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Some of the most fun movies in recent years have been about superheroes—and many of the films showcase characters from earlier comics, while others introduce new ones.
In either case, part of the appeal is that the films use new techniques in filmmaking, and the stories are situated in our present world.
In my own childhood, Superman was the dominant superhero in comics, television, and movies; and Supergirl was considered cool, too. Among the superheroes to have emerged over the years, some are from other planets like Superman; others are humans with acquired powers like Spiderman; still others are mutants like Wolverine; and so on. Whatever explanation is given for their powers, what they have in common is a desire to help rescue us regular folks from menacing, threatening situations.
Since pop culture mirrors its times, I’ve been thinking about what threatens us now, and which of those threats might require a superhero. Almost every day we read or hear about crime, terrorism, wars, economic hardship, breakdown of family and social structures, divisive politics, and climate change. Sometimes, similar to comics and films, it’s a good guy vs. bad guy situation. More often though, the so-called “bad guy” is a nebulous group of people we label “them.” Or it may be a trend or prediction labeled “it.” With most of the world’s severe problems, no “bad guy” really exists, unless you count the human inaction that allows harm to happen.
But have you noticed—in the presence of a specific event, such as a hurricane or an attack, real-life heroes usually emerge. Lacking Superman’s powers, they nevertheless rise to the occasion and perform on an almost superhuman level. We may never learn their names or see their faces, but they work countless hours to protect us, rescue people, clear debris, restore power, remove dangerous chemicals, extinguish fires, or maybe comfort and uplift others.
The Real Life Superheroes Among Us
A list of heroes might include journalists who face great danger, even death, while covering stories about horrific wars. They ask difficult questions, and they challenge prevailing thought in pursuit of the truth.
Also on the list might be some of today’s scientists, researchers, and inventors—those who dare to think creatively and who risk their reputations and careers to pursue a grand idea.
Heroes abound—but on a more personal level, absent catastrophes or grandiose challenges, who can be a hero, even if not a superhero? Helen Keller said: “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
These words remind us that our daily efforts can contribute to the world’s betterment. Beyond movie images of heroism, beyond the win/lose proposition setup by video games, beyond comics that glorify battle—somewhere beyond that is space for everyday deeds. Circumstances may not be extraordinary, no one may see us, but our commitment and selflessness can and will make a difference.
The Baha’i International Community in its 1992 Earth Charter document wrote:
The changes required to reorient the world toward a sustainable future imply degrees of sacrifice, social integration, selfless action, and unity of purpose rarely achieved in human history.
True heroes elevate themselves and people around them by overcoming ego, fear, materialism, prejudices, and disunity. Rather than waiting for someone else to rescue us, ultimately we must save ourselves. We will become heroes.
In our private moments, we can turn to a Higher Power through prayer and meditation, seeking assistance and courage. In our communities, we can associate with others who share our values. The Baha’i community, with believers literally throughout the world, works in parallel to improve communities and to prepare the future generation for its role.
Finally, we can enlarge our vision to embrace the world and align our deeds with the best interests of humanity and our planet. In other words, we can orient ourselves toward being heroes every day.
In the words of Abdu’l-Baha:
The stories about how we do this might not make a fun movie. The action might not even be visible, especially in the absence of explosions, fights, or chase scenes. Real-life heroes, after all, don’t wear capes or masks or do any fancy martial arts. Yet in the absence of cameras, possibly without an audience, here we are, doing what we can to help others and to create a better future.