“The opposite of a hero is not a villain, it’s a bystander.”
-Matt Langdon (The Hero Construction Company)
Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard from the Harry Potter series, plans to extend his control over the wizarding and the Muggle (non-magical) community by wiping out all Muggles and Muggle-borns. Similar to Voldemort, Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars) seeks to exert his control over the Galaxy by wiping out the Jedi. A similar theme too is seen in the X-Men, who are persecuted for their mutant abilities.
Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the X-Men are works of fiction but they reflect the events we are witnessing in real life. Several days ago marked a major Neo-Nazi movement in Charlottesville, Virginia. People wearing clothing with swastikas, quotes from Adolf Hitler, and chanting things like, “Jews will not replace us” marched through the University of Virginia. The protesters spoke out about their hatred toward immigrants, black people, and Jewish people, wishing to “expunge” them.
But the protesters were not alone. Counterprotesters marched too, standing up for justice and equality. People traveled from all over the country to stand up against hatred and to stand for love. Many of the locals greeted the counterprotesters with cheers and a warm welcome.
And then it happened. A vehicle plunged through the crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, called the attack “an evil act of domestic terrorism.”
If you are scared, you are not alone. If you feel there is nothing you can do, you are wrong. Oftentimes we might witness something terrible or unsettling, whether it’s someone being picked on, bullied, or targeted in any way. We might look around and see other people watching in horror, other people seemingly feeling helpless or unsure of what to do. Perhaps we might be waiting to see what other people will do. This is called diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is a phenomenon in which people are less likely to take action when there are other people around them than if they were alone in witnessing something terrible. In the case of recent events in our country, we have all been witnesses. Some of us have also been involved. Some have, perhaps wanted to be involved, or wanted to post something, say something, or do something, but did not want to offend others, did not want to start something uncomfortable. Some of us stand by (bystanders) until someone does something. We might feel stronger and braver if someone takes an action, makes a post, or starts a movement. Then we can follow.
But what if we are the person to start that change? What if we are not powerless? What if that very change starts in us? Every time we post about these events on social media, we are standing up to injustice. As a Jewish refugee, seeing both Jewish and non-Jewish people be outraged by anti-Semitic remarks makes me feel safer and gives me hope. Our favorite heroes, like Luke Skywalker, Professor X, and Harry Potter, remind us that one person can make a big difference, and if people can join together, they can do anything, they can stop the spread of evil, they can stand for what’s good.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
So, do not for a moment think that there is nothing you can do. You have a voice, whether it is through internet, through texting, calling, writing, or attending an event in person, you have a powerful weapon – you. Use it to stand up for justice. And remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, she wrote Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She currently works at the PTSD at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management in San Diego.