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Are You A Superhero?

On the last bank holiday Monday, something quite surprising happened to me - I found myself close to tears while watching Avengers: End Game. This was not something I expected to happen!  I’m not a particular fan of the marvel characters, although some of the films have entertained me over the years, and I don’t have any especial emotional attachment to the characters. But here I was: sitting in the cinema with my eyes definitely getting watery. What was going on? 

I was sufficiently surprised by my reaction to actually think about what had brought it on (don’t worry, no spoilers in this blog). There was definitely an element of love and loss that stirred my emotions. But, broadly speaking, I decided it was the theme of good versus evil and the idea of individuals coming together, to stand up for what is right and to bring about change, that triggered the tears.  It was uplifting and, due to some personal sacrifices, upsetting in equal measure. 

Good versus evil is an enduring theme, seen across literature and film in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. For all these epic stories, people have drawn religious parallels. When George Lucas, the writer of the Star Wars films, was asked about the suggestion that Stars Wars is profoundly religious he responded that: “I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distil them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct - that there is a greater mystery out there. I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people - more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question, ‘Is there a God or is there not a God?’ - that is for me the worst thing that can happen.”

One of the things that touches my emotions in all these stories is the moment when there is what I would describe as a ‘show down’ between good and evil. Invariably, a small band of individuals have represented good throughout the story: Aslan and the children in Narnia; Luke Skywalker, Leah, Hans Solo, C3PO and R2D2 in the original Star Wars films; Frodo, Gandalf and friends in The Lord Of The Rings. As the camera sweeps over an expanse of characters who represent evil, the battle looks insurmountable. And then…as if by magic…more ‘good’ characters suddenly appear, walking to stand in solidarity with those who have been the embodiment of good from the start. There is a battle; there are losses on each side but, invariably in these stories, good triumphs. I think this plays into an enduring optimism and hope we hold as humans - that what we believe is right and good will always prosper (and that’s an interesting topic in itself to explore in more depth another day).

I found myself wondering whether there are real life parallels to these ever-popular stories. How often are brave individuals joined by the masses to enable a seemingly insurmountable battle to be won?  And what are the real life battles that we are fighting in 2019?  Watching Blue Planet 2 recently, and reflecting on the climate change rallies of recent months, it is arguable that reversing damage to our planet’s fragile ecosystems is one of our most profound modern day battles. Amongst the many, this battle has an unlikely ‘superhero’ in Greta Thunberg. Greta began her school strike for the climate outside the Swedish parliament last August. She had no support from her classmates or her parents and yet she persisted. In 2019 she is feted across the world as a model of determination, inspiration and positive action, while also being abused and vilified for her strength of belief. To win this particular battle, the masses will need to make a collective commitment.

Which leads me to the question – do we all have a superhero locked inside us? Well, I’m not sure, but there is no doubt that we can all be one of the many who comes out in support to stand alongside a modern day superhero, to bring about change and to stand up for something we believe in. The battles don’t need to be as big as good versus evil or the avoidance of worldwide annihilation. There are many battles, big and small, and we may find them much closer to home within our own communities. Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, is attributed as having said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” We are fortunate to have in our school, in our community, in our country and in our world, people who will put themselves out there to be the real life equivalent of a superhero. We all have the choice to stand with them when it matters to help make a difference. Never doubt your individual ability to have an impact if you stand with others to effect change. 

Rowena Cole is The Head of St John's School.  Follow her @rowenacole01 and stay in touch with all the news at St John's by following us @StJohnsSurrey