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October 2, 2019

The Wisdom of Comic Books: What Superheroes Teach us about Our Gifts.

I’m a grown-ass man, and I have a confession to make.

I’ve been reading a lot of comic books lately.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Comic book and graphic novel sales hit an all-time high in 2018. Superhero films have been the dominant form of Hollywood blockbuster for over a decade now. Just since the start of 2019, there’s been a slew of comic book heroes hitting the big screen: “Captain Marvel,” “The Avengers: End Game,” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Why are we so drawn to these heroes and heroines with bright capes and costumes?

Like many kids, I was obsessed with superheroes growing up. Batman. Superman. Spider-Man. Wonder Woman. The X-Men. The Avengers. I read the comic books, collected the action figures, watched the movies and Saturday morning cartoons. Every Halloween, I donned the mask of my favorite caped crusader and saved the neighborhood’s candy from the clutches of evil supervillains.

I particularly love what’s called “superhero mythology.” The origin stories. The fateful journey from ordinary citizen to hero. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. The destruction of Krypton and an infant Superman sent to Planet Earth.

As our modern culture has lost much of its connection to ancient myths and religious stories, comic book heroes and heroines have filled a deep hunger in the human spirit for mythic inspiration.

Like all forms of mythology, superhero stories serve as road maps for our own journeys, models for our own heroic deeds.

Above all, superheroes teach us how to use our gifts.

Because here’s the truth: You have superpowers.

No, you probably can’t leap over tall buildings in a single bound. No, you probably can’t climb walls like a spider. And no, you’re probably not a billionaire who sneaks out at night to beat up criminals with your bare hands.

But you most certainly have superpowers.

Each of us is born with something inside us that makes us exceptional. It’s our talent. Our gift. The thing that comes naturally to us, the thing we just “get” that leaves everyone else scratching their heads.

These gifts come in so many forms. Writing. Singing. Dancing. Creating. Teaching. Leading. Serving. Loving. Dreaming. Building. Planning. Listening. Believing.

Each of these gifts is a blessing.

But superhero mythology reminds us that our superpowers often come with a dark side. Blessings can also turn into curses.

In almost every superhero story, the hero’s unique powers enable him or her to save their community (or even the whole world) from harm. Ironically, however, those same powers frequently become a source of pain and alienation from the very community they wish to save.

You see this pattern again and again. Batman saves Gotham City but must remain hidden in the shadows, an outcast. Spider-Man rescues New York City, but the front page of The Daily Bugle still calls him a “freak.”

Our gifts make us stand out. But that’s just the problem. What makes us exceptional carries with it the risk that it will make us feel excluded, different, weird, strange.

I think this is the root cause of why so many of us struggle to share our gifts with the world. Lurking behind our great talent is a deep fear. Fear of not belonging. Fear of not being enough. Fear of failure.

It is this same tension between their gifts and their fears that force many superheroes to wear masks, to assume secret identities, to hide their true selves from the world.

If we are not careful, our great gift can turn into our great shame.

And if we allow that to happen, who will save the world then?

So ask yourself. Have you been wearing a mask? Have you been hiding in the shadows? Have you been adopting a secret identity, so that the world won’t judge you for the power of your gifts?

There comes a time for every superhero when they can no longer hide behind the mask. Every hero must one day face their great fear and fully embrace the power that lives within them.

Maybe the time has come for you to step out of the shadows. To stop hiding behind the mask. To conquer the fear that holds back your superpowers.

Maybe it’s time to say out loud, for all of Gotham City to hear:

I’m motherf*ckin’ Batman.

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author: Matthew Foley

Image: Viktor Forgacs/Unsplash

Editor: Michelle Gean