Gun Safety & Responsibility

There are so many things I want to say about the shooting that took place in Seattle on Thursday — first and foremost, the student security monitor, currently identified as Jon Meis, who subdued the gunman IS a hero in every sense. He risked his own life to prevent the further harm that would have inevitably come to his fellow students and staff. I hope the school shows him some kind of appreciation for his actions. So many other people would have simply run for cover or find any way they could to escape. The fact that this student ran TOWARD danger to keep others out of it, speaks volumes about his bravery.

Second, the fact that Meis was able to use pepper-spray on the gunman while he reloaded tells me that maybe we don’t need more armed security guards in schools. While it’s true, Meis was probably fortunate enough to get as close as he did to use it, and that the gunman must not have been wearing any protective eye gear were definitely strokes of luck. The point is, that Meis, with the help of several other students held the gunman down while the police arrived. Students, not police, disarmed and subdued a gunman without the use of a firearm themselves. It IS possible to stop a rampaging gunman without killing him. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association said after the Sandy Hook school shooting, that, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This has been proven to be untrue.

Thirdly, I don’t know why people wake up one morning and decide to go on a shooting spree. I can only guess that they feel victimized in an uncaring world, and that they just want to end it all. However, even if they decide to end their own lives, it would only further the feeling of isolation and loneliness they probably feel; or they’re too scared to take their lives. But…if they go to a public place, like a school or a theater full of people — people who they feel are responsible for their depression/frustration in their lives, there’s a good chance that depending on their “success,” they could be immortalized forever. Even if they go down in the annals of history as a gun-toting psychopath…at least now, people will have noticed them, perhaps even admire them for their acts of brutality, and consider it themselves. There are reports all over the web of people who admire Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for what they did at Columbine High School in April 1999.

Finally, the university he went to was extremely Christian-based. Apparently, the school will take disciplinary action against students who engage in extramarital sex, homosexual activity, or possess alcohol. While I may not agree with some of their policies, that doesn’t mean any of them have the right to be killed for their lifestyle/belief structures/philosophical practices. I don’t know what the motive was behind this shooting, or why this school was targeted, but IF it was because of the school’s practicing faith, it’s just another reason we need to be more open minded about peoples’ beliefs, even when they differ from our own.

I don’t know what the answer is to reducing the un-necessary slaughter of innocent people, because someone decides to take their anger out on a building full of people by gunning them down. But I’m confident that the US is not doing everything it can to keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them. I also think that parents need to take the initiative. If they even suspect their child of mental instability, they need to seek professional help as soon as possible. And for parents who already own guns, that is your constitutional right, but please, keep your guns un-loaded, and your ammunition locked up in a safe place that you are confident will not be accessed by your child. And lastly, if you are planning on purchasing a firearm, first ask yourself two questions:

– What is the reason I want to own a gun? Do I feel my life is being threatened? Or do I just want to have one just because I like the feeling of power and protection it gives me?

– Do I have the discipline to learn how to use it responsibly and safely? Will I remember to keep it locked up when not using it? Will I insure my ammunition is kept out of the hands of children/people who shouldn’t be using it?

If your answer to either of these questions is “no” or questionable, perhaps you should reconsider your decision to purchase a firearm. I am of the opinion that a gun is not completely and utterly necessary to protect yourself. Please be responsible when it comes to gun safety. While it is true that guns can be used to protect the people you care about, when placed in the wrong hands, guns are nothing but tools of violence and destruction. Be responsible and be safe.

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Civil Discourse

“Whatever happened to class?” – Catherine Zeta Jones (Chicago)

I recently witnessed a group of people being very rude to one another, over something that probably didn’t warrant such aggression or hostility. The incident itself was relatively brief, and only some not-so-nice words were exchanged, but I believe it to be systemic of a much larger problem: People nowadays don’t seem to know how to engage in civil discourse anymore.

Civil discourse is when two or more people have a disagreement, but are able to resolve it without resorting to shouting, insulting, rudeness or hostility in general. The problem I’m seeing is that, when a disagreement occurs, many will jump straight to being angry. They will skip any sort of “formality” involving manners or civility and instantly become annoyed. The way I have always understood it, is that if you want a positive reaction from people or a positive outcome from a situation, you must approach them/it positively. This is not to say that forcefulness and willfulness are not needed, because they are, but they must be tempered with objectivity. If you approach someone who is bothering you and immediately call them an idiot, you are unlikely to get anywhere at all. Instead, if you start with, “excuse me…” or “would you mind terribly…” that shows that you at least are willing to look at a potential disagreement from a reasonable point of view.

