Things I Learned from X-Men

July 23, 2013
This past week I had the grand experience of attending San Diego Comic Con, the largest con of its kind held annually in sunny San Diego. Located right by the harbor, the convention center is usually filled to capacity with approximately 130,000 attendees. It is one of the most glorious times of the year for a geek. I speak for myself.

Post-con, I found myself thinking of some really important questions. Why do we need superheroes? What do they teach us? Should we really strive to be more like them? Is Magneto really a villain?

So here are three basic lessons I learned from superheroes:

#1. We each have our own unique set of skills that set us apart and make us different from those around us. Our specific skill sets can allow us to offer something extra, something that might help an individual or group. It could be something big or small. Last year at a Homestuck meetup, my obsession with always being con-ready and knowledge of the convention center floor plan allowed me to direct someone who suddenly developed a strong negative reaction to her contact lenses, a clear emergency, to the nearest bathroom. This year as I stood in line for Hall H, my line buddies' positive attitude allowed me to remain hopeful in spite of low chances of getting into the room (we made it in!).

Storm can come up against a challenge by herself, but how might the outcome change if you apply Wolverine to the mix? How might Wolverine do in a challenge that involves more intellect and less physical strength without a few more X-Men to help him out? How would any of the X-Men fare individually against a great challenge? Historically, they are each unique and amazing, but they are great when they come together as a team.

In therapy, goals can be harder to reach if you go about it all by yourself. When possible, I like to encourage family members or other loved ones to get involved, especially in therapy with children and adolescents. With adults, it's just as important to consider the people around who can offer their own unique skill sets to help your client's unique goals, be it a coach, a teacher, a parent, a faith healer, a best friend, or a girlfriend/boyfriend.

Even if you don't think of yourself as very action-oriented or proactive, odds are there are things you offer that are unique. Every guild needs a healer. The Doctor needs his companions, Sherlock needs Watson, Dean needs Sam... When thinking in terms of group practice and teamwork, we each have something that we can offer that the others don't, and they have something to offer that we don't. Our differences make us stronger as a group.

#2. There will always be challenges that seem too big for us, but we should not give up without giving it our best effort. We will likely feel better after having tried and failed than after having given up prematurely on something that we considered important. The X-Men don't always win, but they usually give it all they have. If they fail, then they consider other alternatives. Real life teaches us that we don't always get what we set out to do. Sometimes we lose, even when we give it all we got. You won't always save the day, but you will feel better if you at least tried at it, and will be less likely to dwell on the "what if" scenarios.

One perfect, PERFECT example of this is attending college and/or graduate school. School can be hard. Defending your dissertation or passing your last ever final can feel like beating the final boss, and obtaining that piece of paper that is your degree, epic loot. Realistically, sometimes while attending school people realize that college or grad school is just not the thing they want to do. School is expensive and demanding, and there are sacrifices that we have to make that we are not always ready for. You're more likely to feel better having given it a shot and realized that it's not your thing, than having never tried and later feeling regret and wondering what could have happened if you'd tried.

Another perfect example is substance use work. For people who are working on quitting, change can have its setbacks (or relapses). It is important to continue to work through the setbacks, and if necessary, to consider alternative plans. Maybe the original plan is not working and you need to reconsider a step or two. Certain group recovery programs' philosophies don't always work for everybody, and we must consider alternatives. Clients may have friends who are not so supportive of their work toward recovery. Whatever the goal, it is important to instill in our clients that their persistence is key to their recovery, regardless of how many setbacks they experience, and that sometimes reconsidering and reconstructing the plan is necessary.

#3. The world is not clear-cut, black and white, good vs. evil. There are extremes sometimes, but we are all good and bad at the same time. Yes, surprisingly I learned this as a child from superhero stories, before or while I learned it from my mom and dad. It might seem to the casual observer that stories about superheroes are usually good against evil, but there are always gray areas and characters that don't fit into the box, and that is just perfect. Again I bring up Wolverine. He's not your smiling, good-doer, charming, well-mannered character. Wolverine had a tough life. He is rough around the edges, angry, pragmatic, and he has a set of morals that lead him through life. He is a well-developed superhero, though he may not consider himself so.

How do you, as a parent, explain to your young children that people are not always "good" all the time, and sometimes they do "bad" things? It's not a one-evening lesson. It's something that we learn as we grow. I learned this from watching superhero cartoons at the same time as I learned it from my mother, and the lesson was reinforced. The X-Men don't always make good calls, but that doesn't make them bad people. If I purposely poured krazy glue on the floor and spread it with my shoe, or mixed the entire bottles of shampoo and detergent together, it didn't make me a bad child, it just meant I made a choice.

And finally, Magneto. Is he really a villain? Is he a critique on the "bad" aspects of humanity? If you consider only the most recent movie that includes their backstory, X-Men First Class (SPOILERS if you haven't seen it), Magneto is a man who responds to the horrors of humanity by splitting away from the non-mutant human identity and embracing his differences. He reacts to what was done to him (by non-mutant humans) by rejecting as a whole the group of people who caused him harm and accepting only those who, like him, have been outcast by non-mutants, teaching them that they are better, giving them hope and embracing them when the world has rejected them as "freaks." Aren't they just responding normally to the different aspects of humanity that we don't always accept in ourselves? Aren't we all Magneto sometimes?


For cool info on superheroes in the context of therapy visit the Geek Therapy Podcast website and
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