by: Emma Rose
After you’ve worked in the social service world for a few years, you start to acquire the lingo. One day, you notice that words like “solidarity” or “mutual relationship” or “systemic change” are part of your everyday vernacular. To the dismay and possible annoyance of your friends and family members, these words and phrases soon become your mindset. You can’t watch a movie, read the news, or go to a dinner party without seeing the world through this lens. You become “that person” who’s always taking life too seriously and asking the questions nobody wants to think about.
I’m definitely “that person.” Today, the wrapper of my Dove chocolate read, “The only certainty in life is smooth chocolate,” and my immediate thought was, “Not when child slaves are harvesting the cocoa plants.” I can’t help it. It’s just how my brain works. I’ve tried to keep it tame and make it a little less obnoxious/invasive for the people around me, but what can I say? I’m young. I’m passionate about people. I’m angry about the world’s injustice.
So, here I sit, alone with my thoughts, having watched The Dark Knight Rises not once, but two times. Uh-oh.
One of the terms in The Official Service Nerd’s Dictionary is “super-hero complex.” Generally, this term refers to an I’m-going-to-go-help-poor-people-and-save-them-from-their-miserable-lives attitude. When a person develops said complex, it means that he/she thinks that it is his/her duty to rescue the world singlehandedly. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the world a better place. The problem with the “super-hero complex” is that it turns humanity into a commodity—a group of nameless, faceless victims.
The complex is something that I try very hard to avoid, so when Batman said, “I have to save my city,” I cringed a little bit. He didn’t say, “I need to be there for the man who raised me and makes sure my life doesn’t fall apart” or “I have to make sure that my new girlfriend is safe.” (Spoiler alert, Mr. Wayne, she’s batshit crazy. You should have known after watching Inception). Instead, he made the entire population of Gotham a possession over which he had domain.
All of this got me wondering—What motivates Bruce Wayne to be Batman? It doesn’t seem to be the ones dearest to him because, as he made clear through his angsty, eight-year-long monastic phase, the only person he could ever love was unjustly ripped from his life. (Another spoiler alert, Bruce, she picked the other guy. Awkward).
It seems safe to say that Mr. Wayne gets his motivation from a sense of justice. In fact, it’s the classic good-guy battle for truth, justice and the American way. But, here’s the thing, the bad guys were motivated by justice, too.
Bane’s and Miranda’s justice came from the need for revenge. Even at the cost of their own lives, they would avenge R’as Al Ghul and bring his mission to fruition. The mercenaries, on the other hand, had an anger-fueled justice. They wanted an end to Gotham’s wealth gap, but instead of seeking equality, they raged until the rich were the newly oppressed people.
So, what is at the root of the good guy’s justice? What sets him apart from the villains? In my sunny world of cupcakes and teddy bears, it would be an ethic of love. Batman would be so overwhelmed with compassion and care for the people in his life that he couldn’t help acting from a place of self-giving love. However, the probability of that actually happening is about as far-fetched as my dream for Patrick Swayze to come back to life just to dance with me.
Instead, Bruce Wayne’s justice comes from fear and anger. He started training to climb out of the prison because he was angry at Bane for terrorizing Gotham, and he made the jump because he was afraid of dying before he could “save his city.”
As I sat with all of this during the week, I went to my dangerous self-reflective place and started asking, “What is it that motivates me?” I work at a social justice-driven nonprofit and pursue other service/justice work outside of my job. Why do I go to work every morning? Do my actions and efforts stem from a place of self-giving love and mutual relationships? Or, am I, like Bruce Wayne, motivated by fear and anger? I’m certainly afraid that I’ll leave this world without being all I can be for others; and, there’s no question that I’m angry at the injustice I encounter every day; but, those two things will never be enough.
What happens when fear and anger overtake love? What happens when people lose touch with relationships and connectedness and start working from less substantial motivations? We must never forget that the work of social justice must be rooted in relationship and the common good. The world will never truly come to justice until every human person opens his/her heart to love.
It’s been a little over a week, and the Aurora shooting is slowly working its way off the front page. It was a tragedy that left us all disillusioned and asking, “How did this happen? What can we do?” The weekend following the premier, I kept coming back to a Mother Teresa quote, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
In response to the injustice, violence and oppression that we see every day, I don’t think any of us are called to be stand-alone superheroes. Instead, we all have the opportunity to do small and simple things with abounding love. We all have the ability to fill the world with gentle, peaceful compassion. Whether it means baking cookies for your neighbor or sitting down to have an intentional conversation with a person on the street or humbling yourself to receive love and service from others.
I ask you to take some time today and reflect on the question, “What motivates me?” Do you have a superhero complex, or are your life and work driven by loving relationships? Think about the heroes in your life. What do they do that inspires you? What are the little things you do to inspire others?
If we want peace and justice in our world, we cannot be afraid to love others and to let ourselves be loved.
Emma Rose is a fourth-year student at DePaul University and is studying Catholic Studies, Creative Writing, and Spanish. She is passionate about blues dancing, service and justice work, baking, faith, laughter, and relationships. She hopes to pursue a career in faith-based service and justice work.