Now, it is entirely possible that the civility and sincerity you attempt to show others may not be reciprocated. If that is the case, if you feel being more forceful or asserting your opinions more harshly would be of benefit, then go ahead and try. However, if the disagreement erupts into an argument, then the questions you have to ask yourself are, “is this worth it?” and “what is at stake?” Some people simply are rude — this is a fact, and there is very little chance of that changing. So it is simply not worth it to expend the energy to try. You might as well bash your head against a brick wall for all the good it will do you. What you have you understand is, backing down or abandoning an argument is NOT a sign of weakness. Knowing when to accept defeat can be a sign of strength. If the only thing you’re risking in a disagreement is potentially bruising your ego, then let it be bruised – it will heal.

Another thing to consider is the other person’s position. Are they in the wrong? Are you perhaps being overly sensitive? What is the other person doing that is bothering you? Can you look past it or live with it? Everyone has their own little eccentricities that will bother someone, and some people try very hard to be bothered. What you have to consider is how flexible can you can be. If you can look past whatever the issue is and live with it, or better yet, accept it, it will help teach you tolerance and dealing with your problems rather than stressing over them.

My basic point is this — life is too short to be angry all the time or irritated with everyone. Before you go off half-cocked on an issue, consider how important it is to you, how important it may be to others, and most importantly, try and keep a cool head. If you have a problem with something or someone, try to deal with it in a calm and reasonable manner. Everyone has disagreements; it’s natural and encouraged. But if you can utilize civil discourse when you have a disagreement, I guarantee you — everyone involved will be better off for it.

Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  – William Arthur Ward

I’d like to talk a little today about what I perceive the differences (and similarities) to be between the optimist, the pessimist, and the realist. We’ve all come across each kind of person — the unerringly hopeful optimist, the down-in-the-dumps pessimist, and the “middle-ground” realist. I, myself, believe I fall into the realist category and I will explain why later. Let’s talk about the others.

Let’s start with the optimist: The dictionary defines optimism as, “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” While this is certainly a more preferred social attitude than the pessimist, optimists have been accused more than once of being naïve or ignorant of the way things are because they choose to see a different better picture than others. They believe that the world is a genuinely good place and that in the eternal conflict between “good” and “evil,” that good will win out in the end. This is a fine belief and it’s one that many people hold. It keeps their spirits high, their faith in humanity remains unshaken, and it’s likely they have a positive self-image. However, when one views the world through “rose-colored-glasses” they often don’t see the “cold, hard facts” that they need to see in order to interact well in society, either because they don’t see them, or they choose not to. Some optimists will believe anything they hear, read or see as long as it goes along with their positive viewpoints on life. Granted this is probably a bit of an extreme, but it is feasible that an optimist can be taken advantage of because they wish to believe in the good they choose to see in everyone. This can lead to trouble if the optimist finds themselves in the wrong situation where their unwavering positivity meets with inevitable negativity that does exist in the world.

Negativity is the domain of the pessimist. The dictionary defines pessimism as, “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, or problems.” Being the exact opposite of an optimist, the pessimist sees only the bad side of life and generally expects the worst of any scenario. However, this is not to say that pessimists are ALWAYS unhappy people (although it can be typical). It could be the case that due to unfortunate past experiences, they go through life always expecting the worst because that’s what they’re used to and have been exposed to all their life. It is not atypical that the pessimist, after being exposed to the better sides of life could become an optimist, or perhaps more likely – a realist.

I consider myself to be a realist, so if you will forgive the conceit, I will proceed with my explanation according to my own personal experiences: Realism is defined as “interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.” Basically meaning that realists tend to view the world from a more “practical” point of view. It is my perception that realists are often viewed as pessimists because their viewpoints tend to contradict those of the optimist. While the optimist generally believes in the positive and favorable aspects of life, the realist will sometimes disagree taking the stance that we live in an unpredictable world that can be as bad as it is good. While the optimist realizes that there are situations, people, and incidents that are by definition bad, they tend to focus on what positive elements can be taken from those incidents. The realist will usually acknowledge (and accept) those positive elements but they will also focus on why bad things happen, i.e. – there are bad people in the world/stuff happens/life isn’t perfect, etc. Where I don’t think the realist receives enough credit is when they encounter the pessimist. Realists can disagree with pessimists just as much as (if not more so than) the optimist. While the pessimist sees only the negative, the realist will try to explain that, yes, bad things happen, but this is not en evil world, there is good here, you just have to know where to look for it.

