My heart races as I dash across the dark corridor. I’ve only got two minutes left, and if I don’t make it… well, I don’t even want to think about not making it. As I reach into my jacket pocket to check my GPS, I feel an unfamiliar warmth. Blood.
I burst through the narrow door at the end of the hallway with an abrupt blow to my shoulder. I’ve reached the compound entrance, but the clock is quickly ticking. The next moments will decide the fate of countless lives.
I press pause and slowly slide off the couch. I’ve been watching re-runs of 24 for three hours and desperately need a snack and a bathroom break. As I take my eyes off of the TV, I can’t help but wonder: Why do most guys (and many girls) love watching Jack Bauer race through blood-pumping conflicts in near-identical plots lines over and over again?
I think the answer is we want to experience greatness without sacrifice. We want to live meaningful lives, but we don’t want to experience the hardship of risky endeavors, tough donations and gritted determination. In other words, we want to save the world without getting off the couch.
As a result, we’ve become vicarious Supermen.
When we were children, few of us doubted whether we would live meaningful lives. Rather, we faced the dilemma of deciding whether to become space explorers, professional athletes or some variation of Indiana Jones. If you’re reading this though, chances are you now spend a large portion of your school/work life staring at a computer screen and turn to blockbuster films, TV shows and the occasional weekend road trip for your fix of adventure. I do the same. In this way, we’ve traded our daring aspirations for Hollywood productions.
Of course, popular narratives have their place. Storytelling in all forms (novels, movies, TV programs, magazine articles, podcasts) can inspire our minds, challenge our world views and trigger our passions, but the key resides in allowing these narratives to supplement our real lives, not replace them.
The moment when Iron Man saves a dozen Air Force One passengers with a Barrel-of-Monkeys strategy or when Katniss rescues Peeta with the perfect shot should inspire us to worry less and sacrifice more. Unfortunately, we often settle for the imaginary and let these pretend acts of heroism quench our desires for the real.
We can’t all become FBI special agents and African aid workers, nor should we strive to. But rather than living vicariously through the sacrifices of fictional characters, we should find ways to live outwardly and intentionally within our own respective spheres on influence.