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Travel is the Root of Heroism

I’m getting ready to present my vision of how the Heroic Life can become a movement, rather than one man’s pursuit. To set the stage for that, last week I put into concrete terms exactly what the Heroic Life is. The post caused a bit of controversy because I featured travel as a central part of it.

Today I’m delving into that more deeply. Why does the Heroic Life need travel?

Many Paths

There are many ways people become heroes. Most people who act heroically do so without ever planning it. One day they just find themselves in a situation where someone needs to step up and act—and they do.

This means that there can never be just “one right way” to act heroically. And, as I’ve said many times, no one can declare themselves a hero. It is a title that is given by others, not one you bestow upon yourself. I’m no hero and I may never be.

However, one can aspire to be as ready as possible to act heroically when needed. And that is the project of the Heroic Life.

Much of what I’ve been doing over the past year is identifying habits and practices that prepare one to act heroically. 

I believe that travel is one such habit.

The Value of Travel

People can become heroes without ever traveling, but if you want to train for heroism, travel is a good bet. One of my first articles on Rogue Priest was how travel changes the mind. In it, I noted that all of the great religious founders in history traveled widely over the course of their lives. Travel is inherently tied to personal development, and cultivates many of the traits we expect to see in a hero.

For example:

  • Travel teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, continuously
  • You learn what it means to be an outsider, which is one of the biggest fears you will have to face if you stand up for someone else
  • You need to be constantly aware of your surroundings
  • You learn how to trust your instincts
  • You expand your view of the world and learn more about humanity

There are ways to learn these things without traveling. For instance, someone who lives in one city their whole life may constantly find ways to step outside of their comfort zone.

But, then again, they may not.

Travel forces you to do this. Perhaps not high-ticket, tour-and-hotels style travel, but if you immerse yourself in a new culture you will be unavoidably confronted with your own personal limits. You’ll either confront and expand them or you’ll run home.

That, to me, is why travel is such a good spiritual practice—perhaps the perfect spiritual practice—for someone aspiring to act heroically.

The Practical Side

I realize that many people have no interest in traveling, and others feel they’re unable to. In that sense, the path I’m designing here is not for everyone—it isn’t meant to be. I can’t say who is and is not a hero, and I know there are many other noble ways of living besides this one.

What I can do however is work to assemble a way of life that will really speak to those committed to living heroically. A way of life that will help them develop themselves into the most flexible, adaptable, selfless people possible. This will help them take successful action to stand up for others when the time is right.

The entire mythos of heroism is bound up in journeying, and I don’t think that’s an accident. I think crossing the world effects a profound change on an individual—a change that cannot be easily replicated any other way.

At the same time, many readers felt travel wasn’t necessary at all. Several people asked whether I only emphasize travel because it’s something that I personally strive for.

So the question I have for you is this. With this context—that I want to identify hero-developing habits—where does travel fit in? Does traveling change how people view the world? And is there any way to get that same perspective without leaving home? Share your comments and tell me what you think.

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13 thoughts on “Travel is the Root of Heroism

  1. I think, having emailed with you since you were a teen and knowing that you’ve had this idea of one day walking into the wilds as long as I’ve known you has given me almost half my life of seeing travel differently.

    I haven’t had enough coffee yet, so here are my ramblings:

    Sure, there is “tourist” traveling- what I do with my children and partner, but even that falls into your traits. You become hyper aware but also relax into the world, finding the happy medium between enjoying the surroundings and people around you while knowing as many of the possible dangers as you go. Going anywhere with my girls, familiar or not, is a delicate tango between openness/showing them the beauty of our world and being a walking shield for my children.

    Despite my need, locally, to know exactly where I’m going and give myself almost twice as much time to get there as I need (I hate being late), traveling gives me a sense of relaxation, even when I’m on a timetable. Walking along Lido Key Beach in Florida was nowhere near where I was supposed to be that day, but it was an accidental discovery of quiet beauty compared to the packed chaos of the beach near a hotel my family had reserved for the night.

    There’s a certain magic in meeting new people in a locale far from home. You find a different type of charity, whether it’s their time, a bit of insider knowledge, or even a gift of space, food, or other, as a traveler that you would not often find in your backyard.
    A docent at a hidden away marine science place gave us a recommendation for lunch at a tiny mom and pop place. We arrived there to find that she’d had them put an appetizer on her tab with her thanks for coming to see the real side of their city, not where tourists typically go.

    On to your questions-

    With this context—that I want to identify hero-developing habits—where does travel fit in?