People can and will take advantage of others. It is in their nature to do so. However, I do not believe people are inherently evil/violent/bad. I think when emotion takes hold, things are said; urges are acted upon, sometimes with negative consequences. But in the long run I am of the belief that most people generally do not enjoy being harmed or bringing harm to others. Most of us are just trying to get by with what we have. And therein lies another difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” People who “have” I think, tend to be much more optimistic about life because they have things that others don’t so they don’t really have a reason to be miserable. The “have-nots” don’t have the things that others do and spend much of their time wishing they did. This can sometimes lead to having a pessimistic outlook on life, i.e. – why do they have everything and I have nothing? It’s not fair!

As a realist, I firmly believe that life is not fair, but I also do not believe it to be un-fair. I realize how much a contradiction that is, but life IS what you make it. If you put forth the effort and give a care to how you live, it’s likely you eventually succeed. It may not be right away, but with the willpower and initiative to make your life better, you will prevail. If you don’t care how your life ends up, it honestly will be hard for others to offer you much sympathy. It’s difficult for many people to care about your life if you don’t yourself.

What’s “Normal”?

I’ve been noticing more and more lately, particularly in those who have mental/developmental disabilities, the feeling of “victimhood,” i.e. – the belief that they are “victims,” being persecuted in an un-caring world. They have the mindset that because of their disability or diagnosis, that it makes them “freaks” or “pariahs” in a world that won’t accept them because they’re different. They wish more than anything else that they could just be “normal,” and blend in with the crowd. And while I can certainly understand where these feelings come from, I don’t support the idea of expecting others to change just for you just because you think they should.

I am on the Autistic spectrum. I’m not ashamed to admit it, nor am I ashamed of the condition itself. I was diagnosed 13 years ago, and since then, have ridden a roller-coaster ride of emotions and sentiments regarding the fact that I have Autism. However, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be “just like everyone else.” I didn’t want to blend into the crowd and disappear. I didn’t have the desire to be “normal.” For what is normal? Is normal what everyone else is? Because no one is “everyone else.” We’re ALL different…no one is like someone else. We can do our best to emulate others or try and live up to our various role models by trying to follow their beliefs/lifestyle/habits/appearance. But in the end, no matter how much you try and become like someone else, you are still you, and that will never change.

Can you imagine how life would be if we were all exactly the same? No one would argue, no one would disagree, and no one would ever have a different point of view. We would be automatons, with no real purpose in life or qualities that make us unique. As much as some of us may hate to admit it, we are ALL unique. There are 7 billion people on this planet, and not a single one of them is normal.

The feeling of “segregation” that many people have comes from the mindset that because of their varying conditions, that everyone else doesn’t understand them, and as a result shuns them. But it is my view that in general people who think this way do very little to attempt to integrate themselves into society. They believe that the world should adjust to them while they sit back and watch it happen. However, such a thing will never come to pass. Forming any kind of relationship with any one is a give and take. If someone doesn’t understand you, then you need to make every effort to attempt to make them understand. The more they learn about you, the more you learn about them. No one is going to suddenly approach you and say, “hey, I don’t know anything about you…but we’re best friends now.” It doesn’t work like that. In order to truly become part of your environment, you must begin adapting to it, before it begins to adapt to you.

This is not to say that it’s easy. On the contrary it can be extremely difficult. Neurotypicals (people not diagnosed with any kind of disorder) have just as difficult a time forming relationships as anyone else. They may not encounter the same obstacles, but it’s still not easy for them. For more on tips for forming meaningful relationships, you can refer to my earlier post about relationships and communication. It is true that people often fear what they don’t understand, and this can indeed lead to problems. That’s why it’s important, especially for those who consider themselves to be “disabled”/“debilitated” because of their given condition, that they preserver and not allow the close-minded to hinder their efforts for acceptance. It goes without saying that not everyone is going to welcome you with open arms and beg to be your friend, but trust me when I say your friends ARE out there…even if you haven’t met them yet. You will eventually meet the people you’re going to spend the rest of your life knowing, but only if you seek them out and attempt to get to know them while they get to know you. That’s the very essence of what a relationship is.

