When I was younger, Saturday mornings included monochromatic episodes of my favorite crime fighters. Batman, Superman and others took turns fending off evil in 30-minute segments.
In each episode, you could count on the world to be threatened by some new “death-ray” or device to serve an evil plot. And not to be outdone, the nobler vigilantes would strike back with something powerful from their own arsenal.
As I laid on the couch watching these episodes, I had no trouble distinguishing the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”
Sure, the colors of their tights, the high-tech toys for fighting or perpetrating crime and the catch-phrases all made it easy to tell which side they were on. Superman and Batman had their gizmos and powers, but so did their nemeses. Everybody was armed to the teeth with their own weapons.
Past these most obvious methods of telling them apart, there has to be something else that separates these two groups.
There has to be something more substantive that lets everyone know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – who the good guy is.
So what separates villains from superheroes?
If you’re looking for an answer, you won’t have to study superhero re-runs.
While those shows have been taken off of the air, don’t fret. Heroes just like them still exist, and you know at least two of them very well.
Envision your favorite high-flying hero. Take away the ability to fly, the laser vision and anything else that made Heroes “super.” At first, you might not recognize them. They’re less flashy, might look a little haggard, but they’re just as valiant.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re trying to envision such a hero in your head, think of your parents.
Albeit less muscular and slower with catchphrases, parents go above and beyond with superhuman strength each day. They have the one job that doesn’t allow days off; they don’t get vacation; they don’t clock out at the end of a long workday; they’re always accountable. Between balancing adult issues and concerns of their own, and constantly solving the issues of their children, they have to fight serious problems at all times.
And before you shrug this off and say that these are small responsibilities, give it some thought.
You can witness these heroes fighting evil and protecting the public. Parents do more than pack their childrens’ lunches or tuck them in at night. They’re responsible for the moral formation of their youngsters; they’re the first to swoop in if a child begins down the wrong path in their own life. This is the largest example of battling evil there is.
And the really amazing part? These heroes do it all without breaking a sweat, or letting their children see them struggle.
Heroes aren’t special because they face adversity without ever struggling, or because they’re guaranteed to win. They’re heroes because they don’t know they’ll win, and most likely not even sure they know what they’re doing. Despite all of that, they don’t ever doubt that they’re doing what’s right and for the right reasons.
So, returning to my initial question: what separates the heroes from the villains? The answer is intentions. Villains fight for evil and heroes fight for good. Heroes think of others, and stick their necks out time and again for loved ones, and strangers. Laser vision, Batmobiles, and the fancy hardware were just accessories, tools to accomplish their goals of good. These items never made the hero; the hero exists independently.
Pure and selfless intentions are the things that rank our parents among the rest of the heroes we idolize. They stand nothing to gain by working themselves to the bone or giving up their own comfort, but they do it anyway.
They do it because their children, the future of the world, need them. They sacrifice themselves, risk their own safety and happiness and tuck their capes inside their business attire to avoid taking too much credit. Simply, parents are heroes because they give of themselves out of a singularly courageous duty to do what’s right.