Whenever I was sick as a kid, my step-father would buy me a comic book to cheer me up. Usually, it was an Archie Comic; my favorite character (which I kept as a closely-guarded secret) was the kind-hearted, tomboyish Betty Cooper. She was one of Archie’s girlfriends, although she always seemed to play second-fiddle to that snobbish Veronica! Betty cared deeply for the wellbeing of others, plus she excelled in athletics, cooking, writing, and academics. In some sense she was a role model for the person I wanted to become.
But then, compared to my other idol, Betty was a bit of a wallflower. Wonder Woman: I read her comics too; and you better believe I watched her battle the forces of evil each week on TV along with the Justice League of America. Pow! Bam! Zap! Villains didn’t stand a chance. Recalling the mythological Amazons, Wonder Woman sought to bring peace, love, and sexual equality to the world. I was dazzled by her super-human strength, her ability to fly, and all those extraordinary feats of speed, stamina, and agility (not to mention that extraordinary hairdo). And in her way, Wonder Woman filled another role model as I considered who I wanted to grow up to be.
Lest you think superheroes are relics of a bygone era (or merely pawns of modern special effects films), it seems they are alive and well, still fighting for the force of good. For instance, Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti clinical psychologist, has created a modern team of comic-book heroes who do more than battle villains—they remedy stereotypes. Al-Mutawa calls his characters “the 99” after the 99 attributes of Allah, as derived from Islamic culture. In a forthcoming cross-cultural collaboration, they will join forces with Wonder Woman and the other classic superheroes of the Justice League. Together they’ll champion virtues like kindness, courage, generosity, and honesty for a healthier world.
We love superheroes. They give freely of their talents and their exceptional gifts in order to benefit humanity. They remind us to overcome our challenges and weaknesses, to help others in need, and to use our strengths boldly instead of succumbing to mediocrity. This is not just kids’ stuff: respected leadership thinkers encourage us to turn our business suits into superhero suits or find our inner Batman.
As a leader, I can draw on this superhero approach by remembering the bigger purpose behind whatever challenge I’ve undertaken or battle I’m fighting: to create a world which works for everyone. If I’m ever in doubt, I can always ask myself: “what would Betty Cooper do?” And “would Wonder Woman approve?”
Image by ZacharyTirrell