culture and Indigenous representation. In 1977, she famously became the first person to breastfeed on television in a segment with her son Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild (Sen 2018).

In more recent years, Sainte-Marie’s animated video series Paddling On Both Sides, a collaboration with visual artist Blake Angeconeb, was created for the Downie Wenjack Fund’s initiative Reconciliation Begins With You. Following in the footsteps of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, Paddling On Both Sides provides a positive alternative to the tragic narratives dominating media representation of Indigenous people by educating viewers on their many accomplishments and innovations. (Lawrence 2021) Sainte-Marie is also the author of several children’s books including 2020’s Hey Little Rockabye: A Lullaby for Pet Adoption, and 2022’s Tapwe and the Magic Hat.

Awards and Accolades

Sainte-Marie has earned countless awards and accolades throughout her career, beginning with Billboard Magazine naming her the Best New Artist of 1964. Three years later, Billboard writer Aaron Sternfield described Sainte-Marie as “the patron saint of non-hippy hipsters” after she received a 10-minute standing ovation during her performance at the Philharmonic (Warner 2016). Other honors include Sainte-Marie’s 1993 Charles De Gaulle Award for Best International Artist, the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards, and the 2010 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1999, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.

Sainte-Marie has received Honorary Doctorates from 15 post-secondary institutions, most recently recognized by the University of Toronto with a Doctor of Laws in 2019. She has also received numerous humanitarian honors, including her 1997 induction as an Officer into the Order of Canada, the 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Indian College Fund, and the 2019 PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprises Inaugural Women’s Voice Award. Sainte-Marie’s three most recent albums have received some of the highest honors from Canada’s creative arts awards, beginning with Running for the Drum winning the 2009 JUNO Award for Best Aboriginal Album. Her 2015 album Power in the Blood was awarded with the Polaris Music Prize, as well as JUNO Awards for Indigenous Music Album of the Year and Contemporary Root Album of the Year. Most recently, 2017’s Medicine Songs was also awarded with a JUNO Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year. (Warner 2018e)

In 2021, Sainte-Marie was honored with a commemorative stamp from Canada Post, and became the subject of the feature-length documentary Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On, which premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. (Longmire 2022) Now in her early 80s, she continues to advocate for the rights of Indigenous people, while recording, touring, and performing to fans around the world.


Farber, J. (2022) Buffy Sainte-Marie: ‘I didn’t know I was ahead of the pack at the time’ Retrived 15 Dec 2022.

Frank, A. (2022) How Buffy Sainte-Marie innovated electronic music in the 1960s Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Irwin, C. (2009) Buffy Sainte-Marie on a rollercoaster career that even the FBI kept an eye on Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Kopf, B. (1998) 100 Albums That Set The World On Fire While No One Was Listening Retrieved 9 Dec 2022.

Lawrence, M. (2021) Artist from Lac Seul First Nation making waves with new video collaboration Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Longmire, B. (2022) ‘Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On’ To Premiere At TIFF 2022 Retrieved 16 Dec 2022.

Norrell, B. (1999) Uncensored: Buffy Sainte-Marie honored with lifetime achievement award Retrieved 16 Dec 2022.

Sainte-Marie, B. (1996) The Mouthbow: Making Music on a Weapon Retrieved 9 Dec 2022.

Sainte-Marie, B. (2002) Cradleboard History Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Sen, M. (2018) The short-lived normalization of breastfeeding on television Retrieved 16 Dec 2022.

Seymour, C. (2018) Iconic Protest Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie Has Been Blacklisted by Nixon, Sampled by Kanye, And Breastfed Her Baby on Sesame Street—for Starters Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Warner, A. (2016) Buffy Sainte-Marie: 75 things you need to know about the Canadian icon Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Warner, A. (2018) Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography. Canada: Greystone.

Zoladz, L. (2012) Illuminations: A Biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie
Retrieved 8 Dec 2022.

David Burhans’ 12 Ways to Live a Rich Spiritual Life

By Scott T. Allison

If you ask anyone acquainted with the Rev. Dr. David Burhans, they’ll smile and tell you that he was among the most beloved individuals they’ve ever known. Generations of Richmond alumni would surely consider Burhans to be a cherished iconic figure, the spiritual face of the University of Richmond. Even the briefest encounter with Burhans left people feeling valued and loved, and certainly moved, at the deepest level of their being.

I knew David Burhans for almost 40 years as a friend, colleague, and one of his parishioners. Thousands of Richmond students, alumni, staff, and faculty were fashioned into better people because of David’s influence. I don’t claim to have been among David’s closest friends. What I do know is that he left an indelible impact on my life and on the lives of countless people who had the pleasure of knowing him.

