I am psyched about the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie. I loved the recently released trailer, which I must have seen a dozen times so far.
There is one scene in particular in this trailer that caught my eye. It’s the scene where Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive Earth mom, tells him: “Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be. Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
To me it’s obvious that many comic book movies are moving in a new direction with the message they’re sending. And, personally, I love this new direction.
Some years ago, comic book movies like Spider-Man used to tell us that “with great power comes great responsibility” and try to instill in us the idea that we have an obligation to use our strengths to help, even save, humanity.
Now the message is shifting towards what I see as a more rational and mature message, which suggests that we are free to do what we want in life. Thus, we should use our strengths to help others if that’s what we want to, but we don’t have an obligation to do that. I’d like to talk about why this idea makes a lot of sense and why it’s useful to live by it.
Our Existential Freedom
This emerging idea in comic book movies that we are free to choose our own path in life can trace its roots in the thinking of prominent philosophers such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Camus and Sartre. I have no doubt that film directors Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan, who are responsible for the current wave of Batman and Superman movies, are drawing some inspiration from these guys.
The ideas of philosophers like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Camus and Sartre were grouped in a philosophy known as existentialism. The main premise of existentialism is that life is intrinsically meaningless. It has no objective meaning or purpose, and our notions of good and evil are subjective as well.
This lack of objective meaning can be a source of dread, but it’s also highly liberating and empowering. Because it implies that we have no preset obligations in life; that we are free to give our life whatever personal meaning we want and live it in alignment with that meaning.
I find this existential perspective quite accurate. One could even say that “man is condemned to be free”, as Sartre puts it. But it’s not too bad of a sentence, considering how valuable the freedom to live how we want is.
Of course, we are born in society, which brings upon us a set of basic obligations, as part of a basic social contract in the absence of which society would not be able to function properly. But this is a very basic contract, with obligations such as not killing, not stealing, not beating people up. Beyond that, I don’t buy into anything else as a given obligation in life.
Overcoming the Savior Mindset and Living Freely
Many of us have been educated to think otherwise though. Parents, teachers, religious leaders, and many old-school superhero movies have taught us that we have some sort of immense duty towards other people. We have to help them, fix their problems, save them from difficulty, and generally be very nice to them.
I think this idea is simply unsubstantiated. Why do we have the duty to help others? No sensible reason is ever given. Sure, helping others will improve their life, it can also benefit us eventually, and it’s wise in many cases. But that doesn’t mean it’s an outright obligation.
Also, in practice, this idea backfires in horrible ways. As a confidence and communication coach, working frequently with men and women who live feeling they have a strict duty to help others, I witness this all the time.
Such individuals become pathological people pleasers. They always put others first and sacrifice their own needs for them. But they never feel like they’ve done enough for others and they constantly feel the heavy pressure of obligations. Ironically though, they often get very little in return when they need help, and they are often seen as insecure, clingy or needy, which is why they frequently have very few real friends.
One way or another, their bottomless sense of obligation towards others brings them much frustration and disappointment.
Again, this is not to say that helping others doesn’t make practical sense sometimes, because you will get help in return when in need, or that it cannot feel very good at times, even if you get nothing in return. It’s just not an obligation. Martha Kent is right: you don’t owe this world a thing.
If you’re used to thinking and feeling that you owe this world something (maybe, a lot), as well as acting accordingly, it’s gonna take some work to change this mindset. You’re gonna have to dig into your beliefs system and make some crucial changes there. But this is doable, and definitely worth doing.
If you wanna learn how to change your beliefs effectively, free yourself from the burden of a strong sense of obligation and radically improve your social confidence, I suggest you watch this special presentation, where I discuss just that in more detail and share some of my best advice.
Also, join my free social confidence newsletter, where I share regular advice on this topic. The help is out there. You just have to grab it and use it.