A friend of mine is really into DC comics these days, and he's lent me Last Son of Krypton, co-written by Richard Donner (of the movies fame). And I am enjoying it so far, but there's one moment that struck out to me and maybe defines what my notion of heroism is -- and makes me realize why it's totally unachievable for me at this moment.
An alien boy has landed on the Earth; he seems to be Kryptonian. Superman and the government are taking care of him. Lex Luthor, naturally, wants his share, and he sends the evil Bizarro Superman to take the kid back. And as Bizarro is going in to take the kid, Superman says, "Sorry Bizarro." and as he hits him with his freeze breath, adds, "You can't have him."
It's the "sorry," that politeness, that makes Superman such a boy scout figure and what makes him, or at least this interpretation of Superman, fall somewhat out of favour today. But the basic assumption that goes into this is that it's not a thing to celebrate to hurt people even if they're evil, and even if they're *currently* evil -- but Superman is aware enough (and the situation is unambiguous enough) that he doesn't hesitate to hurt him to save a kid from being kidnapped. Obviously, in real life, situations are rarely that cut-and-dried, but the thing is, even when they are that cut-and-dried, people need to work up furious anger to hurt someone in the defense of oneself or others. I even think that anger is important...and yet, there's something I admire about the ability to get beyond that anger. Superman isn't doing good out of an emotional place, or out of hatred of his enemies, in this moment.
Whenever there's a conflict in my life, there's several points of view going at once, and I have no idea, at all, if I'm right. I mean, I can barely ever remember any times in which I felt that I was unambiguously right -- and on those occasions, I think I still handled it badly. And yet I'm always angry, and I think the reason I'm always angry is that I never know if I'm right, and so in order to build up the "courage" or whatever it is to self-advocate at all, I have to send myself into fits of anger or sadness, because it's only when I feel that I might actually break if I don't at least try to speak up that I feel like I can actually do that. Superman or Captain America, or Jean-Luc Picard or Buffy Summers much of the time, or religious figures, will acknowledge moral ambiguity, but other times they will simply know when something is right -- and that knowledge of right from wrong allows them to be even more compassionate to the people who are doing wrong, than people like me who are drowning in a sea of relativism and moral confusion.