Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Geology, The Hero’s Journey, and Societal Change

Written by: on February 24, 2022



Joseph Campbell wrote, “Not everyone has a destiny: only the hero who has plunged to touch it, and has come up again—with a ring.”[1] Simon Winchester, author, journalist, and broadcaster, might offer a paraphrase based on his book, The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology.[2] He might say, “Not everyone has a destiny: only the hero who has plunged to touch it, and has come up again—with a [map].”


His book is classified by the Library of Congress under the science umbrella, specifically geology, but it reads like a biography of William Smith’s life and recounts his hero’s journey—a hero’s journey fueled by Smith’s insatiable sense of curiosity or what Winchester describes as his “intellectual passion.”[3] And a hero’s journey whose resultant boon[4] “…signified the beginnings of an era not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed human beings to start at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about their own origins—and those of the planet they inhabit.”[5]


Smith’s hero’s journey included times of severe testing. He was of common birth in 18th-19th century England where only being born noble opened doors of opportunity. He was predominantly self-educated, and so had no institutional clout. His pre-eminent work in mapping what could not be seen beneath the earth’s surface aroused vicious jealousy among those gently born—to the point that these rivals copied his geological-formations-of-Great-Britain map and claimed it as their own. This, in part, led to Smith’s utter financial ruin, eventual imprisonment in debtor’s prison,[6] and the ruination of both his health and that of his wife.


But Smith also encountered helpers on his hero’s journey, including nobleman Sir John Johnstone, who recognized Smith’s brilliance and employed him as his estate surveyor.[7] This opportunity eventually led to Smith being recognized in London by fellow geologists for his original, brilliant contribution to the fledgling field.[8]


Smith’s tenacity and single-minded focus also brought to my mind Steven Pressfield’s insights regarding creativity. Pressfield writes: “The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else.”[9] Winchester captures this tenacity when he writes,


All the Herculean labors involved in the mapping of the imagined underside of an entire country were accomplished not by an army or a legion or a committee or a team, but by the single individual who finally put his signature to the completed document—William Smith…it was conceived, imagined, begun, undertaken, and continued and completed against all odds by just [this] one man.[10]


Indeed, Smith lived Pressfield’s closing remarks, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention…It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.”[11] Surely Smith’s geologic strata map of Great Britain has been a gift to the world.


Winchester’s artful description of the impact Smith’s map has had on the world also caught my attention. As quoted above, he writes that Smith’s map: “…allowed human beings to start at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about their own origins—and those of the planet they inhabit.”[12] In our readings and discussions related to Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism (and Other Writings)[13] we have grappled with the human need for assurance and the implications this has had for theological discourse and the resultant practical impacts on people’s actions and decisions—birthing  both the development of the Protestant work ethic and capitalism. In Smith’s map, and this glimpse into the fledging filed of geology, born on the cusp of the second Industrial Revolution, we see another contribution to the human hunger for assurance as well as a tool that fueled the spread of capitalism, industrialization, and both the beneficial and destructive dynamics emergent from these realities.

It leaves me pondering the complex intersections of ideas, discoveries, and practices that laid the foundation for the world I now inhabit. It also pushes me, as a leader, to recognize that new innovations bring both benefits and negative unintended consequences; I need to press forward in rigorous ethical reflection and practice as I seek to birth new initiatives into this world that may also have long-term benefits and negative unintended consequences.

[1] Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. Novato, Calif: New World Library, 196.


[2] Winchester, Simon. 2009. The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. Repr. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.


[3] Ibid., 195.


[4] Campbell, 211.


[5] Winchester, xviii.


[6] Ibid., 257.


[7] Ibid., 278.

[8] Ibid., 281+.


[9] Pressfield, Steven. 2002. The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. New York, NY, Los Angeles: Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 99.

[10] Winchester, xix.


[11] Pressfield, 165.


[12] Winchester, xviii.


[13] Weber, Max, Peter Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells. 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. New York: Penguin Books.

About the Author

Elmarie Parker

16 responses to “Geology, The Hero’s Journey, and Societal Change”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Elmarie, you make so many good connections to previous readings in this articulate post! I appreciate your desire to give serious thought to leadership and the initiatives that spring from that role. You wrote about “rigorous ethical reflection” given to new efforts. Are the principles of that process clear for you at this point? If so, I would like to know how you gauge new initiatives and try to assess the outcomes.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Roy…thanks so much for your generous comment and thoughtful question. I’m working on developing a process for evaluating potential positive and negative consequences/impacts/outcomes of new initiatives. One aspect I am currently including is evaluative conversation with stakeholders and divergent voices representing viewpoints/value sets different from my own, and yet committed to a positive future in their community. Our NPO process provide a valuable entry into such an evaluative conversation. I’d like to expand on that. I don’t think it is possible to eliminate all negative (and hopefully unintended) consequences from an initiative, but I hope to develop a mindset within my initiative that is transparently open to correction and adaptation along the way and a thoughtful weighing of consequences.

      There’s also the reality that once one’s idea is out there in the world, one doesn’t have control over how others understand it, implement it, build off of it, etc. I think this demonstrated in some of what we read of Weber’s use of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination or Wesley’s comments on the value of hard work. Or, even in this week’s readings, how industries and companies have utilized what Smith set in motion with his paradigm shifting map.

      What are you discovering as you implement some of the assessment benchmarks you have previously mentioned.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Elmarie: Beautiful reflection on this week’s work and how it is connected to our other readings. I hadn’t thought about a few of them that you pointed out.