One final thing I’ll say is that every one of us should strive to be the best we can be, but no more than that. Nobody’s perfect and trying to be perfect is a waste of time. And anyone who demands perfection holds unrealistic expectations. You’re going to make mistakes along the way, you’re going to trip, fall, stumble, and skin your knee a few times. But we can’t just lie down and cry when we do. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start again. We all make mistakes. But we must learn from those mistakes. If we learn nothing, we don’t grow, and if we don’t grow, we never amount to anything. So before you go accusing the world of not growing to meet your expectations, take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself, “are my expectations reasonable?”

We’re all unique and special in our own way. Wanting noting else but to be normal is a fallacy. We all have our ups and downs. We all have obstacles we deal with on a daily basis. No one’s life is completely perfect. And the more time we spend trying to chase after perfection — trying to become someone else other than who we are, the more we forget who we were before.

Sticks & Stones

Inspired to write this piece after reading a recent news story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/16/us/felony-charges-for-2-girls-in-suicide-of-bullied-12-year-old-rebecca-sedwick.html?_r=0

First let me say that I have nothing but sympathy for the family of Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after enduring years of bullying, ridicule, and cyber-attacks. Reading articles like this only furthers my belief that the Internet has allowed a very select few people in this world to think it’s all right to be crude, nasty, and mean to one another — and perhaps more disturbingly…think that they can do it without any repercussions. One of the first lessons we learn in science is that every action has a reaction. Human social interaction is a science unto itself, with many of the same principles of conventional chemistry. We even call the interactions between people “chemistry.” So when “unstable compounds” are introduced to a mixture, it doesn’t take a PhD professor to know it’s potentially asking for trouble.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Now, the original meaning behind this phrase was that physical attacks do hurt, but verbal assaults cause no physical/literal damage. However, as one who believes fervently in the power of words, I respectfully disagree with this statement. Words can and do hurt. And in this modern era, in the age of the online interaction, words have become the new weapons.

You can’t throw a stone at, or hit someone with a stick on a computer. But verbal jabs can cut just as deep. Especially when a person is insulted or bullied in places such as mass online games, or large message boards in front of literally THOUSANDS of people. When one person is singled out in this kind of environment, even the staunchest person can begin to feel a little self-conscious. Imagine being a 12-year-old living in an environment where you genuinely feel the world is out to get you, and no one likes you. No one is debating that adolescence is a difficult time for young people, but it’s made easier when we have friends and others who we know will support us through anything, and we do the same for them. Without friends…the world can seem a very dark place indeed.

Now, as odd as this may sound to say, reading this article has actually made me grateful. Grateful in that, throughout my 26 years of life, I have actually given very little credence to what others have thought of me. I’ve experienced bullying…particularly in middle school and early high school. I was tormented, insulted, and embarrassed publicly, and of course it made me feel terrible, but unlike so many others my age, it was momentary. I always rose above. And I realize that is SO much easier said than done. But I have never cared what other people think of me. It’s my life to live, and I will live it how I want. If you don’t like it, well…that’s your problem isn’t it? So hearing about people who have ended their lives because of bullying of course make me sad…but it also makes me appreciate my life that much more because I’ve been blessed to have discovered early on that the opinion that should matter most to you, is yours.

The final thing I will say is for parents. According to the above article, the parents of the girls who tormented Sedwick, took absolutely no responsibility for their daughters’ conduct. On the contrary, they said their computers were “hacked” and hurtful comments placed on their Facebook pages. A parent, who is unable or unwilling to fulfill the duties expected of them, is a person who is unworthy to be a parent. Indeed, our actions are our own and we must take responsibility for them, but it is the parent’s job to instill that sense of morality in us. If they don’t take any responsibility for their actions, how can they possibly expect their children to do so? This is not to say the parents must discipline young children and interrogate them as to their online activities. But they should involve themselves in their children’s lives and insure that proper steps are taken to insure they are not engaging in flaming, trolling, or cyber-bullying. And of they are, to teach them WHY it’s wrong.

In this new age of online communication, it is so much easier to reach people across great distances along the Super Information Highway. But, it also extremely easy to negatively impact the lives of complete strangers behind a computer screen under the protective shield of anonymity. It’s simple to ignore the suffering of someone you don’t know, and even simpler to add to it. So do them and yourselves a favor, be civil to each other — because, as the old saying goes: “If you can’t say anything nice…don’t say nothin’ at all.”