What was the key to David Burhans’ enduring and positive impact on the world? From my experiences with him and from his own writings, here are 12 principles that he lived by and cultivated in all of us:

  1. Look at the world with a sense of wonder and awe. David enjoyed quoting American poet Mary Oliver’s belief that we are all born to “to look, to listen.” The famed Rabbi Abraham Heschel used the term radical amazement to describe the practice of remaining present and aware of the small miracles that abound in every moment. David reminded us that Heschel didn’t ask God for success, but only for wonder. “Looking back over more than seven decades,” wrote David, “mindfulness and wonder capture the essence of my spiritual and professional journey.” David’s ministry was “an exercise in looking, listening and instruction.”
  2. We are called to answer three important spiritual questions. In reflecting on his career, David wrote: “This personal journey began with a profound sense of awe and wonder prompting a fresh consideration of three great spiritual questions I had contemplated through college and graduate school. Who am I? Why am I here? What difference can I make?” For David, “it was about the human search for meaning and purpose.” He made these three questions the major focus for the University Chaplaincy, and he believed that “every well-educated person is expected to consider” the meat and marrow of these questions.
  3. We find a safe and welcoming place to discuss life’s meaning and purpose. David’s vision of the Chaplaincy was that it “would contribute to an atmosphere of openness and acceptance in the community and become a place at the heart of the campus which would encourage a free exchange of ideas, become a safe place to ask questions, and help initiate faith in ‘seekers’ of purpose and meaning.” David’s goal was to create a sacred space for people “to discuss personal issues, share grief experiences, celebrate joys and achievements, and a place to examine and strengthen one’s own faith perspective.” Thanks to David, and his successors including current Chaplain Craig Kocher, the Office of the Chaplaincy provides opportunities for members of the Richmond community to enhance their spiritual, emotional, and social well-being within a welcoming inter-religious context.
  4. A loving Higher Power guides us on the journey toward becoming our best selves. David believed that the God of our understanding was always a “Living God” of love, compassion, and healing. He wrote: “I felt strongly that I was on an educational pilgrimage with the students, on a professional journey of personal growth with faculty, staff and administrators, on a daily, demanding sojourn with University families like my own who welcomed support and encouragement.” David’s own personal spiritual journey involved “a public declaration of faith and trust in the Living God [and] ultimately a compelling desire to proclaim the Love of God. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
  5. We engage in practices that improve our conscious contact with God. David often shared personal “experiences of what I can only describe as divine encounters or intimations of the Holy — moments of profound gratitude, insight, guidance, wonder upon wonder.” David often expressed his amazement “at the strength that we humans have to live with heartache, disappointment, and loss and the courage that people have to keep on in the face of difficult odds and pain and suffering.” For David, “there is life beyond the tragedies that we experience.” David’s spiritual practices were prayer, wonder, gratitude, loving kindness, an unshakeable faith and enduring optimism that no matter what adversity we face, all is well.
  6. We remember that gratitude, compassion, and humility are the greatest of all virtues. “A profound spiritual truth I strongly embraced,” wrote David, is that “Life is a gift: handle this journey with gratitude, with compassion, with humility.” David quoted the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all others.” Compassionate connection with fellow humans – “listening with awareness and creating a culture of caring” — give renewed hope and new meaning to our journey. For David, the gift of humility is critical. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr urged us to constantly examine our actions and never be too certain of our own virtue. David believed “it was important that the ministry have people who are not holier than thou types — just normal, regular people who love athletics, have hobbies and a real appreciation for the breadth of life and who are curious and always interested in learning new things.”
  7. We treat all people with congruence, empathy, and respect. A student of psychology, David admired the humanistic, positive psychological approach to understanding humanity. One of the founding humanists, Carl Rogers, embraced the idea that all human relationships are forged with congruence, empathy, and Rogers described congruence as being genuine and honest with others, reflecting a person’s sincerity, integrity, and authenticity. David believed that an individual’s life work should be “within a stone’s throw of his pronouncements and proclamations.” The second virtue, empathy, is the ability to feel what others feel. And respect refers to an unconditional positive regard for all other people. For David, “These qualities immediately identified spiritual leadership at its best,” and he developed these social skills better than any person I’ve ever known.
  8. Cultivating relationships with others is the key to a vibrant spiritual life. “All relationships are sacred,” David told me, more than once. David was skillful in the heartful art of human connection. What was his secret? He made developing and nurturing human relationships his top priority. As University Chaplain, he was gifted in ministering to “an intergenerational community of people (students, faculty, staff, administration) with diverse social, economic and religious or non-religious backgrounds and perspectives.” David sought to integrate the “body, mind and spirit so as to counter the fragmentation of knowledge, learning and human development.” His Chaplaincy accomplished this goal “by conjoining the love of God and the love of learning in the flesh, in the human flesh of persons—persons in the Chaplaincy, persons in the faculty and staff, and persons among the student body.”
  9. Keeping an open mind and an open heart will heal and unify us all. My own research on heroism has shown that our greatest heroes always direct their energies toward healing and unifying people. David Burhans “approached life, work and relationships in the academy with a more open mind and heart—not open without any fixed point, but open and receptive to new ideas and ways of engaging a diverse community of people.” He recognized that love, compassion, and embracing the multiplicity of humanity were essential qualities for the Chaplaincy.” David’s proudest moments resided in the Chaplaincy’s openness to interfaith dialogue and welcoming students of all demographies, including students of every faith commitment and sexual orientation. David wrote, “I was asked to be the Chaplain to all the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Richmond. Every one of these people is welcome at this University and in this Chaplaincy office, and I embrace them.” David made it a priority to “break down barriers that divide us, to broaden our world view, reaching beyond our own kind, our own country, our own religious creed.” As a Christian, David was open and humble in welcoming and acknowledging “that our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions surely have a word from God for us to hear.”
  10. The Higher Power of our understanding loves and affirms us at all times. David held the steadfast belief that “there has been and continues to be a presence of something far greater than I can comprehend which loves and affirms me.” He knew that this Living God was a central part of each person’s life, whether they knew it or not. When the Wilton Center was built, he arranged for “a signature piece of art to be placed on exhibit… symbolizing a person’s journey toward wholeness through education, personal faith, and service to others.” David’s father, Dr. Rollin S. Burhans, articulated the goal of the Jessie Ball duPont Chaplaincy and its objective of bringing “wholeness to fragmented, fragile lives by the integrating, life-changing power of Thy Love.”
  11. A sense of humor can enrich life and build bonds. David would often remark that “laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” As such, he brought humor and joy to the Chaplaincy at Richmond. He wrote, “I think humor is one of those key characteristics of a minister — that you not take yourself too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself and with others.” Research by psychologists Laura Kurtz and Sara Algoe confirms what David intuitively knew, namely, that humor brings people together and acts as a “social glue” that builds loving, trustful bonds.
  12. Wonder is in pursuit of us. This is one of David’s keenest insights: “I am bold to suggest that anyone who is attune to moral and spiritual values, who is seeing and listening and paying attention will likely understand that Wonder just might be another name for God.” For David, the allure of living a rich, spiritual life was not a one-sided affair: If human beings are seeking the transcendent, the transcendent is also seeking us. The “Ultimate Truth,” said David, is not just that we pursue Wonder but that “Wonder is in pursuit of us! This all-encompassing Spirit of awe and wonder, love and grace is loose upon the world, a force over which we humans have little if any control. We can, however, be used by it!”

