Austin Kleon wrote in his book “Steal Like an Artist”, “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes”. Kleon’s heroes here are artists and writers – but I thought instead of Superheroes.
In modern times, it feels like “normal every day people heroes” (as opposed to Superheroes) are a dying breed. Our culture loves to prop someone up, but they love to cut them down even more. The delight with which you see people hate on Tom Brady, Lebron James, Elle Degeneres, or anyone in a visible position for any perceived infraction is total. Perhaps this has always been the case, perhaps as children we see the world as full of heroes but as we grow older we see grey causes. Or perhaps we really are moving towards a more negative society. One that does not agree on what “good” is and we therefore see only grey causes. Think Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad as opposed to Law & Order and Friends.
But what of superheroes? The Avengers, a nested packaging of superheroes, broke office records again. It feels like nearly half of all new TV shows has to do with superheroes. Superheroes show up as toys, on food products, and in books. A quick search for the “value of Superman” did not return what I was after – but I did find out the the first Superman comic book alone sold for 3.2 million. So you can imagine the value of all of the t-shirts, water bottles, and posters combined. So what is it about Superman, or any superhero that drives such an impact in the collective psyche?
My thought is that when someone sees Superman, yes, at some level they wish they could fly, stop bullets and shoot lasers from their eyes, but what they really want is a big chest, six pack and to walk through the doors of a building and command the attention that Superman would command. They want to feel like superman. They want to be seen as Superman would be seen.
What if we take this idea and apply Kleon’s quote to it – instead of imagining looking like Superman – what if we imagined seeing as Superman. What does the world look like through Superman’s eyes? That is a very different idea than simply wanting “to be Superman”. While we do not know exactly what Superman would think about any given situation or moment – we could make some educated guesses.
I imagine Superman views the world as in need of help. For Superman, there are people out there who both need and deserve his time, attention and effort – to the point of putting his life on the line.
This view of the world might be called a service mindset. A view of the world where you are called to bring yourself to the front of the action – to a position where your choices have consequences, on behalf of another. This can probably be broken apart into two different steps:
- Called to where “your choices have consequences”
- We are all in this position every day, we just do not act like it most of the time. For example, choosing to watch Netflix is a choice that has consequences, the consequences are just very small in relation to the world. Netflix stock goes up. Some actors, directors and crew get some more money. You internalize to varying degrees some cultural story. And you trade time you could have spent doing anything for time spent watching Netflix.
- It is the second part of this equation that is much more interesting – “on behalf of another”.
- This has an element of heroism and danger. It is risky to get involved with others. Especially to attempt to help – or prevent – or alter or change some outcome. This is why no politicians are beloved by all – even though they are devoting their life to a form of service. They are making decisions on behalf of others – in an attempt to achieve some sort of better future. Some benefit for someone somehow.
These are oversimplifications of course, but today, I might take a different view of the world – and become a little more like Superman.