For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things that influenced me when I was very young; the things that had a lasting impact on what I believe and my views of right and wrong. Most of them are serious, things like the many ways my parents taught me about integrity and doing the right thing no matter what. From there are religious influences and still others from pop culture and the media that planted seeds about being a good person. The one that popped into my head recently and this is no surprise for those that grew up with me, was from the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve “Superman” film.
I know I’m speaking to my “geek” side a bit here, but there are two moments in that film that made a lasting impression on me. One is a moment of true honesty, and the other is a quick scene of “pure” acting that always stands out as a great example of the transformation that can be achieved using none other than our greatest instrument – our body – to define and completely change how we are perceived.
In the movie, at one point Lois is interviewing Superman and she turns away and says, “I don’t believe this.” Superman says her name, “Lois,” and she turns around. Then Christopher Reeve, as Superman simply says, “I never lie.” Something about this moment has always struck with me. I don’t know if it was the pure honesty of Christopher Reeve’s performance or that I was just young and impressionable, but it stood out to me in my young mind and I’ve never been able to quite shake it. I think its part of the reason I always end my voicemail message with, “I’ll get back to you. I promise.”
The acting moment that is one of my all-time favorite movie moments, is the moment where Clark is about to tell Lois that he’s Superman (side note, the irony of a character who says “I never lie” and at the same time has a secret identity is not lost on me). For the role, Christopher Reeve, made the choice to develop a hunch and raise the pitch of his voice a few octaves to play Clark Kent. These subtle tweaks managed to transform the over 6-foot actor, into someone who was completely non-threatening and almost docile and “weak.” Clark shows up for a date with Lois (this is right after she met Superman and that infamous “Can you read my mind” flying sequence). Lois walks away in a daze about her meeting with Superman. Clark takes off his glasses and his whole body changes as he rises out of his hunch, squares his jaw, changes his breathing, and, without a costume change, “becomes” Superman. He starts to tell Lois who he is, but quickly loses his nerve and reconsiders as he drops right back into Clark, again, right before our eyes. It’s a great sequence and one that makes me wish he had had more of a chance to act in other big films before his accident. At the very least, he did get a chance to star in “Somewhere in Time” which was fantastic.
To that end, I think the appeal for me about Superman never was his powers. I mean, they are kind of ridiculous – he’s way too overpowered. But, I think a lot of us miss the boat when we complain about that. Superman, in his purest form, was not “super” because of his powers. He was “super” because he represented the best traits a person could have – honesty, hope, being “good” in the face of evil and cynicism. It’s part of the reason that many times he’s portrayed as being “Biblical” in how he usually follows the monomyth as laid out by Joseph Campbell. He was more an archetype to aspire to vs. a superhero to dream about being.
In recent years the portrayal of Superman as a character has lost that. It’s part of the reason that “Man of Steel” wasn’t well received by fans – because a key part of the character was lost or missing at times.
You may be thinking, "Okay, Mike, that's great...but what does that have to do with me?"
You see, if Superman's greatest trait wasn't his super powers, then it was something else entirely.
It was his humanity; his ability to be honest, tell the truth and own what he believed. Sometimes, in those pure moments of honesty deep in the bottom of our hearts, we know this is how we are supposed to be when we are our best selves. And, if you think to about the people that have influenced you throughout your life in the most positive of ways, you can feel how the echoes of this rippled out from them and changed you - made you better. Which brings us to this week's challenge: Be your best self. This week you have the opportunity to touch a multitude of lives - your family, your coworkers, your friends - even a stranger on the street, bus or subway. Share your truth: be honest, humble, and stick to that still small voice that urges you to speak up, live out loud, and be bold. By embracing all that you bring to the table you'll not just be human. You'll be "super" too. And I think that's something we can all get behind. Make today great!