Croskey’s Corner: Creativity
Great Powers for Good
by Bill Croskey
Just before his inauguration, President-elect John F. Kennedy spoke to the Massachusetts legislature and offered this Biblical quote: “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” One can imagine that a powerful politician, let alone a Kennedy, might sometimes need to remind himself and others that the rich and powerful were not merely supposed to enjoy their privilege but might choose to give something back, as they say. This idea has always held great power for me. But, with my often juvenile view of things, I tend to seek my philosophical guidelines, not so much from politics as from comics. Thus, my comic book version of this philosophy comes from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, who says, “Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.”
The Character Quality of the Month, Creativity, is defined as “Approaching a need, a task, or an idea from a new perspective.” That is one of the Character First! definitions which coincides with our general understanding of Creativity. As is common with me, I find the “I will…” statements very illuminating. One in particular caught my eye: I will… “Use my talents for good.” In other words, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben’s was admonishing him to use his super powers to help others.
The comics are full of characters who made the choice to use their great powers for good. Superman is a “strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” Yet his Earthly parents, Ma and Pa Kent, teach him to channel those powers to help others. One story has a dying Pa Kent telling him, “No man on Earth has the amazing powers you have. You can use them to be a powerful force for good.” So Superman, who can squeeze coal into diamonds, instead decides to save the world from disasters. Bruce Wayne sees his parents gunned down by a cheap hood. (Good to know that it was not done by an expensive hood.) Many boys might become juvenile delinquents or turn to drugs. But Bruce decides to dedicate his life to fighting crime. Since criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, he determines to dress as a mysterious figure of the night, and Batman is created. Wonder Woman, an Amazon princess, leaves the safety of Paradise Island and the promise of immortality to join “Men’s World” and to help them defeat evildoers. The character Green Lantern’s ring is a virtual Aladdin’s Lamp, that can create any object he wills it to. So what does he do – create vast treasure? No, he hits criminals with green boxing gloves! Indeed, many of the comic book super heroes are rich playboys or playgirls who have the dedication (and the free time allowed when one does not have to work!) to plow their fortunes into righting wrongs. The hero could make himself or herself rich or ruler of the world or both. Instead, the heroic path is to do good and to help others.
All well and good, you might say. But that’s comic books. What about reality? There is no doubt that, at least at times, our culture seems to admire and encourage the development and possession of great power and wealth. But the choosing to do good deeds with the great power often seems absent. Many of the athletes, musicians, actors, and media stars we worship seem to glory in the power but not in the honor. However, maybe our appreciation for a hero “matures” when we see them perform service and give back. Former Presidents Carter, Bush I and II, and Clinton draw crowds for their work in Haiti, in Africa, and with international efforts to promote peace and democracy. We may have a passionate fling with wealth and power, but we seem to “marry” the celebrities who do good deeds.
The challenge for schools is to change the culture from one that worships power to one that is devoted to using power to help others. Or, changing the culture from “Might makes right” to “Might for right.” We can help young people to gravitate to media stars and celebrities who do good work. It may come through history class, where we study not just famous people but also famous good people. If Andy Warhol’s concept of 15 minutes of fame still attracts kids today, then we have to show them the famous do-gooders as models. Helen Keller. Mother Teresa. The same is true for those our schools invite to inspire kids. Students need to meet the Tom Gills, who are well known but also well respected; the Marvin Lewises who set up charitable foundations; the Kim Nuxhalls who carry on the campaigns for character in the names of their beloved fathers. And we can stand up for heroic giving back in every day assignments. I know a teacher who will only let her students choose biographical subjects for their One Person Shows if the choice has had a positive impact on the world. Why not? History needs to study the villains, as well as the heroes. But kids need not rehearse being these villains.
In an old Superman story, his enemy, Lex Luthor, feeds a bunch of data into a computer, asks the machine to figure out Superman’s secret identity, and gets the answer: Clark Kent. Luthor fires the computer programmer for failing. Why? Luthor reasons that no person with the great powers of Superman would ever pretend to be a weak human being. Yet that is the glorious thing about true heroes. They have great power but they choose to curb their own passions and desires and to help others. I think that is what we mean by “heroic.” Let’s pass the word to our students.