I just sank an entire week of my life into another nerdy TV show and so here we are, again extrapolating meaningful life lessons from superheroes and sci-fi.
In the TV show “Arrow” (based off of the Green Arrow from DC comics) there is a scene where the Arrow has just saved the life one of his former partners (again) and is standing above several unconscious criminals in a darkened alleyway. The man he just saved is angry at him for something relatively inconsequential and he looks at the Arrow, registers what just happened and snaps at him, “What? Are you waiting for a thank you or something?”
The Arrow looks at him and replies in his gruff and synthesized voice: “That’s now why I do this.”
And then he flies off into the night.
I’m spending the better part of my life trying to learn this lesson.
The Arrow’s daytime personality is that of a spoiled billionaire playboy. During the day he is derided and ridiculed for not caring enough about the city, not doing anything to help the people and being absent for most of his duties. Of course, he’s absent because is dressing up in a green hood and apprehending all of the dangerous criminals in the city. And then at night time he is criticized and shunned for occasionally making a mistake.
And yet, every night, he puts on his mask and he puts his life on the line to help people who don’t know who he is, don’t appreciate him, and will never say “thank you.” In all likelihood, they are the people who will eventually hunt him down and blame him for their problems.
That’s the thing about superheroes, though. They are motivated by a deeply personal drive to do the right thing. Every other motivating factor burns away quickly enough because none of them are strong enough or pure enough to withstand the onslaught of criticism.
So many times in my life I have fallen into the trap of thinking, “If I was doing this right, people would respond accordingly. They wouldn’t get mad. They wouldn’t become defensive. They might even say ‘thank you.'”
Really. Like that worked out so well for Jesus, right?
In that instance we have literally a perfect human being who did nothing but love and teach anyone and everyone that came across his path. I’m not all too familiar with the Bible, but I can’t recall a single instance of Jesus expressing anger. And yet, somehow people were enough incensed by his loving and teaching that they saw fit to drive nails through his limbs to a wooden cross and let him hang there until his lungs caved in.
Call me crazy, but I’d say that’s pretty incensed.
We can’t count on awards or accolades to let us know we are on the right path. Doing the right thing, as far as we are capable, is rarely flashy enough to afford us the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a simple, humble thing. Allowing ourselves to be misunderstood and underappreciate. Being wrong. Being kind when nobody notices.
That’s the kind of personal integrity I want to cultivate. The example of superheroes is so poignant to me simply because they are fallible. Jesus is great, but a totally unattainable example in this lifetime. Even though comic book characters aren’t real, they provide a very real depiction of humanity. The Arrow makes mistakes. The Arrow has human needs for connection and support. And through all of that, he somehow manages to spend his life serving other people while demanding precious little for himself.
I don’t even have to put on a green hood, learn to shoot with a bow and arrow, or be reviled by people whose lives I am saving. All I have to do is clean up the kitchen without rubbing my husband’s nose in it. All I have to do is stop multitasking with my daughter. To have the courage to be myself at the risk of being “unpopular.” To continue speaking my mind and taking the next step when I see the path of righteousness laid out before me.
I want to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing, not because I am waiting for some divine back scratch.
Simple. And compared to the Arrow’s burden, easy.
So am I still waiting for a thank you? I don’t think that’s why I’m doing this. Not anymore.