    I believe that the comfort of familiar surroundings allows one to become complacent if we aren’t taking care. The jolt of the unfamiliar creeping into our thoughts gives one the tools to see what he/she is currently made of and strive to be a better person on the journey. People see who and what you are at the present moment when you are traveling. What you’ve done before may reflect in your attitudes and presentation, but they (for the most part) cannot see your past, just your present, and perhaps the next step on your path.

    Does traveling change how people view the world?

    Definitely, from both sides. As a traveler and as a local encountering a traveler. It’s easy to dream about the other side of the fence, harder to go there and thrive like the ones before you have.

    And is there any way to get that same perspective without leaving home?

    Never stop learning. Push your boundaries each chance you have. Close your eyes and picture your streets from a stranger’s point of view. Do you always drive? Walk, ride a bike, or take public transport. Strike up a conversation with someone new you would normally overlook. Treat locals with the same regard you would someone visiting your town. Stop and smell the lilacs (I prefer them to roses). Sure, there’s a chance of being stung by a bee or two along the way, but there is so much beauty to experience.

    • This is a wonderfully insightful look into the forces at work when we travel, Miya. And I appreciate seeing how those same forces canbe harnessed in familiar surrounds. Thank you.

  2. I think I stated this on your Facebook, but I want to re-emphasize it here again because I think you are on to something very significant here…

    In all traditions of Witchcraft there is one thing all practitioners go through: the ritual of initiation. It does not matter if one is solitary (self initiated) or one within a coven, the initiation is always symbolized as a journey or quest. Beyond the symbol and ceremony of initiation, a REAL journey is often taken at some time in a witch’s life, usually around the time of the second degree known as “The Quest Perilous” when the witch seeks to accomplish more in life than just improving one’s own life. Like a Hero’s Journey, the Quest is undertaken not just to strengthen one’s resolve and gain new experiences, but to bring about a change in consciousness. This change is necessary not just for one person to have, but for the witch to come back and share what they have learned with others. The only way for someone of my path to grow is to travel outside of their comfort zone, not be complacent with the society they were brought up in, and experience different cultures and learn from different people directly — don’t rely upon books alone.

    The witch in real life, as in myth, is always the outsider, always the rebel, and is always the first to bring about a change. The only way a witch can create change is to be the one brave enough to not play follow-the-leader and to openly question authority. When you’re a truly active, out-in-the-open Practicing Witch, there’s no hiding what you are, no turning back, your life is all dare, not just truth. You are going to stick out in crowd, you’re going to be weird, and people aren’t always going to like you because you don’t fit in. In a way, the Witch’s Quest Perilous is a lot like the Hero’s Journey, and that gets me to thinking about why it is necessary for some people, to begin with, to travel.

    It is NOT just to gain character or develop one’s personality. I believe the original, most logical explanation and true purpose of the heroic journey was someone had to go out beyond the borders of the known world to bring back to their people something that could improve things and bring their people out of darkness. Someone had to leave home and find fire. Someone had to step out of line and find the ocean and bring back fish. Someone had to walk away from home and conquer the world.

    For better or for ill, the greatest contributions to humanity came from individuals who went one step beyond the borders. BUT THEY ALWAYS CAME BACK to share what they learned and brought back treasures they found during their journey. Their stories inspire others to go on quests of their own. Soon you have whole tribes of people becoming more and more worldly. Human beings are not only expanding their consciousness, they are also becoming more aware, the size of their reality is wider, and the more chances for progress and evolution happen.

    But travel isn’t the only thing one must do to develop a better awareness. There is also the internal journey, the Gateway to the Self, one must find after discovering the World. That is the key towards the next initiation of the soul.

    Does this make sense to you? Or am I putting too much of my own personal bias on this? I am sharing with you what I’ve learned on my journey, but also I am thinking out loud, hoping to help you come to another solution for yourself.

    • Hi Valentina. I will answer honestly and say I have a hard time relating to what you write. I don’t consider the Heroic Life to be related to witchcraft, nor do I make use of Campbell’s language like the “Hero’s Journey.”

      When you talk about witches, one of the things that makes me see this as unrelated is the emphasis on defiance. I don’t idealize being “always the outsider, always the rebel.” This is like being a ronin, a samurai with no master. It can be romanticized but it is actually a position of shame. The ronin seeks a cause worthy of serving, a chance to give up the life of the outsider.

      Of course, as the “rogue” in my name implies, I also value questioning authority. But I also think it is important to respect appropriate authorities. It is a difficult line to walk, I suppose.

