File: Pixbay

File: Pixbay

Wham! Pow! Smash! How Batman led me astray

Column by Jim Taylor

We got talking, the other day, about life’s major decisions. Buying a house. Buying a new car. Taking your first international vacation. Becoming parents, by birth or by adoption.

You do research. You discuss the decision with friends, family. You talk to your bank manager. Because you know this decision will affect you for the rest of your life.

I am only realizing, late in my life, that smaller decisions, things I didn’t bother thinking twice about, can also affect the rest of one’s life.

When I was 10, I regularly went to a barbershop a couple of blocks away. It had nothing to do with the quality of the barber’s haircuts. He kept a stack of comic books for his customers to look at while they waited.

I got hooked on Batman. He was a human being – unlike Superman – but smart enough to use modern technology.

I loved the way he dispatched his foes with a single mighty uppercut that came all the way up from the floor. Ka-Pow! Blam! Smash!

My family moved away from that barbershop, but I never lost that mental image of Batman’s invincible fists.

So I used to imagine myself as Batman, knocking the school bullies flying with a single devastating blow.

Reality soon taught me I wasn’t suited to be Batman. I didn’t have the size, or the muscles. I focussed on avoidance, not combat.

But I never gave up my Batman mindset, I realize now. I transferred it into the one area where I excelled – words.

I cultivated ripostes that would skewer any adversary. I pounced on weaknesses in another’s argument. I watched for opportunities to deliver a verbal uppercut.

Of course, sometimes I didn’t think of that knockout punchline in time. So I practiced it all the way home.

If I was going to a meeting where I might have to confront contrary views, I rehearsed my retorts. I had a parry-and-jab ready for almost anything attendees might say. Even though the audience was rarely as hostile as I had imagined.

As I grew up, as I honed my linguistic skills, I learned that I could write devastating letters. Occasionally, if the situation called for it. Most of the time, I wrote thoughtful, nuanced, persuasive letters — missives that earned respect. Approval.

Unless I felt backed into a corner. Unless I felt someone had harmed my reputation or had attacked me unfairly. Then I tended to come out swinging.

Still like Batman.

When I retired from Wood Lake, the publishing house I had helped to found 20 years earlier, the staff threw a roast for me. For laughs, they dug out some of my old memos.

Listening to my own words, I didn’t laugh. I winced.

Even if I was right, this was not the way to prove it.

I’ve learned, tragically late, that defeating someone is not the way to build consensus and collaboration. An honest exchange beats a roundhouse bomb. Everyone learns.

Even if we can’t reach full agreement, at least we have listened to each other.

Knockout punches and howitzers may win battles, but they don’t make friends.

Batman may have taught me some lessons about being on the side of rights and justice.

But he taught me the wrong way to achieve them.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.

rewrite@shaw.ca

Lake Country

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