High School Camp Wellstone Blog post (2008)

Whoever thinks high school students and people of young ages are apathetic when it comes to politics, did not see what I saw on Saturday, the 20th of September when I attended Wellstone Action’s High School Camp Wellstone with students itching to learn about voting and the political process.

Around 9:30 am, approximately 60 students began to trickle in, several hailing from different high schools, as close as St. Paul Central, and as far as Fergus Falls. Camp Wellstone trainers, Mattie Weiss, Brian Lozensky, Danny Silva-Alvarez, and Maria Schirmer, who provided everyone with a breakfast of bagels with cream cheese and orange juice, welcomed them with a couple of introductory games to get the ball rolling. Once everyone had a comfortable feel for each other, the activities began.

Mattie kicked things off with every high school student’s nightmare — a pop-quiz. This quiz challenged the student’s pre-existing knowledge of government and politics, teaching them how to be, as she termed it, a political smarty-pants. I was particularly impressed with what transpired in this activity, not only because of several of the student’s eagerness to learn the right answers to the questions asked, but because many of them already knew the answers and shared theses valuable insights with the rest of the group. I was quite amazed with much of the information shared that I certainly did not know during my years in high school.

As a Communications major at my school I know that learning how to interact with people on an interpersonal level and impart information is crucial to getting your message across. In the next exercise, the students were split up into three large groups and taught about Class Raps, in which they were instructed how to speak to a large group of potential young voters, perhaps at their own schools, and tell them how they could make their voices heard and have their concerns met. Each group was required to perform a short skit, in which they acted as if they were making a political announcement to a classroom. The energy and willingness to speak out, not to mention the creativity displayed, was indeed very enjoyable to watch.

After the students wrapped up their raps, they sat down to lunch. This gave me a chance to speak with several of them, as I asked them what issues they believed were most pressing or most important in this upcoming election, or just in general. I received a myriad of answers ranging from the conflict in the Middle East and the Iraq War, to rising gas prices here at home. Lunch was concluded by a reading of a truly moving poem written and read by student, Iris Andrews.

So many things going on in the world today

So many things going wrong in the world today

All of these tests and trials

I’ve yet today to see somebody smile

Trouble only seems to increase

With half of the world infected with disease

I wanna make it better, Lord knows I try

No tears in my eyes, I just wanna make the poem cry

So many young mothers and the babies they abort

No chance at all because life was cut short

So many of your young men are out selling drugs

Why? Because parents need to provide more hugs

So many of our people are living in poverty

But there’s that one Christian praying on his knees

I wanna make it better, Lord knows I try

No tears in my eyes, I just wanna make the poem cry

So many women are constantly hurt and misused

But they’re accustomed to it by growing up being abused

So many of our children remain parentless

Because we keep electing presidents without any sense

Elections are coming around, but no one is devoted

But the same people who complained never even voted

I wanna make it better, Lord knows I tried

No tears in my eyes, they’ve completely died

If you asked me I couldn’t tell you why

I guess I just gotta make the poem cry.

Wellstone Action is known for getting the word out to people and educating them on the inner workings of government and politics, and they did just that with their next exercise: Door-knocking practice, teaching and discussing potential strategies on how to go about walking through residential neighborhoods, going door-to-door talking with strangers about voting. One person would be the knocker, the other person would be the resident. Essentially, this practice is very important because it connects with potential voters on the issues they care about on a personal level and helps them to choose a candidate.

As if on cue, a couple of volunteers from Minnesota Powershift, a local political activism group, came in and spoke with the students about potential volunteer opportunities that would further assist them in getting the word out and more importantly, the vote. Now, with their creative juices really flowing, the students were given a chance to express themselves by drawing on one side of a piece of paper, something they were concerned about for post-election results, and something they were hopeful about for the post-election aftermath. Not only were the illustrations impressive, the reasoning and discussions behind them were as well.

With their drawings complete, and their minds a-fire with topical issues, everyone sat down in a large circle, spanning the circumference of the room, and began to discuss their personal concerns. This was an extremely meaningful and powerful discussion not only because of the healthy and quite frankly justified fears expressed, but also because of the messages of hope that so many of them carry with them; hope that they will grow up to see a world that is without poverty, violence or ignorance. Having shared their thoughts, it was time to share their feelings. All hands were joined and each and every person present shared that moment in time with their neighbor and their neighbor’s neighbor…the energy shared on that circle could be felt in every corner of the room.

