I know that I am not alone in saying that I absolutely love superhero movies and have really enjoyed how much the genre has grown over the past decade. About every other month, I drop $100 on movie tickets and snacks so that my family can catch the newest feature days after its release (and the parental reviews are completed). In our home, we have superhero DVDs and posters, action figures and ringtones, and t-shirts and Lego sets.  Overall, the hero worship in the Speidel household is alive and well with a strong forecast of intensification in 2019 as even more movies and Netflix series are unveiled.

These are easy stories and characters to appreciate. The basic premise is that there are groups of incredibly gifted individuals who were either born with their unique powers or obtained them through getting bitten by a radioactive spider, dumped into a vat of toxic waste or zapped by radiation. They evolve into a hero based on their own moral compass and/or the circumstances presented to them at the time, and then they proceed to use their powers toward a greater good, like resolving a conflict and/or defending the world from a threat. These awesome stories make it easy for children and adults alike to wish that they possessed special powers that could dramatically make a difference in the lives of those around us and for the world as a whole. I have read some articles over the years alleging that these movies can in some cases create feelings of inadequacy and depression in people simply because our lives and our world aren’t as exciting and unique as what we see in these epics. With more and more people today desperately struggling for meaning in their lives, I can’t label this phenomenon as outrageous… I do think, however, that it is profoundly sad.

I don’t mean to cue the eye rolls, but we seldom appreciate the incredible power we have over the individuals who cross our paths and enter our worlds. From the elderly woman on the subway to the reclusive kid in the lunchroom, you have the power to give them an experience that they will remember forever. In fact, I would argue that in many cases, you have the ability to even change the trajectory of their lives.

It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of reflection for most of us to come up with five or six people who have made significant contributions to where we are today. Was there a coach who refused to give up on you in middle school? Or a grandparent who loved you despite your particularly “unlovable” attitude and actions? Was there a genuine compliment given to you from an unlikely source? Or were you the recipient of a stranger’s random act of kindness towards you or your family? These can often be turning point events that dramatically improve our lives, and while they might not seem as heroic as defeating the bad guy and saving the world, they are no less significant to the beneficiary of these actions.

So how do you become a hero?  Here are a couple of thoughts to consider:

  1. The power to be a positive — even heroic — influence in the lives of others initially comes down to awareness. You must first acknowledge that how you interact with the world around you has a direct impact on more than just yourself. You must then take responsibility for that reality and accept the consequence of it, for better or for worse. The next step is just as critical. You must look up from your phone long enough to see the world around you and the people who are in it. Could you be the sympathetic and helpful seatmate to the mother of three young children on the coast-to-coast flight? Or are you going to only add to her anxiety by flashing her dirty looks and complaining to the flight attendants that you aren’t able to sleep? Will you go visit the employee who works tirelessly in his cubicle to let him know just how valuable he is and that you wouldn’t know what to do if you didn’t have him? Or will you wonder why you got an unexpected resignation from that quiet guy on the third floor who never goes to the bar after work is over? You must open your eyes to change lives and see the needs of those around you.
  2. The one thing all heroes, great and small, have in common is that they are courageous. It takes great courage — and not a small amount of confidence — to engage someone with the pure intention of being a genuinely positive influence in their lives. This anxiety is not misplaced because you truly don’t know what the response of the person might be! You might be met with warmth and sincere appreciation, or there is always the possibility that the response could be less than positive with the individual miscalculating the intent and taking offense. While I have found is that this is seldom the case, it certainly can happen, and you need to be prepared for that and not take it personally. Literally everything that is meaningful has an aspect of risk to it, and I can rightly say that the small potential of blowback does little to diminish an opportunity to be heroic. That said, to do this well, you must be real, and to be real is to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is always a bit scary.
  3. Finally, being heroic is a habit, and as we all know, creating a habit requires practice and discipline. Genuinely engaging people is almost always awkward at first, especially when it is a new behavior. Also, forcing yourself to eliminate the distractions that impact our awareness of others is not easy for everyone and requires a gargantuan effort in our hummingbird-like attention span society. My promise to you is that it won’t take long for this to get easier, and the motivation to continue being a hero will come through the appreciation you will eventually receive and especially how it starts to make you feel.

We all have the power and ability to be a hero to those around us; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that for those of you who are formal leaders in your schools and businesses, your responsibility to be heroic is, in fact, greater given that you, by nature of your position, have authority over many of the people you engage with daily. These individuals need you to be a hero in their lives, and while there isn’t ever enough available time to facilitate these types of interactions all day, every day with every student, employee, and acquaintance you come into contact with, it is necessary that you are constantly aware of these opportunities as they present themselves and regularly dive into them. It won’t be long until you become acutely aware of the difference you are making. It might not be as dramatic as saving the earth from an alien invasion; however, what it will be is real, and reality is always far more powerful than fiction.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays, everyone.