Those of us who were fortunate enough to have known and loved David Burhans will never forget his spark of life, his wisdom, his tender and generous loving spirit. David knew that despite our fragmented world, “we are creatures of relatedness who grow, mature and fulfill our own destinies through nurturing and challenging relationships.” He called his own journey “a journey of thanksgiving, compassion, laughter, and community.” That David took a warm, deep interest in each person he met is proof that Wonder is pursuing us, and that we are called to pass on this wonderous spirit to others. There’s no better way to honor David Burhans than to live our lives the way he lived his – with his boundless, effervescent joy, wonder, and love.


Brockwell, P. (2015). David Burhans’ exit interview. Retrieved from

Burhans, R. (1986). Prayer of dedication. Worship celebration and dedication of The Jessie Ball duPont Chair of the Chaplaincy, Cannon Memorial Chapel, University of Richmond, October 19th.

Burhans, D. (2016). The pursuit of wonder. In S. T. Allison, C. T. Kocher, & G. R. Goethals (Eds), Frontiers in spiritual leadership: Discovering the better angels of our nature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Heschel, A. J. (1983). I asked for wonder: A spiritual anthology. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co.

Kurtz, L., & Algoe, S. (2015). Putting laughter in context. Personal Relationships, 22, 573-590.

Oliver, M. (2004). Mindful. Why I wake early. Boston: Beacon Press.


Heroism and Leadership in the Movie, 12 Angry Men

By Scott T. Allison

Heroism shows itself in many different ways. There are obvious heroes who stand up for what is right, but there are also less obvious heroes who play a crucial role in supporting the main hero. These background heroes are essential; they often show the same remarkable courage as the main hero.

The 1957 film, 12 Angry Men, is a fascinating portrayal of different types of heroism and leadership. Some of this heroic leadership is obvious and some not-so-obvious. Some is direct and some indirect.

Let’s start with the direct and obvious. Henry Fonda plays Juror Number 8, a man who at the outset of a jury’s deliberation is the only juror with the courage to stand alone in voting for acquittal. The other eleven jurors apply pressure on Number 8 to change his vote to guilty, and some of them do so in rude and hostile ways. But Juror 8 doesn’t budge.