  3. Okay, I have to come clean here. My reaction to your previous post about travel and heroism wasn’t fair, in that I was being a bit defensive! Because the truth is I do argree with you that travel is probably one of the best ways to learn about yourself and the heroic path you are discovering. For you see, I am a bit envious of you . . . I do want to travel (can’t say that would mean walking across South America for two years) but I have many obstacles in the way. My partner hates travelling and is sometimes discouraging . . . he doesn’t say I can’t go, but since he doesn’t want the same things, then I still have to share in his life which means mortage payments and a new roof (as we speak) which isn’t cheap. We are still recovering from losing our jobs last year (both at the time as we worked for the same company) and so I kind of feel guilty about wanting to travel instead of securing the nest. I am a bit torn you see:) He daydreams about building onto the house and I daydream about selling all my stuff and taking off (although I would miss my house and my gardens)! In any case, my employement situation hasn’t stablized yet anyway. So I will continue to live vicariously through you for now if you don’t mind:)

    • I definitely don’t mind Grace. I think I understand. And thank you so much for coming right out and saying that! A few people have told me that the reason they criticize is because they are a little jealous. I hope you are able to get to the financial place you want to be at soon and make your own travel dreams come true :)

  4. Jo says:

    Hi Drew,
    Joanna here again..I had some free time and found your site again. Are you still walking towards South America? I’ve always wanted to travel but my husband and I were busy raising our kids (now 21, 12, 14). Several years ago, we said, “now we have a little money and they’ll remember the trips”. We also wanted to instill in them a love a travel. We took them to DR, then Cuba, then parts of the US (we’re Canadian). Not alot but it was a start. We downsized our house to afford to be able to travel more. That went ok..kids still happy. Now we are looking at a possible year sabbatical in China (scary for us, but exciting too). Worst case scenario…they’ll think we’ve ‘ruined’ their lives…best case, they’ll look back and think we’re heroes for our bravery. Ok, maybe I’m a little too optimistic with that :)

    • Joanna, that is so wonderful! I have to say i really respect the decision you made to “downsize your house” to be able to do this, and your determination even though your kids might dislike it at first. Those are tough decisions for a family to work through, and it’s those kinds of things that make many people say it is impossible when really it might just take some sacrifice. Not that everyone can do the same, but many can and don’t realize it. Please let me know how China is when you get there and what the kids think!

      And yes, I am definitely still going to walk/bike to Brazil. That adventure is planned to start in May 2012 or so!

  5. Hmm… I’m afraid I didn’t read through the previous controversy, so apologies if this repeats material. On the other hand, you get a “fresh” perspective (yay).

    This post seems to waver between advocating travel as “a good bet” and “necessary.” Which is it? Is it a particularly good way to train for the heroic life, or is it the only way to train for the heroic life? The overall feeling I get from the piece is the former, but words like “needed” and “necessary” undermine that message and cause confusion.

    Travel is a *fantastic* way to cultivate yourself. I say that as someone who’s lived a total of 7 years in 3 different countries other than my home country.

    That said, travel is not the “perfect” way to train for the heroic life. In fact, it poses serious challenges. You’re constantly adapting to a new culture and place, which means you have to do a lot of homework to be able to act appropriately according to local customs and morals. An act of heroism that would be applauded in John Wayne’s America may be cavalier and unwelcome in another country. Understanding another culture is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Of course, certain extreme examples – like a girl being raped by a dude – are clearly wrong in any culture, and worthy of heroic intervention. But most of the time you’ll be dealing with gray areas where it’s not so clear. So, staying in one’s own culture does have the advantage of cultural understanding.

    Likewise, even within your own culture, staying in one’s own place offers advantages. You know your home turf. You know who’s dealing, who’s crooked, who’s straight, and who you can count on in a pinch. That’s a major advantage to any hero.

    Travelers gain a whole lot from putting themselves in a new and unfamiliar situation that challenges them beyond their comfort zone. But there is a tradeoff.

    • You raise some excellent points B.T. There are indeed special challenges that come with traveling. What interests me the most though is the question you raise: is travel just “a good bet” for training for heroism, or is it the only way?

      This made me think a lot. At the risk of splitting hairs, I would take a middle ground and say it is “the best way.” It is not the only way – people become heroes in other ways all the time. But for my money, it is the most certain way to be forced into the kind of mindset you need.

  6. Pingback: On Not Making a Movement « Rogue Priest

  7. star silver says:

    There is a wonderful method of travel near where I live.

    We have a labyrinth. Walking in a path that ultimately circles inward, never leaving even my zip code, and yet when I finish my walk, I know I have travelled.

    • Hi Star, thanks for commenting. As a priest I really value spiritual practices like walking a labyrinth. I meditate frequently.

      As a traveler however, I feel there is a real difference between physical travel and the kind of spiritual travel that happens in spiritual practice. Both are valuable, but I feel there are unique lessons to be learned from seeing a different culture, learning a language or meeting new places and people.

      I’m curious, have you traveled much (physically) in your lifetime? Do you also feel there is a difference in the two?

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