Where Do Superheroes Come From?

Every summer, our movie theaters are a parade of one superhero movie after another. But for all the external explosions and special effects, what often draws us in initially is the internal origin stories of these fantastic characters.

In a clever Smithsonian article, psychologist and author Robin Rosenberg writes about the different kind of life-altering experiences that form the basis of superheroes’ origins (e.g., trauma — think Batman, destiny — think Superman, and chance — think Spiderman).

These characters are often complicated and nuanced and their story arcs, especially in the comics, reflect that. We are curious to know where they came from, how they derive their power and why they use it for good.

Yet, why don’t we extend this same curiosity to real-life superheroes around us?

It is safe to say that most of us know more about Superman than our local fireman. We can tell you what drives Wolverine but not what drives our children’s teachers. We can discuss with fluency the in’s and out’s of Batman’s life experience but are speechless when it comes to our own family physician.

Why is this important? As Rosenberg points out, these origin stories show us “not how to become super but how to be heroes, choosing altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power.”

In thinking about this, it is personally embarrassing how little I know about the people who have done heroic things in my own life.

This week, I plan on doing a little research on at least one of them. It may be the doctor who performed surgery on my daughter shortly after her birth, or my 4th grade teacher who made my adjustment to a new town feel safe. Maybe both.

What can you learn from the “Superheroes” in your life? It won’t cost you $15 at a movie theater to find out. Just a little time and maybe a phone call.

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