On Super Powers

  • I suppose that I should start with something that might be considered heresy in these parts:

     

    I never really cared for comic books.

     

    It’s not that I disliked them, I was just kind of indifferent.  While my friends were poring over their brightly-colored stories of action and adventure, I shrugged and turned the page on whatever I was reading.    Many years later, a fellow psychologist asked me which superhero I liked best.

     

    I found myself shrugging again.

     

    “I dunno, Spiderman, I guess.”  It wasn’t that I actually liked him best, but he was the only one I could bring to mind at the moment.  My friend then compared me favorably to Dr. Strange.  I had to Google him.

     

    I say this to explain how utterly clueless I am with regard to the concept of “superpowers” and advise that you take what I say next with more than just a grain of salt.

     

    About a year or so ago, I was listening to an interview with a Rabbi who just so happened to also be a magician.  Alas, I cannot conjure the Rabbi’s name and no amount of internet searching has been able to jog my memory.  

     

    What does stick in my memory was that his adamant statement “I have no super powers.”  I understand what he was trying to convey (very likely that his abilities do not origininate from some supernatural source).  As such, I'm probably quibbling over semantics, but here I go:

     

    I’m sorry, Rabbi, but I believe that you do.

     

    Before we get into the debate as to whether the Rabbi/Magician ha s any super powers, let’s examine precisely what super powers are.

     

    A power is an ability.  We consider most of our powers quite mundane.  If you can open a door, you have the power to open a door.   That’s no big deal until you meet someone who is powerless with regard to door-opening.  I know several people with musculoskeletal diseases, for example, who would consider the ability to open a door to be an enviable power.

     

    Super refers to something that is above the norm (literally, it comes from the Latin word for “above”).  It stands to reason, therefore, that if you are able to do something (i.e., have a power) in a way that is above average you have, by definition, a super power.

     

    The Rabbi in question is quite good at sleight of hand.  He can make things appear to vanish, reappear, and transform.  He's rather clever at devising props and illusions.   He can do each of these things better than the average person.  It is therefore, a super power.

     

    Given that, I must ask: 

     

    Does it really matter whether you acquired your super power (be it sleight of hand, opening doors, or repairing a car) through practice (as the Rabbi had), exercise and training, or a radioactive spider bite?

     

    Where the breakdown appears to occur, to my thinking, is the assumption that all that have a super power are by definition super heroes.   This is patently untrue.  These are merely people with pretty cool abilities.   Imagine Peter Parker with all of those spider-like talents, but never using them to help others (it could have happened!).   He would simply be a bright kid with an odd hobby.

     

    Many people, including the Rabbi, have super powers.  Few are super heroes.  The trick, I think, is figuring out how you can apply your better-than-average ability to help others. 

     

    What’s your superpower?

     

    Better still, how are you using it?