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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why You Are Man AND Superman!

I just showed my 10 year old son the 1978 version of SUPERMAN for the first time.  I had not planned to watch it with him, but I got sucked in by the mesmerizing opening credits and iconic music (he did ask:  “why are the credits at the beginning of this movie?”).  Then I just thought I’d watch the beginning (Glenn Ford has TWO SCENES and I STILL WEEP when he dies!) and then, you know.  Suddenly it was the end of the movie. 

Christopher Reeve, in the role of Superman, is the purest incarnation of everything we want our superheroes to be:  handsome, kind, smart, strong, honest, compassionate, righteous-- but not judgmental.  The scene where Miss Teschmacher saves him from destruction at Luther’s hands in return for her mother’s life epitomizes the character; not only does he agree to the bargain and fulfill it (even though he knows it will almost certainly cost him his own beloved) but instead of rejecting the kiss the villainess plants on him in his weakened state, he is touched by it.  Superman is driven purely by his moral imperatives; Superman is darned near perfect, just like most of us ***wish*** we could be.
I think almost all of us dreamed of or played at being superheroes as children; I went through a period of being fixated on Batgirl and my son’s life ambition at 4 was to grow up to be Spiderman.  He used to promise me that although he knew he would be very busy fighting crime, he would always find time to check in and make sure I was okay.  The desire to be heroic feels coded into us; but then as we grow up we become acutely aware of our fallibility and flaws, our weaknesses and limitations.  We realize we will always be man and not Superman.  We think we are not good enough to fly.

The shift happens for most of us in those gruesome years of adolescence.  We are suddenly all about what is wrong with us and how we are not “measuring up”; we become quite negatively narcissistic.  Naturally our peers are happy to assist in this and add on to the already exhaustive list of our frailties.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told that you’re too fat!  Or too thin! Or too smart!  Or too stupid!  Or too pretty!  Or too ugly!  Or too opinionated!  Or too nice!  Or TOO ANYTHING AT ALL!!!
I would like to pause here to acknowledge the irony that many of us have been told we are TOO MUCH OF two TOTALLY CONTRADICTORY THINGS.  Double bind, anyone?  But a friend of mine recently posted the following quote and it really got me thinking about what it means to be TOO MUCH:

“I know now that whatever you've been told you're too much of…is actually your superpower."--Jeffrey Marsh
That, my friends, is what we like to call a “radical reframing”.  One of the consistent messages of adolescence is that we need to learn to blend in; anything that sets us apart from the pack makes us easy prey.  We begin to strive for neutrality, shades of beige; we want to wear the same kinds of clothes as the others, have the same type of body; listen to the same music, share the same opinions.  Like Clark Kent, our true identities must remain a secret.  Differentiating ourselves means we are open to attack.  Parents often unwittingly aid in this by purchasing the trendy gear and participating in a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality; who would want to leave their child vulnerable?

But like an untamable cowlick, our inner selves tend to stick out.  And we get pegged by our peers; nerd, jock, Brainiac, popular…now we are juggling both fitting in with the crowd and playing our assigned role.  We are not “getting along” in the spirit of cooperation; try more in the spirit of SURVIVAL.  Is it any wonder so few of us grow up to be “superheroes”???
But what if your secret identity IS your super power?  What if the very thing you’ve been told to be ashamed of, to hide, to “tamp down” is your greatest strength?   What have you been hiding because you were told it was TOO MUCH?

Superman, as I said before, was driven by his relentless moral imperatives.  We ALL have inner imperatives driving us too…political activists are driven by an imperative for justice, artists are driven by an imperative to create, teachers are driven by an imperative to inform and uplift and so on.  But sometimes…often, in fact…we receive a message that our imperative is an unworthy one.  An activist whose family disagrees with his viewpoint, an artist whose parents’ value material achievement; a teacher whose message falls on deaf ears.  When we push back on this, we are accused of being strident, selfish, unrealistic.  But embracing and fulfilling our inner imperatives is the only game in town; it is the only way we come to know our own true selves.

Watching those rousing opening credits of SUPERMAN I could feel myself slide back in time, back inside the head of a little girl who still believed she could be heroic.   Just like Superman, she could be kind, smart, strong, honest, compassionate, righteous-- but not judgmental.  She could take a stand against divisive elements.  I loved being reminded of her, because some days I am and do all of these things; other days, I succumb to my own personal forms of Kryptonite.  One of which is, and always has been, a fear of being TOO MUCH.  Too honest, too opinionated, too pushy…too much myself.
And isn’t this Kryptonite for all but the most evolved of us?  The fear of being “too much ourselves”?  The fear we dragged along from adolescence that if we stand out, don’t fit in, ask for too much, we will be rejected?  Maybe it’s time we all realize that being ourselves IS OUR SUPER POWER.  Being ourselves is HEROIC.  And allowing others to be themselves is the KEY to our HAPPINESS.  Remember, on Krypton EVERYBODY was a Superman.  Isn’t it possible that this could be true for us as well, if we could just allow it?


  1. Great post, Kara! It's so true. Made me think back to my years in elementary school. It's healing to go back and realize that our strengths were coming forward even then.

  2. This post reminded me of the song "Freak Flag" from Shrek the Musical. One of the lines is "What makes us special makes us strong" and I really like the idea that what makes you different is your unique selling point. Your superpower, as you say. Oh, and I always wanted to be She-Ra!