This week, mildly put, has been challenging: the Boston Marathon bombing; ricin-laced letters; the unexplained explosion in West, Texas; nuclear threats from North Korea; and a noticeable lack of courage and leadership in Congress. During this tragic and difficult week, when Superman turns 75, we need him more than ever. If he were around, he would immediately have nabbed the terrorists behind the Boston bombing, Kim Jong-un would be in the slammer along with Lex Luthor, and Congress would have been inspired (or shamed) into getting some -- well, courage.
Superman, sporting his characteristic tights and cape -- incidentally, both red and blue -- also would have brought Congress and our nation back to civility and respect. After all, he stood for "Truth, Justice and the American Way."
As a kid from Cleveland, I was both fascinated and inspired by Superman, another kid born in Cleveland -- carved out of the imaginations of two inner-city teenage buddies, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I was fascinated by his courage, inspired by his goodness, and wow'd by his quick action. I believed wholeheartedly at an early age that these were purely American traits -- and that Superman was indeed what America stood for: protecting the innocent, helping the downtrodden, eliminating evil and creating a world of goodness.
We think we have it tough, but look at Superman's world when he started: America was in the midst of the Great Depression; Germany had recently elected Hitler as its Chancellor, and he hatched his plan to eliminate Jews, dissidents and the disabled, and dominate the world. In America, neighbors stood with neighbors in soup lines, and, where there were jobs, labor and management did not get along.
Despite this hopeless backdrop, Superman showed America that our values could lift us up and give us hope. If we, like Superman, acted on the core ideals that made our country great -- we could be both great and good. The evil-doers, though they would always try, would never succeed, and Metropolis and America would continue the quest for the good life and the path to the American Dream.
Superman inspired us to jump beyond negative circumstances and fears, and instead to look out for the greater good. In the process of doing good, we would eventually do well.
We saw these values in action in Boston the other day as people helped people in crisis, as first responders put their own safety aside in the interest of others, as citizens triaged victims and as mansion owners opened their doors to ordinary people. Neither Clark Kent nor Superman was on the scene, but the Superman in us took charge. It goes to show that we each can be Superman!
But it seems that since 9/11 and after each tragedy thereafter, it takes the next tragedy to bring us together again. Why can't we be the America we love -- that vision that is represented by Superman's mantra -- every day?
I ask that question not just on behalf of the Boston victims but, also, the victims of the Sandy Hook, Aurora and Chardon shootings. I challenge the Superman in us to prevent tragedies such as the Steubenville rape or the recent case of a high school freshman who committed suicide after her naked post-rape picture was plastered on Facebook by a classmate. We agree that the world has gone crazy, but it would be wrong to assume that we have not gone crazy with it.
I ask Congress to evoke the Superman within each Senator and Representative to "do the right thing" and look to our shared values as guides, not just the Second Amendment.
I ask the television industry to lead the way. Unlike the industry that produced Superman in the 1930s, which had such a positive effect on our country, the television industry of today promotes very few moral messages. Instead, programming is laced with violence, rape, disregard, disrespect, humiliation and other negative messages. I ask that you remember Superman.
And to President Obama, who achieved his own superhero status by becoming America's first African-American president, I ask that you embrace Superman's message and legacy by bringing out the best in all Americans through the foundational values he represents.
We must also remember that Superman was an immigrant from a faraway land. The other day, my friend Ratanjit, another immigrant who came to this country with eight dollars in his pocket, got an education, started a business, and made a fortune in polymer chemicals, spoke about why America is so special to him:
The USA is more than a country. I see it as a grand experiment in human potential, undertaken by the entire human race. That is why the rest of the world sends us its best and brightest. I feel that what made this country the greatest was not its industrial revolution, its technology, its vast natural resources, its domination in the number of patents granted each year, its nuclear arsenal, or even its leadership or political system. In my humble assessment, this country's greatest asset is its core value system of basic honesty, hard work, keeping promises made with a simple hand shake, understanding what is fair and living by that fairness, believing in people and accepting everyone at face value, helping the needy without expectations (the U.S. is the most charitable nation in the world), and, most importantly, where success is measured by a person's character and contribution to society rather than just by wealth and/or fame.
That's what Superman represents. He acted on his values and inspired people across the globe. If we each can be "Superman," those values-in-action will shape our destiny. Acting on our values makes us strong. Letting them languish is our kryptonite.
Purple America is a national initiative to re-focus the American conversation on a civil, productive and respectful dialog around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us.