Ever wanted to be a superhero? Of course you have. Pop culture is filled with crusaders of all shapes, sizes and abilities, united by their acts of gallantry and sacrifice. And, according to Dr E Paul Zehr, tales of these powerful individuals hold the key to our own self-betterment. The Canadian professor has devoted much of his career to deconstructing the superhero myth to provide real-life answers to one question: how can we improve upon the human? As a neuroscientist specialising in kinesiology –the science of human and non-human body movement– and a black belt in karate, Dr Zehr is well versed in the limitations of the body and mind, and he believes that by understanding our weaknesses we can overcome them.
He has already written three books on the subject:
- Becoming Batman
- Inventing Iron Man
- Project Superhero
A fourth, Something Superhuman, is soon speeding our way. With them, Professor Z reveals his masterplan.
THE RED BULLETIN: What led you to write these books?
E PAUL ZEHR: My scientific work wasn’t making a big enough impact on the world, so I asked myself, “What more can I do?” I decided the best thing would be to empower the world with information. Inspired by my love for superheroes, I structured the information around them in order to reach more people and empower them.
Why are superheroes so enduringly popular?
Comic-book heroes are something we can all aspire to, and their actions provide us with the inspiration to change. They may seem like superficial entertainment, but, if we study them in depth, superheroes can teach us many valuable lessons.
Why are they so good to learn from?
Human beings are generally not very good at taking subtle cues. Superheroes teach us by setting extreme examples that grab our attention. Through them, we learn things we would never have thought possible, because they’re beings who go way beyond the usual limits.
What do you need to lead the superhero life?
The three main elements of a heroic life are willingness, dedication and altruism. Willingness is crucial, as it’s where it all starts: the willingness to take action, to do something, to make a change.
Then comes dedication which, over time, leads to success; when you push yourself a little and often, change is achieved. This is what I call the ‘Batman mindset’. You can achieve just about anything with willingness and dedication.
The Batman mindset?
Yes, Batman trained for years – over a decade, in fact. He had a clear goal in mind, and despite knowing how difficult it was, he persevered. Bruce Wayne understood that he’d never see results in the short term, and it’s thanks to that attitude he became Batman.
So what about altruism?
Altruism is key to a heroic life. Willingness and dedication will help you achieve anything in life, but it’s altruism that makes you a hero. Heroism starts with helping other people, facing danger or discomfort for the good of others without expecting anything in return. That’s what being a hero is about.
So, what changes can I make right now to lead a more heroic life?
Start by thinking of ways you can help people; be heroic by starting with the small stuff. Slight changes in behaviour add up and can lead to great change.
Finally, we have to ask the question on everyone’s lips: is it possible to actually become Batman?
Yes, of course it’s possible. But it’s just not sustainable. Fifteen years of training and preparation are required to be able to do the job for just three. My aim is not to equip people with the action plan they need to be Batman; I actually want them to feel empowered enough to create an action plan for themselves – one that will help them eat better, train better and be better human beings.