I love to entertain provocative, if ultimately pointless, questions (perhaps I should have been a philosophy major). Case in point:
If you could choose any one – but only one – super power, what would it be?
It’s a great question because “super powers” speak to some of our deepest, if often subconscious, desires. Part of everyday human experience inevitably involves brushing up against our own limitations (real or perceived). But super powers – by definition – allow for the glorious possibility of easily transcending those things about which we tend to feel the most powerless.
It makes sense that superheroes have such wide appeal among youngsters, whose limitations are (at least in some ways) more overt. But superhero stories clearly resonate with adults, too.
So, which super power would you choose, if you could?
Some common answers to this question include:
1) To be invisible at will. This would allow you to sneak into, say, a very high-priced concert, or some exclusive event, for free, anytime you want. Moreover, it would allow you to hear what is said or watch what is done by anyone “behind closed doors”. (Be careful what you wish for!) This super power would probably appeal to those who, more than anything, are seekers of the truth – people who want access to information they feel is otherwise not available to them, or perhaps those with trust issues.
2) To fly. Not only would you have the freedom to travel (at high speeds, of course) wherever and whenever you want, but what could be more exhilarating than flying through the air, high up in the sky, under your own power and direction? You could flee from any dangerous or unappealing situation in an instant. (The only downside would be you could still be chased by others if they, too, had this ability.) I honestly can’t imagine anyone not wanting this super power. It looks like a hell of a lot of fun! However, the desire for it could indicate having problems dealing with reality head-on (e.g., regularly feeling the urge to escape…from, oh, I don’t know, say…an office job. 😉 )
3) To have incredible physical strength. Anyone who feels physically oppressed, bullied, or abused would understandably choose this super power. The desire for it might also stem from wishing to set others free who are being mistreated. Justice- and/or revenge-seekers might choose this super power. But it could also betray a feeling of not being taken seriously, not being treated with respect, or of not being able to exert influence over the world around you.
4) To be able to change form, shape, or size. This super power would enable you incredible flexibility in maneuvering through the physical world. The applications are seemingly endless (as are the ways in which you could impress others!). This might be the super power for you if your dream is to be in Cirque du Soleil, because it would afford you the ability to perform incredible physical feats, limited only by your imagination. As for underlying psychological issues this choice could be indicative of, it might hold strong appeal to someone who is unhappy with his/her own body as it is, or who feels lacking in the ability to innovate creative solutions to everyday problems.
5) To travel through time. This would seem like another universally sought-after super power. It could certainly satisfy countless curiosities and countless fantasies. However, there are plenty of potential hazards/downsides (really, just choose almost any time travel movie and see for yourself). While there are plenty of playful motivations for this super power, and even noble ones (preventing disasters and tragedies from occurring, for instance), it might also be chosen by someone who has perfectionistic tendencies, control issues, or who is haunted by regret.
6) To have superhuman powers of perception/intuition. This one has lots of potential applications, as well – everything from reading minds to selecting great stock picks to sensing when trouble is brewing somewhere and being able to intercede accordingly. Choosing this super power, though, might also suggest a shadow of people-pleasing tendencies or a fear of not being able to navigate life successfully enough with your perceptive powers as they are.
7) To read and retain information at lightning speed. This super power would give you clear advantages, for sure. Think of what you could do with a near-endless memory and capacity for learning. Perhaps choosing this super power above all others, though, is a signal of overwhelm – feeling unable to keep up with the rapid pace of change and the increasingly intimidating body of knowledge that none of us can ever even come close to grasping or absorbing in a lifetime (or many lifetimes). Or, it might be indicative of feeling that you are always missing out on something due to lack of information.
There are numerous other possible super powers, of course, and my goal is not to come up with a comprehensive list here.
Nor is it my intention to judge or condemn those who would choose any one of the above super powers over any other. Clearly, the underlying fears, vulnerabilities, frustrations, and insecurities they shed light on are experienced by probably all of us, even if some may resonate more deeply with me and others more deeply with you.
Who doesn’t want to feel more powerful, more in control, more capable, or more extraordinary?
While I am sure I would very much enjoy the opportunity to sample any or all of the above super powers, none of them would actually be my first choice.
My Answer to the Super Power Question
You may have noticed that, in all superhero stories, the hero – regardless of his/her (but, let’s face it, usually his) powers – is still plagued, if not downright haunted and tormented, by deep psychological scars. (S/he has to be, really, because this is what makes the character compelling and relatable.) Apparently, none of the above-mentioned super powers is enough to fully compensate for mental anguish or turmoil.
That is why, in my estimation, the ultimate super power is this:
The ability to find contentment, regardless of circumstances.
Imagine if you could transcend your pain or suffering, at any given moment, no matter what the situation, simply by applying skillful thought and/or behavior? It would look something like this:
Rather than dwell on the downside of any given situation, you could immediately hone in on a positive opportunity therein and leverage things to your (and other people’s) advantage.
Rather than curse your circumstances (we often do this over the most minor inconveniences, i.e., “first-world problems”), you would feel genuine appreciation for them, and be able to accept them…completely, as is.
Rather than have things outside of your control determine your mood, degree of happiness, or sense of satisfaction with life, you could determine these things for yourself through a simple (but masterful) adjustment in attitude and perspective.
Rather than resign yourself to feeling helpless, ineffectual, inadequate, or despondent, you would be filled with curiosity, awe, gratitude, and delight for the endless number of wonderful possibilities that your super power allows you to tune in to.
This is not to say you would become a mindless, complacent, naive, insufferable fool. Quite the opposite. You would actually live in a constant state of creativity, vitality, thankfulness, mindfulness, humility, joy, and peace.
No matter what happens, you could and would find contentment. Now THAT is a super power worth having. Or, as a mere mortal, worth pursuing.
Even if Contented Man would hardly make for great bank at the box office…