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The Dark Knight and Darker Questions

This is not a review of the movie I just saw. And I promise not to give much away. However, seeing The Dark Knight tonight has got me thinking about some stuff and I'm actually inspired to write more than 140 Characters on Twitter about it. What I did write on Twitter was: Wow. Being a hero is tough work.

And it is. Certainly, these are comic book heroes and, even in the roughest city I've been in, I've never seen the likes of Gotham's underbelly, so the scenarios are way amplified. But if we were to take it down a notch and remove all of the big scenes and explosions and psycho characters that won't stop at anything to destroy the fabric of society, we may have an interesting metaphor for what it means to be a hero.

So what does it mean?

Well, #1, to be a hero is to be selfless. Whether it is Spiderman or Batman or Wonder Woman or what have you, these characters demonstrate a personal sacrifice for the greater good. My favorite line of all hero movies of all time was from the first Spiderman, where Peter's Uncle Ben tells him, "With great power there must also come great responsibility." Lots of people gain power in our world, but a hero exercises that power for the good of others. Even beyond that a hero recognizes that his or her power gained mustn't be squandered. Idly standing by with gifts is equally irresponsible. #2, to be a hero is to hold true to a code of ethics. Now, this may be misconstrued as many villians in our world may purport to hold true to a code of ethics, but within all of the characteristics of a hero, hurting others for personal or interest group gain doesn't work.

#3, heroism requires action. A hero speaks up where there is injustice. A hero stands up to bullies. A hero will take the bullet when others are afraid. People that talk about being a hero but do nothing when there is much work to be done aren't heroes. They may want to be heroes, but they need to step up to become one.

Sort of like #1, but sort of separate is the ability to be egolessness. This is the #4 characteristic of a hero. There are many heroes in this world that go unnoticed because the work they do is behind the scenes. They don't do what they do because they want fame or recognition. Heroes do what they do because they really want to see change. Many of the heroes I know will point out the heroism of others long before they would even receive recognition for what they are doing.

#5, heroes don't discriminate. The same code of ethics, selflessness, egolessness and action applies to everyone...even to villians. True heroes want everyone to believe. They want everyone to have hope. There are no 'sides' for heroes. When they are fighting villians, it is only to stop them from committing heinous acts against others. When the fight is over, they will reach out to the villian with the same empathy that they would extend anyone. My favorite heroes are the ones that don't intentionally kill anyone.

I don't know if I have what it takes to be a hero. I get scared. I let ego get in my way. I take sides. I totally want to be. I just don't always know that I have what it takes.

But another thing I love about heroes is that, no matter how strong their character is, they question. They falter. They have times where they don't want to be heroes. They want to be "normal". Spiderman has always been one of my favorite characters because, above all else, he is human and terribly torn between the gift he is given and the need for something very real, very human: love. But there is no dating for Spiderman. There is no courting Mary Jane in the manner he wants to. His responsibility is greater than that and for that reason, he must sacrifice that desire.

And, yes, Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman and all of the comic book heroes have extraneous circumstances. I believe real-life heroes can have love and live fairly "normal" (whatever that means) lives. But there are sacrifices and it takes dedication. And it can happen every day in all sorts of shapes and sizes of heroism.

Some examples:

  • When someone says something hateful or harmful against another person or group, speak up and say that isn't cool. Help that person examine their biases. Be kind but firm.
  • If you see someone being treated poorly or in a troubling situation, ask if they would like your assistance. Sometimes that person may be too scared or proud to receive, but offer anyway.
  • If you have privileges that are helping you get ahead in life, consider extending these privileges to others who need to get ahead, too. Teach free a class on using computers in a low-income neighborhood. Donate your old laptop to someone. If you have any other skills that could be transfered to others for their benefit, take the time to teach that.
  • Raise awareness on issues. Use your talents to reach an audience through video, Twitter, your blog, your voice online to let people know what is going on. My favorite hero doing this is Beth Kanter. She rocks. Her dedication is unfaltering.

There are hundreds of things you can do big and small to be a hero and these things you do won't always be popular (I'm a regular party pooper in social situations when I shut down racist and/or sexist remarks), however, every little bit helps to keep us from getting closer to Gotham. And we don't need Bruce Wayne's billions or Peter Parker's radioactive spider blood, either. We all have gifts to offer.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention HeroCamp, an event which is to profit nobody attending or organizing it, but a whole schwack of heroes are getting behind the idea of creating programs that create more heroes. That would also be a good step.

So this is not a review, but the movie did impact me. I walked home from the theatre asking myself if I could do it. If I could really be a hero. If I was prepared to be selfless, ethical, egoless, take action and non-discriminatory in my heroism. I hope so. I strive for it. I know I have a long way to go, but I can't imagine living on the earth for any other reason but to reach that goal.

How about you?