Scott H Young

Why Superman is a Bad Role Model


BizzaroSuperman.png

Superman can fly, see through buildings and listen from large distances. He can run quickly and lift large weights. More importantly he is virtuous and his alter-ego is modest about his abilities. With so many excellent qualities, why wouldn’t Superman be a good role model?

The problem with Superman, as it is with every role model that tries to be perfect, is that he doesn’t exist. Supermen don’t exist, so I believe it is better to have incomplete and imperfect role models than to try to find a hero without any flaws.

Who are Your Role Models?

Whether you deliberately think about it or not, everyone has role models. These are people that you use as a benchmark for living your own life. They might be people you know or just celebrities you’ve read about.

Having role models isn’t a bad thing, and it would be incredibly difficult to live without a few. When you hit a problem or dilemma, role models give you guidance about what the ideal decision is. Without any role models you’re forced to reinvent the wheel every time you face a new decision.

The problem is when you try to look for heroes. Your heroes are good at everything and can’t do anything wrong. They are your supermen and gurus, and it’s dangerous to follow after them.

Why Superman Isn’t So Super

There are two reasons why having a perfect role model is dangerous:

  1. No human being can be perfect. As a result, you end up trying to take an imperfect person and ignoring any flaws. When you try to turn a regular person into Superman you are either going to be deluded or extremely disappointed.
  2. You’ll become a weak copy of your hero. By building up one person as a perfect role model, you end up becoming a poor imitation. It’s better to highlight a mix of great qualities from different people than to copy one person’s example.

I remember reading on an online forum where a woman posted a concern about a famous motivational speaker. Apparently this speaker had said something homophobic and this person wondered if that was enough to scrap any advice he had given.

Perhaps as a heterosexual, white male I’m not in a position to judge discrimination. But, for me, I can respect someone’s advice when it comes to business or time management, even if I’m strongly against their political or social positions. This woman was trying to make the speaker into a hero, someone who was without flaws and she could completely agree with.

Incomplete Heroes

The fact is that almost everyone will disagree with you at some point. You’re better off having incomplete role models than trying to turn imperfect people into gods. Having a mix of role models who are each great at different things allows you to learn from those people without ignoring their flaws.

Steve Pavlina, who’s website is here, had a big influence on my writing when I set up this website. He has also written a lot about the Law of Attraction and what I feel are some questionable beliefs about science. But just because I disagree with him on that point doesn’t mean I can’t learn business or time management lessons from him.

Although luckily it doesn’t happen too often, occasionally I’ll get a message from a reader of this site which is overflowing with praise. I like compliments as much as the next guy, but I worry if a few readers have enjoyed a few articles I’ve written and expanded that to assume I’m without flaws.

In truth, I make frequent mistakes and there wouldn’t be a single reader here that isn’t better than me in one or more ways. Most of my writing is a way of sorting out issues for myself, rather than gospel. I try not to waste your time demonstrating my flaws, but I assure you, they do exist.

Incomplete Models Create a Unique Perspective

Another reason to focus on a set of imperfect role models is that going without heroes makes you a better person. By cultivating a mix of different perspectives and strengths, you become a unique person. If you focus only a few perfect heroes, you end up trying to copy them instead of being yourself.

It’s well known in biology that breeding within a family increases the risks of genetic defects. By keeping your gene pool highly focused, defective genes have a greater chance of making an appearance. Incest isn’t good for the health of a species.

By the same principle, intellectual incest isn’t good for your mind. When all your teachers and role models come from the same vein of human thinking, you breed mental defects. Having a diverse set of role models ensures that the flaws of one person are balanced by the strengths of another person.

When You Look for Supermen, You Ignore the Flawed Heroes

The real problem is that when you look for a person to be everything: wealthy, healthy, happy and morally ideal, you miss people that are fantastic, but flawed. Many of my friends I admire for one or more reasons. That is enough for me to learn from them and pick apart their way of thinking about problems. They might not be Superman, but they can still teach.


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13 Responses to “Why Superman is a Bad Role Model”

  1. Mike S says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for another thoughtful post. I strongly agree with your point that it is short-sighted to dismiss sources of expertise and/or inspiration just because they say or do something that we disagree with. The guru of GTD himself, David Allen, participates in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness religious organization, which some find controversial. I think it’s silly to turn your back on GTD and all of the positive improvements that it can bring to your life just because of David Allen’s religious practice.

    As you suggest, it’s inappropriate to role model one’s entire philosophy on any single source regardless of whether that sole source is God, man, or fictional character. Doing so abdicates your individuality, the essence of what makes you uniquely you.

  2. Kali says:

    Cool post, Scott. Your analogy of a highly-focused intellectual pool being like Superman was creative.

  3. TC says:

    Hey Scott, I really resonated with you on this post. Idolizing can lead to serious disappointments and disillusionments. Better to take the best of what everyone has to offer.

  4. Asia M. Hadley says:

    Scott,

    I read your blog daily. Your insights and ability to see connections that one wouldn’t necessarily make is inspiring. I read a lot of the same types of books and am now making an effort to expand my range. Keep up the excellent work.

    -Asia

  5. Diego says:

    …and even if he was real, he’s still an alien. I mean, an outer space kind of alien. Parallel evolution, sort of. Not a good role model, I agree.

  6. Scott Young says:

    Diego,

    Agreed. Aliens are bad role models. ;)

    -Scott

  7. becky p says:

    That’s what I love about Batman. He’s flawed… he doesn’t even have any superpowers! Yet, he still goes out, fights crime, gets the girl, and well, just rocks!!!

  8. J.M says:

    tnx for a wonderful article. I’m doing a speech about role models and if you dont mind, i’ll take some points from this and use them in my own words. tnx

  9. Joshua Brooks says:

    IF u watch the justive leage u here lots of facsist ideology. to quote superman himself “Here there are no more republicans or democarats no more hawks or doves only the absolute” thats facsit third way talk. plus the term superman sounds like neizschte’s ubermensch(means superman) doctrine was influential in nazi thought. The idea of idea a perfect man(inner party in terms of 1984) controlling and protecting the lives of the sheepy masses has fascist tones to it. those that conspire to free themselves of this control are protrayed has evil and dumb in the show.

  10. Scott Young says:

    Josh,

    Never new Superman had fascist connotations, interesting points.

    -Scott

  11. someguy says:

    These kinds of posts are inherently dangerous in themselves, in that they are a form of exertion of control. For instance, “I don’t idolize Superman, so neither should you.” Or, “I like the color green, so should you.”

    You cannot control other people’s worlds, and neither can they yours. Please refrain from these kinds of posts in the near future. The title, “Why Superman is a Bad Role Model” is a bad one in itself b/c it exerts an opinion, and then tries to prove itself right in the body of the article. That’s a little bit arrogant, don’t you think? A better title would be, “Superman is a Good Role Model, But Here’s What We Think Might Make a More Realistic Role Model If You’d Care to Listen”.

  12. Tom says:

    Superman is not a bad role model. For those that know alot about him, they would know that Superman is flawed. Superman is not flawed in a physical way but more so in an emotional way and must always overcome his own self judgement.

    His biggest enemy is him, and his story is a story of the strongest man, overcoming his own demons so that he can embrace his duty. Just because he is the perfect physical specimen does not mean he is ‘perfect’. Superman is a great role model, in that his will power and ability to over power his own doubt at times is what makes him strong, its not his abilities but his own self belief.

  13. mr.x says:

    forget being flawed i want to be a superman. Who doesn’t want to be perfection with a cape. ^_^

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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