Why not be a superhero?

By Scott Westerman
Listen to an audio version of this message.

What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely. ~ Christopher Reeve

I figured out the problem with our world today: There aren’t enough super heroes.

I grew up in the 60s when we all believed we could be super heroes. We had great role models; people who transcended ignorance, hate, even death. They defined what they stood for, made the world stand up and take notice and effected seismic change. You know their names. There are streets named after them, they were the benefactors of great causes and we celebrate some with official holidays.

But they really are no different from the rest of us, except in one respect: They refused to accept what they felt was wrong and fought for what they believed was right.

When I was in high school, I learned that my energy could combine with hundreds of others. (We protested a lot.. and we -always- voted!) I believed in the relentless pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for all. Not just for white people, affluent people, smart people, straight people or American people. For all people.

But it had to begin with me. A minority of one.

There was a time when more of us engaged in the fight for what we believed in. We found the nearest phone booth, ripped off our Clark Kent clothing and stepped into the battle for truth, justice and an American way, to live a life that the world respected and wanted to emulate.

I learned early that, the engaged effect change, the disengaged complain about it.

Every movement begins with that small, dedicated group who refuses to give up. Emancipation, Votes for Women, The New Deal, the Great Society, Reaganomics, The Amber Alert, The Westboro Baptist Church, The Tea Party; all of these ideas got traction because people engaged and didn’t stop until they were heard. They epitomize Margret Mead’s, “small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens (who) can change the world,” for better or worse.

What do you believe? I have always believed that equality and fairness and justice are things worth working and fighting for. My life’s trajectory has put me in a leadership role with an organization that is made up of people who are white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American and every conceivable ethnic, racial and sexual orientation. They are old, middle-aged and young. They are very rich, modestly affluent and less well-off. They are physically able and are challenged by illnesses and disabilities. They come with a rainbow of political and spiritual beliefs. And I am against anything that makes anyone who is part of this rich tapestry of society feel disrespected or excluded.

One of the greatest things about our nation is that you and I don’t have to agree. We can each make our case and work to inspire others to share our vision and drive change. And we sometimes have to meet each other half way. If this last week has taught us anything, it’s that partisan inflexibility can grind anyone’s definition of the American Dream to a standstill.

But if we want to make something happen, we have to put on the costume, gather our powers and get into the game.

My super-heroine friend, Jess Knott writes this really cool piece about local superheroes. It’s really a lot easier than we think to become one. The tough part is having the courage to stand up to injustice, intolerance and violence (especially the psychological kind). And the end game is to integrate the superhero ethic and bias for action into our “mild mannered” disguises.

For every advance, there are those who would push us two steps backwards. The progress we have made in every realm, from human rights and health care to freedom of speech and religion (including the freedom not to believe) is always at risk.

We begin to lose them the moment we are unwilling to aggressively defend them.

So be a superhero. You have the power. All you have to do is decide to use it.