The most inspiring thing about the day was that a majority of the students present would not be able to vote in the coming election, yet still they all came out from different corners of the state, some even new Americans, because they all had at least one thing in common: the desire to live in a world where their voices could be heard.

Who says young people are apathetic?

Comic Mythology

For as long as civilizations have existed the people within them have always held certain stories, legends, and myths in high regard to the point where even though no material evidence is presented to confirm their literal existence, they are still honored, even worshipped as gods or other kinds of deities. Today is no different. However, even though religion plays a big role in this system, another source of modern-day myths has emerged in recent years: comic books (or as some would prefer to call them, graphic novels) and of course the superheroes within them.

The very concept/idea of the superhero, not even so much the “superhero” but simply a “hero” is a staple in mass American media, not only in the desire to achieve the very pinnacle of the human condition, even surpassing it, but the aspiration to be so widely known and as courageous as the heroes in these stories as well. It is needless to say that although we as normal people can never achieve the kind of abilities or “powers” these characters possess, it is still fascinating to think about, which is one of the most compelling aspects of and why so many people read comics.

Religion is a big part of how comic book content relates to mythology. Even though superheroes are in no way related to modern day Christianity or other such religions of other such creeds, they nonetheless portray certain god or at least demigod-like qualities. There have been innumerable instances in which the comic heroes have taken the law into their own hands and become less like vigilantes and more like earthbound gods deciding what is best for mankind who they supposedly serve and protect. The image of the superhero, though in no way “divine,” eventually evolves into the symbol of the “man-god,” i.e. – one who is not at all on the level of a mystical deity, but far above the average human condition.

It should first be explained exactly what a myth is. In an interview author and Sarah Lawrence professor Joseph Campbell did with Bill Moyers, when asked what a myth was Campbell responded, “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life” (Campbell, 5). Quite simply, that mythology is the untapped potential in us all to do or desire to do great things with our lives. However, more importantly, myths are the proverbial thread that helps to intertwine our routine, every day lives with the existential eternity of the universe.

Myths and legends are not simply ancient stories from the past; they were once and still are (though now to a much lesser extent) the reasons behind our very existence. In author Rollo May’s book The Cry for Myth he explains,

“Myth is a form of expression which reveals a process of thought and feeling – man’s awareness of and response to the universe, his fellow men, and his separate being. It is a projection in concrete and dramatic form of fears and desires undiscoverable and inexpressible in any other way”

So, when May states that myths are inexpressible in any other way, he is basically saying that in order to truly come to terms with that which we do not understand or fear about life, we construct stories and fantastic tales in an attempt to justify and/or explain the unexplained/able aspects of life that cannot be easily explained through scientific evidence and mathematical algorithms. And for every problem, danger, or threat that we encounter, we require some sort of protection. And it is here where the concept of the superhero is brought to light.

Even though over the past few years superheroes have become less of an iconic form of American media than they used to be, they are still nonetheless very popular amongst the American youth. Adolescents and teens still enjoy the illustrated world of comic books and the super-powered protectors of Earth that they portray. Now, it is safe to say that humanity will never achieve many of the abilities that common-day superheroes display such as flight, elevated senses, or invulnerability, but it is not so much what these heroes are on the surface so to speak. It is what they represent that matters on the whole.

In these comic books, the superhero is really just a gifted individual (some more than others) who strives with all their heart and soul to do what’s best for humanity. This usually entails fighting crime and holding concepts like justice and peace in high regard. They simply have a greater and more convenient means to that end than the average person. However, they seldom fail to stress that anyone can be a hero. It doesn’t require superpowers to do something amazing (although quite frankly, they would be nice), it simply requires a strong force of will and the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe is right. I believe that is what heroism is all about.

Now, the way in which the comic book superheroes relate to modern mythology is not quite as clear-cut. Of course, we are all familiar with the ancient tales of Hercules and other such legendary figures who fought monsters and worked for the benefit of mankind, and there are certain similarities from back then and today, but how is that relevant to how exactly the characters about which these stories are centered around have taken their place as current-day myths? Well, let’s start with the first real superhero ever.