Juror 8 does what true heroes do: He stands up for what he believes is right, even in the face of severe social pressure to do otherwise. Slowly but surely, Juror 8 is successful in poking holes in the prosecution’s case, and by the end of the film all the remaining jurors are convinced to render a “not guilty” verdict.

Juror 8 is clearly the “star” of the movie, the character who gets the most screentime and is identified by viewers and movie fans as the hero of the story. And rightly so.

But Juror 8’s heroism could never have happened without help from other jurors, especially Juror 9 sitting next to him. Juror 9’s heroism is less splashy than Juror 8’s, but the heroic actions of Juror 9 made Juror 8’s heroism possible.

The First Follower Makes Heroic Leadership Possible

We all know that heroes can’t do their heroic work alone. Sometimes a hero standing alone, expressing an unpopular message, is seen as a dangerous lunatic. This scenario describes what happened to Juror 8 at the beginning of 12 Angry Men.

Juror 8 needs at least one follower, or else he and his heroic ideals will be squashed. Sitting next to him, Juror 9 takes a chance and steps up joins Juror 8, not necessarily because Juror 9 agrees with Juror 8, but because he believes that with a life at stake all voices should be heard. Juror 9 is keeping an open mind to a possible truth.

As this short video demonstrates, “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.”

Juror 8 endures some ridicule and pressure to change his vote to guilty, and when Juror 9 joins Juror 8, he is also at the receiving end of derision and anger. Juror 9’s courage and risk-taking is arguably as heroic as Juror 8’s.

By stepping up to support our lone hero, Juror 9 allows time for the jury to reconsider some of the evidence in the case. During the ensuing jury discussion, one piece of crucial evidence loses credibility, leading to another juror, Juror 5, to change his vote to not guilty.

At this point our hero, Juror 8, has a solid backing, a critical mass of followers. There are now two legitimate factions in the group rather than one lone nut against the world. Juror 9 made this possible and also opened the door to Juror 5 and others to be receptive to a different interpretation of the facts of the case.

Other Heroes in 12 Angry Men

I’m going out on a limb here to proclaim Juror Number 4 as a hero, too. Played by E. G. Marshall, Juror 4 opposes our hero throughout much of the story, insisting that the defendant is guilty despite all the holes in the evidence as pointed out by Juror 8 and his followers.

How in the world is this nemesis a hero?

Juror 4 is an independent thinker, a person of integrity who simply has different criteria for reasonable doubt. He opposes Juror 8 for all the right reasons. Juror 4 stands up for what he believes is a just cause. His opposition to Juror 8 is not based on personal prejudice or egoic stubbornness. It’s based on his interpretation of the facts of the case.

Toward the end of the film, Juror 4 finds himself in a small group of three who continue to vote guilty. Finally, after being presented with logical reasons to doubt the testimony of the main eyewitness, Juror 4 declares that he now has a reasonable doubt and joins the majority in voting for acquittal.

Juror 4 is heroic for withstanding pressure to do what he believes is right, much like Juror 8 at the beginning of the story. He is also heroic for being willing to admit he was wrong.

In contrast, Jurors 3 and 10 are far from heroic. They believe the defendant is guilty to the bitter end, for reasons based on personal and cultural prejudice. Number 10 is eventually shamed into conceding he is wrong, and Number 3 has an emotional breakdown and epiphany regarding his personal prejudice.

At the end, the jury has become unanimous in favor of acquittal, having swung 180 degrees from its original position, all thanks to Number 8’s heroic leadership, and Number 9’s heroic followership.

Two Additional Signs of Heroism in 12 Angry Men

  • Nine of the 12 jurors show heroic consciousness, defined as the ability to see the world broadly and clearly without the ego getting in the way. Heroically conscious people do not divide the world into “us” versus “them”; they seen nuance and complexity. The unconscious jurors were Numbers 3, 7, and 10. These jurors had personal issues that blinded them to the truth. Until the lenses of their eyes were cleared, they could not see the world with an open, honest, and broader perspective.
  • There were three underdog heroes, defined as heroes who must overcome adversity including negative stereotypes about them.
    • Juror 5 grew up in poverty and was accused of being “trash” by Juror 10. In reality, Juror 5 sees the world with clarity and sensitivity.
    • Juror 9 is an elderly man who is mocked for being an old useless man by Jurors 7 and 10. In reality, Juror 9 shows great wisdom in his ability to read people and “see” far beyond the facts of the case.
    • Juror 11 is a recent immigrant from eastern Europe. He speaks with a heavy accent and is derided for being “foolish” by Jurors 7 and 10. In reality, Juror 11 sees the world with compassion, clarity, and objectivity.

In conclusion, 12 Angry Men is a compelling story of heroism at several levels. It showcases the courage needed to be the only dissenter in a group, and the equal courage to be the first follower of that dissenter.

Heroism is not the monopoly of great leaders; it is also a central characteristic of great followers.

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