I speak often about the superhero within men – the desire for us to save something or someone. Today I speak to you about two superheroes – Action Man and Word Man. I know Action Man is an actual toy that was launched as a super hero when I was one year old but Word Man is a superhero of my own invention.
Action Man is a person, as his name suggests, of action, of doing. He was based on a military figure but as an action figure he was fit, rugged and the aura around him was that of someone ready to take on the world.
My Word Man (or Woman), by contrast, looks different and comes out in multiple forms. He is black or white, male or female, fat, skinny or well-built. He has many different hairstyles and facial features. In fact he could be any one of us in this hall. Word Man (or Woman) is, as the name suggests, a man of words who says things, sometimes profound and inspiring but that is all he does. He talks.
So while Action Man is someone with few words but great activity, Word Man is the opposite – he says a lot but does little.
So – in the battle for supremacy of the superheroes, who wins? Who is the better one to be? Who would you want to be?
I see the qualities of the action persona in many of you, sometimes before thinking. I see you doing “stuff” and getting involved, be it playing a game, helping someone out or standing up for your mates. The action can be a physical one but can also be standing up verbally against something. Sometimes though, this action is too soon and is without thought – when you strike out in anger at someone or say something that is hurtful. That is an action but not perhaps one you should be doing.
I also see many of you with the qualities associated with the word persona. Many of you say a lot but then don’t follow up your words with deeds. “I am going to play cricket this term” – but you do not. “I am going to work every day” – and you do not. Perhaps the worst form of inaction is that when we encounter injustice, racism, sexism and homophobia and say and do nothing.
One of the most famous sayings about inaction comes from Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor and opponent of Nazism who said:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Our country and our school is full of those who speak – often and loudly. Yet how many of us take what we say we believe and translate that into action. We say we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves yet do nothing except talk. We say we believe in a non-racial and non-discrimatory society yet we laugh along with offensive jokes.
I am not blameless in this and there have been many times when I have looked back on a situation and wished I had said or done something. Wished that my superhero persona was more of an Action Man and less of a Word Man. And yet there have been times when I have stood up for injustice and done something and the feeling within is hard to describe. When we are true to ourselves and act out our values and what we stand for, it feels good.
Action without thought can be harmful and I would never espouse action over thought but rather a healthy and balanced combination of the two. But idle talk without any action at all can be worse. So which combination of superheroes do you have within you? Are you someone of action or are you just about words? Or do you balance the two, knowing when to act and when to speak?