Superman — the Man of Steel. He is the patriarch of many of the current day superheroes we read about. First created by the teenage Jerry Siegel in 1932, Superman has become the iconic superhero of our time. With powers including flight, invulnerability, and super-strength, (which many nowadays might say is either “too easy” or “cliché”) Kal-El is ironically an alien from the distant, doomed planet of Krypton who fights for truth, justice, and the American way. In author Richard Reynolds book, Superheroes: A Modern Mythology, Reynolds remarks that according to Siegel, Superman was inspired by “characters like Samson, Hercules, and all the strong men I have ever heard tell of rolled into one. Only more so” (Reynolds 9).

One of the things that make Superman so popular, especially among youth is his origin. Not so much in the story itself, but in that for one thing, Clark never knew his real parents. Never once did he have a choice about being stuffed in a rocket and sent to Earth while his home planet imploded. In a world where so many children are put up for adoption, it’s somewhat of a comforting and relatable facet that the most powerful man on Earth is still an orphan. Another relevant aspect of Superman’s life is that he is, for all intents and purposes, “the successful immigrant – the orphan boy from the old country who makes it on his own in America” (Reynolds 62). Again, this makes the greatest superhero in history seem a little less god-like, and little more human.

In one of my favorite Superman comics, written by Jeph Loeb Clark teams up with Bruce Wayne (Batman) in an effort to take down a veritable army of super-villains (of whom it is assumed is under the employ of Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor) and in an ongoing inner-monologue running in tandem between the two heroes throughout the book, they describe what each of them thinks of the other. In a particular panel, while being freed from a block of ice encasing him from the waist down by Superman’s heat-vision, Bruce remarks, “It is a remarkable dichotomy in many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then…he shoots fire from the skies and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we are that it does not occur to him.”

This is indeed a very interesting dichotomy, as Batman points out. In recent years, Superman has earned the nickname “boy scout,” because of his sometimes naïve attitudes toward life and his absolute loyalty to his adopted world. And that coupled with the fact that he does indeed possess god-like powers; it is an appealing concept to readers that he doesn’t use them to display dominance or godhood over man, following the underlying moral of the story of Marvel Comics hero, Spiderman: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

It is worth noting that Superman’s life seems strikingly similar in a few ways to the supposed life of another individual who recorded history was said to have possessed special abilities. And it is also where some of the comic book mythology ties into modern religion: Interestingly enough, Superman’s story shows a number of similarities with the story of Jesus Christ. For starters, at the very beginning Clark’s spaceship attracted the attention of the passing farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, as it fell from the sky like a star, guiding them to his crash site. And as Reynolds states, “the sky-spanning spaceship crashes to Earth, leaving – in later versions of the myth, at least – a deep gash in the soil. So Superman is born from a marriage of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth), In due course, Superman will acquire his Father on Earth (Kent Senior) to go with Jor-El of Krypton, his Father in Heaven” (Reynolds 14). But unlike the story of Jesus, Clark did not grow up to become a target of aggression and ultimately sentenced to death. Instead, Superman is not displayed as a deity figure at all, more along the lines of a “man-god,” very similar to characters like Hercules.

Of course, there are those few superheroes that are not possessed of powers and have no superhuman abilities with which to do their jobs. A prime example of course is Batman, the dark knight. And although he is in no way super-powered, Batman represents something just as good, perhaps even better: the pinnacle of the human condition. Batman is indeed human, and as such is much more susceptible to the meta-physical threats he and his superhero colleagues face on a daily basis. However he makes up for his lack of powers by displaying above-average human intellect and by being in the best possible physical condition. And armed with an array of ingenious gadgets and other tools, Batman is combination of such fictional figures as The Shadow, Dick Tracy, and even Sherlock Holmes, making him the icon for the “super-human hero.” Clark even points out in the previously mentioned book that, “sometimes, I admit, I think of Bruce as a man in a costume. Then, with some gadget from his utility belt, he reminds me that he has an extraordinarily inventive mind. And how lucky I am to be able to call on him.”

Batman is representative not only of the super-human but also of the darker side of reality, which we all must face. Batman simply embraces it. His war on crime, his melancholy, tied in with his ruthless methods make him one of the most satisfying of all the major superheroes. Even his basic modus operandi, which deals in death and retribution for the murder of his parents as child and his vow to rid the world of that same evil which gunned down the only two people he ever loved, slightly resembles the character Hades, the Greek lord of the Underworld.

It is actually quite surprising, the level of similarity that comic book subject matter has with Greek mythology, particularly DC comics (as apposed to Marvel). Probably one of the single greatest comparisons is the superhero group known as the J.L.A. – the Justice League of America, of whom Superman is the self-appointed leader. Strikingly similar to the Gods of Mt. Olympus, this group of heroes seems to represent a different facet of humanity, just as the old gods of legend did.

