I think a lot about my view of the world when I was young and impressionable.
When I was six my mom created a handmade Superman costume for me. It was complete with a full cape that draped down to my ankles. I must have slept in that costume for a month. When I had to take it off I kept it in a special trunk in my room—my own personal Fortress of Solitude.
I wanted to help people. I wanted to make a difference. I believed you needed superpowers to do it—powers beyond the ability of a normal six-year-old. I needed things like super speed, flight, laser vision, and the power to punch bad guys through walls… but with just enough strength that they would only be knocked out. They weren’t badly hurt… just put on timeout so they could re-evaluate their selfish intentions.
As I grew up my idea of what a superhero changed. At eight I wanted to be a paramedic. At 16 I wanted to be a physiotherapist. At 20 I wanted to be a police officer. At 22 I wanted to be a personal trainer. At 27 I wanted to be a Dad. At 38 I wanted to be a leader.
I remember exploring what it would be like to become a police officer. I was deputized and doing graveyard-shift ride-alongs with our local police department. It was an emotionally exhausting experience, filled with domestic disputes, violence, and pepper spray. Around 1:30 AM we would all converge on a local bar called “Amigos” because inevitably fights would break out as the 1200 or so patrons would hit the street at closing time.
One of the local bouncers had already called in to advise a very large man was threatening violence after being asked to leave. When we found him, he was staggering and his speech incomprehensible. His nose was clearly misaligned and bloody.
I have no idea what happened to this man, to influence his life and create the moments that would follow. He was physically intimidating. He was easily 6 foot 7 inches and well over 400 pounds. Six police officers approached him to ask him what was going on. Was he ok? Could we help him in any way? His response was that if we came any closer “he would kill us all.”
I thought the night would end with the six police officers pepper spraying him and rendering him powerless, in handcuffs and in jail. This ended up not being the case.
Later, as the duty officer and I were filling out the paperwork at our precinct we felt a reverberation through the floor. It was a deep heavy thud like some sort of slow pneumatic jackhammer repeatedly hitting a heavy but indestructible steel pipe during late night street maintenance. We rushed downstairs to the holding cell level, knowing our friend was the only visitor. He had somehow willed himself to stand and committed himself to punch his way out through the bars of his cell door. He knew only determination. It was clear by the blood splattered walls and his hamburger like fists he had no concept of pain. We would need to take him to the local hospital.
We called down a few more officers due to concern over opening the cell door. I remember our friend saying that if we opened his cell door “he would kill us all.” Four police officers pepper sprayed him, and we opened his cell and brought him to the hospital for treatment.
What our group wanted was to influence and reason with that man. We didn’t want to invoke power over him. It as a last resort. I would say ultimately in that situation we failed. I realized that night that the idea of power was an illusion. I decided becoming a police officer was not for me.
Twenty years later I think more about the powers I don’t want. As a leader of people, I don’t want to use discipline. I don’t want to use consequence, or laser vision (well… sometimes I do, but for the sake of the narrative let’s pretend I don’t). I want to reach people in a meaningful way. But it is so much more a difficult path!
Every day I face-off with a six-foot-seven four-hundred-pound goliath who wants exact vengeance or justice on a perceived wrong. I hold back “like I’m living in a world made of cardboard.” I know I can’t win these fights by super-punching my way through them. There is more to be gained by being understanding and patient.
So, if I had a power it would be super-understanding and patience. But I don’t have superpowers. I’m taking the long road and developing these skills the slow way.
So, to those I might metaphorically super-punch along the way, I apologize in advance. Trust me when I say this—I feel terrible about it.