    When thinking about your NPO and the new initiatives you want to launch, do you feel as if you have any clarity as to what those benefits and unintended consequences might be at this stage?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Kayli. Thank you for your encouraging comment and thoughtful question. Here are a few of things I’ve been pondering related to potential benefits and unintended negative consequences (hopefully there may be some unintended positive outcomes as well) of my NPO and the new initiatives I want to launch:

      * Benefits–young adults are empowered and equipped to develop their leadership, entrepreneurial, advocacy, and peace-building skills along with cross-cultural competencies. Practical local community projects that positively make visible/tangible the values of justice, equity, reconciliation, and perseverance will be the vehicle for this development.

      * Potential negative unintended consequences:
      1. In Lebanon, the entrepreneurial efforts become entangled in local wasta dynamics (where you who know opens/closes doors) and so justice/equity continues to be undermined.
      2. This initiative engenders false hope (doesn’t adequately engage the very real challenges of each context–Oregon and Lebanon to start with) in the participants and so the initiative fails and the participants are left more entrenched in cynicism and/or discouragement than ever before.
      3. The practical projects envisioned and implemented by the participants continue to perpetuate some of the negative aspects of capitalism rather than solving them.

      This (benefits/unintended negative consequences) is a topic of conversation I want to continue to take up with stakeholders as my NPO project develops.

      • Kayli Hillebrand says:

        Elmarie – Interesting topics to ponder and consider. I think the challenge in all of it is that as Robert Lupton would say (largely paraphrased by me) in “Toxic Charity” is that we can get to a point where we are too paralyzed to do something wrong that we end up with inaction. I think even the understanding of knowing how to walk into those new opportunities with eyes open to unintended consequences is already several steps ahead of the game.

  3. mm Andy Hale says:


    How does creativity fit into your work? Do you invest time weekly for creative time?

    How do you evaluate your work and question your assumptions?

    I ask these things to learn how others live into innovative possibilities and consider that the great innovators of history did not merely stumble into it but discovered it along the way of healthy habits and questioning the given understandings of their day.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hey Andy…thank you for these thoughtful questions. I agree with your observation regarding the role of healthy ‘creativity’ habits and questioning the given understandings of one’s day.

      For your second question, take a look at my reply to Roy’s question…this is part of what I’m exploring right now as a way to tangibly question my own assumptions.

      Making creative connections is part of my wiring, but to do this well, I need to regularly have space to just let my mind and soul ruminate on readings, conversations, things I’ve been listening to, etc. My two best spaces for doing this is walking (and then taking notes as soon as I return home to capture the connections that came to mind) and cooking without having news or movies or other stuff playing.

      How do you create space for creativity? Practices to questions your own assumptions?

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Great connection with putting Smith’s journey and all the struggles he had to endure, with “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I didn’t think to connect these two but you draw some appropriate parallels. Smith had to endure all varieties of trials and lies and yet he persevered through all of them. He was shown to have pure motives and a noble heart, like the heroes of old. I just wish he received his full recognition while he was still living.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Troy…thank you for your comment on my blog post.

      You especially lift up Smith’s perseverance/endurance. It leaves me curious about what you find helpful for cultivating personal perseverance in the face of on-going challenges?

      Perseverance is one of the values/practices I’m exploring in my NPO, so I’d love to hear your insights on my above question.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Elmarie, great post. I thought this was a powerful line: “to recognize that new innovations bring both benefits and negative unintended consequences.”

    You are so spot on with this. The Molecule of More leads us to that same conclusion… our drive for more and advancement has led to many great discoveries, but it could also very easily lead to our demise.

    All that said, what an important part of leadership, to discern what ultimately leads to flourishing and what won’t. Press on!

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:


    I am so glad you brought the hero’s journey into your essay. I saw Smith as a great example. At the same time, it never occurred to me to tie in Pressfield. I can see the connection now that you point it out. I love this sentence, “I need to press forward in rigorous ethical reflection and practice as I seek to birth new initiatives into this world that may also have long-term benefits and negative unintended consequences.” I think that we are in a time with so much information, yet it is often challenging to see the truth through the fog. You heart to be a good steward of all that has been entrusted to you comes through in the quote above. May we all continue to bring a wider perspective so that we do not get myopic and miss the truth.

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Elmarie, I chuckled at your Winchester hero rewrite…..a map…lolol

    I appreciate your connections to our other readings. Although Winchester clearly admired Smith’s tenacity and willingness to “fight for his art [map])” how might the authors of “An Everyone Culture” take issue with Smith’s approach? What might be a caution or two for us in this program focused on leadership?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Nicole,

      Thank you for your thought-provoking question. It seems to me that in “An Everyone Culture,” the authors present a case for the development of both individuals and the business being a simultaneous and mutually beneficial practice. I think it is a challenge to apply their framework to Smith’s context which was still incredibly stratified according to one’s birth (into the aristocracy or into the world of the commoner). It’s clear from Smith’s story, at least as Winchester tells it, that the aristocracy had no interest in cultivating Smith’s development as a geologist, with the exception of one gentleman, later in Smith’s life, who saw his potential and wanted to see it shine. He touches on the philosophy encouraged by Kegan and Lahey. What connection did you see?

      Part of what I take from Smith’s story is the need to be ‘wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove’ in navigating the political and social realities of my time.

      What lessons do you take?

Leave a Reply