Lessons from Spiderman: Power and Responsibility

By Richard Raya

“With Great Power comes Great Responsibility.” This is the mantra of my favorite hero and greatest idol, a code that I aspire to live by in all aspects of my life. Ever since I was eight years old, I’ve dreamed of twirling between skyscrapers and fighting off villains and having the power to protect innocents and the ones I love and the integrity to take responsibility for all my actions. The real world is more complicated than Peter Parker’s Manhattan, of course– which is saying something, considering Spidey’s got some awesome storytelling and character development. Every year from childhood my power has increased, but the lines of my jurisdiction have grown hazier as well. The difference between “could” and “should” became something I contemplated uncomfortably often. I was always perfectly comfortable right-hooking some schoolyard tyrant. But did my responsibility extend to speaking up in class when someone’s exasperated comment carried with it the faint scent of racism or classism? Just how nice did I have to be to my brother, my friends? As eldest brother, what was my role between contentious parents and stubborn siblings? Recent years’ forays into adulthood have, of course, been even harder. Do I take assignments less seriously when you know your professor is easy to charm? Just how late should I stay up editing my floormate’s papers? How, when and why do I stand up to my parents? Knowing the full measure of my power, and knowing where to find the moral fiber to apply it in the right time and place, has become the conundrum of my life. Acts of heroism are supposed to be applauded, but sometimes during growing up people develop wildly different ideas of what’s right and wrong. Just because I thought it was my place to interfere doesn’t mean anyone else did. So sometimes teachers would just breathe in, grit teeth and clench when I called someone’s comments out, wishing I’d left well enough alone instead of raising issues that should be long buried and inducing wince-worthy conversations. Trying to mediate between my lightning-bolt mom and my silent stone brother garnered me resentment from both sides. Even the time I nabbed a purse-snatcher in San Francisco earned me only annoyed looks by the real cops when they arrived. There is no consolidated evil, no one mastermind, that can be vanquished in order to eliminate all evils–rather, we have to meet each challenge as it comes, each individual thug and bigot. Allegiances and scruples shift and dance as we try to hold on to our ideals. Finding the strength and initiative to step forward and act isn’t as tough as finding the courage to do it again, again and again. After a while it is so, so easy to call it quits. Self-interest and responsibility occupy practically mutually exclusive spheres. It’s hard to know why to continue. The answer, in the end, always comes back to two things–people and love, sappy and unfair as it is. Even if we haven’t incurred a debt to others, others still depend on us. And to not take responsibility for how we treat people we love means we don’t quite love them. Taking responsibility is terrifying. And one thing I’ve learned from years of comparing my life to comic books is that responsibility isn’t just about using the objective power you have to right others’ wrongs– it is using the power you have from your relationships with others to mend damage you’ve done. Power and responsibility– it means doing what you can, when you can, to help, regardless of the praise you’ll receive or the appreciation you’ll get. Because if you can do things that can help people, things that only you can do, the only right thing is to do them. Responsibility is raising hands, writing letters, chasing someone. It’s the extra mile, it’s self analysis, it’s fighting for a friend. So, speaking on behalf of any budding wannabe heroes as well as for myself, I apologize. Apologize for all the times we should’ve been there but weren’t, all the times we tried but failed. The slurs that went unchecked, the bullying to which we turned blind eyes, the distances and disparities we saw growing but never got around to fixing. I apologize. And, speaking on behalf of the community, to all budding wannabe heroes who are getting discouraged– keep faith. Keep it up, and don’t think that just because you’ve done something wrong that you can’t make it right. It just means you’re going to have to try harder. There are people as far as the other side of the globe, and as near as the dorm next door, who need you to lend a hand, extend the olive branch, or brighten their day– and if you won’t, who will? refresh –>