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Letter: What ‘superpower’ would you choose?

Posted: October 9, 2018 1:36 p.m.
Updated: October 9, 2018 1:28 p.m.

“Which superpower would you choose, if you could only have one: the ability to fly or to be invisible?” On a recent podcast episode of This American Life, that was the question posed. Being Spiderman or Wonder Woman were not options.
The responses given by those interviewed ranged from disappointing to disgusting. Every answer except one named a nefarious purpose for their choice—to shoplift without being caught, or to peek at naked people surreptitiously. When you have a superpower, why not take advantage of others?
There were no superheroes on this panel. Without a hint of irony or humor, nearly every person chose the self-serving path of the super villain.
The question causes me to reflect on which superpowers I would choose, given no limits. Here are my two:
The Ability to Listen
Most of us don’t listen well. Our minds wander. We interrupt. We have our own agenda.
One of my uncles had the reputation of being clairvoyant. Who knows if he was? Another of my uncles commented, “When Jessie listened to you, he really listened. He was fully engrossed in what you were saying. He would nod every now and then to make sure you knew he was paying attention.” Maybe if we did a better job of listening, we would each understand our world a little bit better. Most people can hear, but the ability to listen carefully and empathetically will make you a superhero.
When the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina hired two young adults to serve as urban ministers, we gave them this assignment: “Go to the most impoverished area of North Charleston. Stand on the street corners. Don’t preach! Listen for your entire first year there. Then, keep on listening. Engage in conversations about work and family, school and neighborhoods. Go to city council meetings. Ride the city buses. Ask questions. Pay attention. You don’t know what the needs are in North Charleston. The people who live there do. Listen to them.
“A year from now, you can figure our what kind of ministry needs to happen there. Right now, we don’t know if they need a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Go and listen.”
After a year, they made the decision to start a quality after-school educational program for first through third grade students. An organization called Metanoia was born, and the community was transformed. That was almost twenty years ago. Metanoia now has a budget of over two million dollars with three emphases: building community leaders (which began with that after-school program, establishing quality housing, and generating economic development.
Urban ministers Bill Stanfield and Evelyn Oliveira are superheroes because they had the capacity to listen.
The Ability to Let Go
A lot of words and phrases say the same thing in different ways: shut the door, detach, hit the “pause” button, move on, “Just say No.” Whether thinking about a job, a relationship, an idea, or a decision, too many individuals have a hard time moving on to the next chapter, the next task. They get stuck. They find a place where they are comfortable and hang on and wear themselves out. Ultimately, they may damage the individuals they are trying to protect. A theme of books on co-dependency is that taking care of someone who doesn’t need to be taken care of harms both parties. I’ve heard it said we should allow people the dignity of their own choices.
Some of my heroes are people who help others. But that’s just step one.
To become a superhero, an individual has to know when to let go. Hanging on to the past can look a lot like stalking, which is villainous behavior. Compulsions and obsessions, even if they began as a good cause, after a while, may cease to be beneficial.
As someone who thinks of myself as loyal and persevering, both of which are usually positive qualities, I have, at different points in my life, needed a kick in the proverbial pants to move on. Every project begun does not need to be brought to completion—by me. Tenacity may be a good thing. Obstinacy may be less effective. Every problem does not need to be perfectly resolved. Neither you nor I are responsible for all that goes on in the world around us, even in our own families. There’s a time to back away.

Years ago, I heard a joke in which a man falls off a bluff. In the cartoon version, he grabs a limb extending from the wall of the cliff.

He yells, “Is anybody up there?”

A voice answers, “This is God. I am here. Let go of the limb.”

The man ponders his options for a minute, then yells, “Is anybody else up there?”

No one said letting go was easy, but that’s how some people become superheroes.


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