My kids have been watching a lot of Superman at my house. I’m talking about the 1978 movie with Christopher Reeve, Magot Kidder and Gene Hackman. I love it because it brings me back to when I was 9-years-old and saw it the first time. Back when they did all the credits at the beginning – remember that?
Gene Hackman plays the bad guy Lex Luthor. And as insensitive as he is to the loss of human life and calculating in his plans to get what he wants, he seems perfectly rational in his selfish pursuit of wealth and notoriety as the greatest criminal mind of the time. He even seems quite erudite as he reads newspapers, has a library full of books and even responds using the German “Jawohl” to respond with an enthusiastic yes to a statement.
This is the model of a bad guy that I grew up with. Someone with nefarious intentions but logical methods. Life has taught me that there is another type of bad guy – one who seems to reacts out of pain and hatred in a way that seems so pointless. And when I use the term “bad guy,” I intend it in a universal way that is not gender specific. Faye Dunaway plays a good female “bad guy” in the Supergirl movie from 1984.
Given my career and lifestyle, I will probably never meet a Lex Luthor. But the other type of bad guy is someone who lives in and among our communities. Someone who has interactions with others that influences whether or not they feel seen, heard or loved. Someone who, maybe from a very young age, can benefit from others taking a step to make them feel included or respected.
The poet Mark Nepo has a beautiful description of our world as a great wheel. We share a common center, our lives create all the different spokes and the integrity of the wheel overall depends on the health of those spokes. When we open ourselves up to whatever inspires each of us to beauty, transcendence and inclusion, we have the opportunity to shine the light for others because we are all connected.
Thinking back to how to ground myself in this work, I think of this quote from Elie Wiesel:
But where was I to start? The world is so vast, I shall start with the country I know best, my own. But my country is so very large. I had better start with my town. But my town too, is large. I had best start with my street. No: my home. No: my family. Never mind, I shall start with myself.Elie Wiesel
The little things we do – a pause to let someone cut in traffic, or a smile passing someone on the street or a silent prayer of blessing for someone who is struggling, these are kindnesses that start in our hearts and touch all those around. The smallest nod to acknowledge that the person in front of us exists has impact.
Be nice to the 38 year old in your Freshman lecture and be nice to people at the gym. Those people are putting themselves in extreme anxiety-inducing situations in attempt to try to better themselves. Just a smile or a quick conversation can mean so much.unknown
We might need Superman to fight the Lex Luthors of the world. But we all have a chance to touch others who may or may not become bad guys based on the path they walk among us. And we all have a chance to touch others who may or may not become great guys based on the peace and support passed to them. It starts small: be kind to yourself and be kind to others.
What are the small acts that have inspired or passed peace to you?
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