What goes through Peter Parker’s mind when he first realizes he has superpowers? This scene in the original Spiderman movie sent chills up my spine. What goes through your head in a moment of vision? ‘I am alive, I am empowered, I have the capacity to think, feel, act, and experience life in some way’. In a moment of vision, we understand our sources of power and our powers themselves. We realize that we are empowered through having the capacity to think, feel, do, and be.
Thinking, feeling, doing and being are the building blocks of human experience. Together they encompass an incredible range of capacities and abilities. If we located all the different species in the world on a graph showing their relative powers, with insects and reptiles with basic sensory and motor functions at the one end of the graph, and the higher primates with rudimentary cognitive and affective powers at the other end, human powers would be off the scale. Of all living creatures, only humans have the power to seize on an issue and think it through; to attune themselves empathetically to the needs and desires of other human and non-human creatures; to respond to a situation with a complex and deliberate set of actions; and to assume a social role and become a certain sort of person in a social context.
We call our species homo sapiens, the wise man. We might just as well call ourselves homo potens, the powerful man. Wisdom is only one of our powers. It is all too rarely applied.
To get perspective on our powers, it helps to reflect on the condition of someone who is disempowered, who lacks the ability to act and engage with life. Take a newborn baby, for instance. A baby can wriggle, cry, feed, piss and shit. It may be brimming over with potential, but its capacity to think, feel, do and be is distinctly limited. This changes as nature and nurture run their course. Soon the baby learns to recognize its mother or caregiver. In doing so it acquires a power that it didn’t have before – the capacity for mental association. The baby learns to associate its mother or caregiver with feeding time, and as a result it feels joy when the mother or caregiver is around. This capacity to associate one thing with another reflects a new level of empowerment. The child is developing its powers to think, feel, do and be. From this point on, its ability to live, act and experience the world will rapidly increase.
No one knows the full extent of their powers. The adventure of life is to find out. Discovering what we are capable of thinking, feeling, doing and being is a thrilling experience. The only thing that tops it is finding that we are capable of more than we had expected. These moments are high points in life. We should cherish these moments and do everything we can to create them.
Never assume that you know the sum total of your powers. So long as you are living, you have the power to increase your ability to think, feel, do and be. Often all we need is the right situation to unlock our resources. Change can be a door to a different world and philosophy the key.