Superman, of course the leader, resembles Zeus in a way. And though he does not hurl down lightning bolts from on high, he is without question the iconic of almost any superhero ever created. Batman resembling Hade, and Wonder Woman, whose very name, Diana means goddess of the hunt is the amazon princess and who overall is probably the most connected to the Greek gods. Upon her birth, she was blessed with (among other things) “the beauty of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena, the speed of Hermes, and the strength of Hercules.” The parallel can even be drawn that their primary base of operations is settled on the very surface of the Moon, where they can keep a watchful eye on humanity from the Heavens, much like the high slopes of Mt. Olympus where the ancient gods made their home.

Now, one of the most predominant aspects of a myth is its ability to relate to its audience and make them feel as if they can connect to it or at least what its message represents. One of the most common instances is the example of the Marvel Comics hero Spiderman. His creation and publication in the 1960s was a direct result of the demand for a superhero that teenagers could directly identify with. The seemingly aimless teenage Peter Parker is still almost 45 years later a major favorite among comic readers. And his abilities stem from a bite from a genetically engineered spider, which is not an entirely impossible (albeit farfetched) source.

Another example is Marvel’s Captain America. Often seen as the American Spirit, Steve Rogers like Batman is also completely human. Created mainly as a fantasy outlet for consumers allowing them to read about the American hero beating the stuffing out of Hitler and the Nazis, as well as the Japanese and other wartime threats this county has faced, he is armed with his impenetrable shield, again symbolizing the unbreakable American spirit. However, ironically enough, in an unexpected, and somewhat shocking move, the authors killed Capt. America this year, a victim of a sniper’s bullet. This development seems almost to imply condition of the current state of America and perhaps tell us that that so-called unbreakable American spirit is more fragile than we would like to believe.

In fact, the image/mythology of the hero, particularly the superhero has begun to lessen in the minds of the public, especially recently. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell poignantly remarks,

“The problem of mankind today, therefore, is precisely the opposite to that of men in the comparatively stable periods of those great coordinating mythologies which are now known as lies. Then all meaning was in the group, in the great anonymous forms, none in the self-expressive individual; today no meaning is in the group-none in the world: all of it is in the individual. But there the meaning is absolutely unconscious. One does not know toward what one moves. One does not know by what one is propelled. The lines of communication have been cut, and we have been split in two.” (Campbell Hero, Thousand Faces 388)

The “two” which we have been split off into are those who are willing to buy into the mythology of the modern day hero just as many were in the old days of ancient Greece, and those who recognize those tales as well as the modern-day ones as nothing more than lies and complete science-fictional material with is not even worth their attention. The lines of communication have indeed been blurred to a point where we don’t even see them anymore. It’s not even so much that people have to believe that comic books and superheroes are simply the modern day versions of famous legends told throughout history. What truly matters is that people, particularly older people, have shut their minds off to the real issue of allowing their clear-cut, routine, reality to mix even slightly with the overall relative fantasy of mythology that comic books do such of wonderful job of portraying.

To some, comic books are just colored illustrations of ridiculously burly men in spandex that fly around and fight evil in order to save the day, but I think in truth, they are so much more. Even though I don’t believe that the comic mythology is something to be revered or worshipped as they were in ancient times, I do believe that they should still be paid their due attention. Because to live in a world in which everything must be finitely real would not only be incredibly boring, it would also be quite maddening. We have to recognize that just because the medium by which these stories are delivered to us has changed dramatically from simply sitting around a campfire relating tales of mythical figures and legendary heroes, to looking at the pictures in comics, the message is no different.

Even though comic books are still considered by many to be juvenile and simply for kids with affinities for a world of fantasy, there is so much more to the small square-by-square captions on each page than the authors, illustrators, and other staff that produce these fine works of art are given credit for. What many do not seem to realize is that these graphic novels have opened up a new window into a new kind of mythology, and new kinds of legends. If these characters have survived the last 60-some years and still going just as strong as before, what’s to stop them from being remembered eternally in the minds of children and adults? The key word, “eternal.” There are some stories in this world that will never die and will always exist in the hearts and minds of the people. Legends, myths, fairy tales, and nursery rhymes — all are examples of that ever-lasting aspect of humanity that simply cannot be forgotten. Comic book superheroes are simply the next rung of the ladder.