The Urban Sherpa - a blog by Christopher DeWan

(where every day is laundry day...)

Read Work and Other Essays, a collection of nonfiction by Christopher DeWan.

The Introspective Superhero rating=3

or, Fortress of Solitude, pt. 2

Fortress of Solitude

The Introspective Superhero would happily rescue people, if only he knew with certainty that's what they wanted. But it's hard to know what's best.

Take Anna, for instance. Her tabby cat Bartholomew is currently stuck up a tree, beyond Anna's reach. Bartholomew is getting more and more frightened at his situation, and he keeps pushing himself farther up the tree, as if sensing that the ground is an enemy from which he must retreat. Anna, too, is beginning to panic, though she's normally quite level-headed: she thought the cat would have good enough sense to come down by now, and since he hasn't, she's becoming unsure of how to resolve the situation.

Nothing would be easier for the Introspective Superhero than to swoop in, fetch the cat off its branch, and return it safely to Anna's worried arms. But how much better would it be, he wonders, if Anna were to arrive at her own solution—remembering, say, the old stepladder in her apartment building's shared garage; setting up the ladder; confronting her own modest fear of heights; and, from a rung halfway up, luring the cat Bartholomew back down to safety? How much more confident and empowered would she feel? How much more fond of her cat, and herself, at the opportunity, years from now, to look back nostalgically at her afternoon's heroics, and how her actions had brought her and her cat closer together? The intervention of the Introspective Superhero would not help her. It would diminish her.

Even in matters of life and death, the path of the Introspective Superhero isn't always clear. He remembers painfully a time when, during a bank robbery at United First Federal, one of the thieves pointed a gun at the chest of a police officer and fired. The Introspective Superhero used his lightning speed to interject himself between the officer and the speeding bullet. But the policeman was furious. "I was wearing my vest!" he yelled, pointing at his Kevlar. The gunshot wound would likely have been trivial, but would have afforded the middle-aged beat cop a medal, promotion, and a path to an easy retirement. The District Attorney, too, was put out by the hero's actions. Till he'd arrived on the scene, it had been a clear open-and-close case of armed robbery; but against the Introspective Superhero, all weapons were useless, and the bank robber's lawyer convincingly argued the judge down to a misdemeanor.

Superpowers, it seems, don't make the world less complicated. Rather, because they afford the hero with near-infinite options, they make the world incredibly more difficult to manage. Each choice presents so many possible outcomes that it's impossible to guess which one is best. That's why most nights, though the hero could be saving innocent lives, instead he elects to stay at home and do very little. The best way to make the world better, he reasons, is to avoid it altogether.