It’s Not Just Me: The Ubiquity of (Super)-Heroism
One thing I have heard over and over in the last few months is, “Most people are not selfless. Most people don’t spend their time fighting for other people”.
Now, every time I say this, it is often directed at me and my beliefs. It is telling me, at the best, that most people are not like me.
I try to be as heroic as I can. I have had that dream. And I know that can come off as arrogant. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m trying to defend and promote an idea of hope, love and compassion that I know for a fact I am inadequate to defend and promote. Everyone is. The fight is beyond any one person, or even a thousand people.
But I have taken an inventory of my interactions and I have found that that claim, that most people are not selfless, is utter and complete horseshit.
In the last month alone, these are a fraction of the people I have interacted with (and I am being vague about them in order to protect their privacy):
*A human rights reporter who has endured tremendous costs to try to make people see the problems of sex trafficking in Africa and elsewhere
*A happy and centered friend who is playing fewer video games because he is trying to make a social media site that will promote activist behavior
*A Christian woman dealing with physical health issues and loss who is still not only there for me but for her friends, and is engaging with people on Reddit
*A software designer and anarchist who is trying to be the best father possible and the best activist possible with limited resources
*A Catholic psychiatrist who still is finding aspects of the human condition of pain and reaching in
*A homeless activist
*A programmer and manager who arranged a dharma talk to try to bring hope and freedom from pain to others
*A Buddhist writer and scholar who taught people about freedom from pain
*A Christian man who works with the elderly and protects his homeless friends
*A female-to-male transgender person who is not only raising a child but also working at an LGBTQ center
*A formerly Christian, now atheistic conservative who has protected victims of assault even as he has struggled with depression and who routinely volunteers at a food bank and elsewhere
*A woman operating a wonderful store in the Pacific Northwest who has turned her struggles with depression into compassion for others
*A spiritual healer
*A man struggling with depression, cynicism and anger who is trying his best to create stories that entertain
*A man who has helped his friends repeatedly and has become burnt out when they did not turn around
*A man working on video games who has been massively supportive of me and offered to do whatever he could to insure I kept fighting
*A den mother who constantly brings compassion and joy to everyone in her life even with immense challenges
*A Salvation Army USA employee who keeps his Facebook notifications on even as he sleeps because he needs to be there to respond to crises
*A woman who has gone to Latin America to teach and volunteer
These are my friends, my family, and they are even strangers. And even the people who tell me that most people suck are the people who are on this list. This doesn’t count the people whose blogs I’ve read in the last month who try professionally or with much of their free time to make the world a better place, people like Michael Albert, Tim Wise, and dozens of people on all sides of issues on Twitter. It doesn’t count people I’ve met less recently, but still within the last year, like the woman who transitioned from ecological activism to being an EMT.
These are totally ordinary people. They have pain and confusion. They find themselves going to church or to dharma talks or to therapists like everyone else, to find guidance and love. They find themselves grappling with belief and faith and what is right to do every day. They face moral dilemmas and I am sure they falter and make mistakes in the face of those dilemmas. Many will become burnt out and quit, and they are still heroes for having tried in the first place.
In fact, even some of the angry activists I’ve interacted with who have hurled slurs at me were in their own (unfortunately destructive and closed-minded) way trying to improve the world.
I can speak to myself without fear of undermining my own confidences, and what I have done to try to help my neighbors has included writing resumes for free for people who needed it, volunteering to clean up a space after said dharma talk, writing blog posts to try to interact with people, and trying to inspire dozens of individuals to keep fighting and not give up. I have dealt in the last few months with others’ suicide attempts (both successful and unsuccessful), with others’ illnesses, and many other events that have certainly been immense challenges.
And it has been the best part of my life.
The math simply does not justify cynicism.
There are millions of people out there who are soldiers, civil rights attorneys, reporters, spiritual healers, doctors and nurses, therapists, support group leaders, pastors and preachers, monks, self-help teachers, activists (professional and amateur), and inspirational speakers. There are millions of people who work in non-governmental organizations, labor unions, charity groups, and so forth.
Even if only 10% of these people are effective, motivated practitioners, that is still likely millions of deeply selfless people. Some of these people might champion causes I disagree with or are on the other side of, but it is unquestionable that they care.
Then consider those people who work in customer service professions and try their best to bring a smile to peoples’ face. Consider those people who pick up hitchhikers or help jump someone else. Consider those people who are writers and creators who are trying to make other people excited and happy and joyous. Consider the comedians and actors and directors who participate in bringing people enjoyment and stimulation. Consider those scientists and academics who research not just to satisfy their own curiosity but also to solve problems. Consider those engineers who try to solve problems that directly impact everyone.
In actual point of fact, it’s not the minority of the population who serve others. In a post-industrial service-based economy, a massive section of the population is directly engaged with each other.
To all of these heroes, I say:
You humble me.
It is easy for me to get up and try to be heroic. I am immensely happy and centered. I have been blessed with great fortune. I can quit and my life will still be fine. I am not only sociologically privileged, but I have incredible friends, a wonderful support network, and immense resources to entertain me.
But other people get up out of darkness and pain every morning, and they fight alongside me with so much skill and power I am just staggered.
I hope I get to meet hundreds more of you, and share how our superpowers work. I hope I get to inspire thousands or even millions of you to keep fighting skillfully, compassionately and tenaciously.
Because bringing someone in pain a smile, bringing someone who is scared a feeling of safety, wrapping someone up in a blanket who is cold…
Those are the only superpowers worth having.