Friendly Neighbourhood Nostalgia
Written by: Madeline Merli
December is a stressful, glorious month filled with holiday dinners, school finals and of course, the overwhelming amount of blockbuster films released just in time for winter break. The past few years I subjected my mother to the Star Wars sequels, however, this holiday season, nostalgia forced our attention to a different franchise: Marvel’s Spider-Man.
I was eight years old when my mom finally decided I was old enough to watch Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Within a few months, I was knee-deep in comics and heated discussions with my classmates. Looking back on those films, I admit it is miraculous that they managed to so fully capture my attention. Tobey Maguire plays a teenager like an eighty-five-year old man, Green Goblin looks like a retired power ranger, and most famously, Spider-Man performs a bizarre dance sequence complete with 2000s era bangs and West Side Story-like snapping. Despite its flaws, Spider-Man became a life-long obsession. It could have been the eye-catching acrobrats or the compelling villains, but I believe my love sprung from his ordinary heroism. Or, as today's, grown-up Maddie would describe it: emotional agility.
Mood Web Swings
Emotional agility, much like emotional intelligence, asks us to practice vulnerability. However, where emotional intelligence often centres around the ability to control emotions, emotional agility simply encourages us to remain aware of them. It is a process, not a skill, that allows us to acknowledge our feelings without judgment and face the challenges of life with resilience.
Susan David, a psychologist who pioneered the concept, shares her journey to develop emotional agility in her Ted Talk, The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. After the death of her father when she was young, she was applauded for her strength and ability to resume her life as normally as possible. In reality, she was only suffering silently. She likens the need for positivity to a chocolate cake waiting enticingly in the fridge.
The more you ignore it, the greater power it holds over you.
Unraveling the Web
Throughout his onscreen appearances, Spider-Man develops emotional agility. David’s book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, articulates this process in four (slightly less dramatic) steps.
- Showing Up: Avoid strictly positive thinking. Feelings do not have any moral value. Gain awareness of your challenging emotions and treat them with compassion. Peter Parker similarly “shows up” after the death of his uncle. He grieves for him and reaches out to his family and friends for support.
- Stepping Out: Change internal relationships with your emotions. Take a step back and appreciate that emotions are only thoughts. Try changing “I am” language that allows emotions to define your being. Ex. I am sad vs. I notice that I am feeling sad. Spider-Man takes “stepping out” quite literally with the creation of his super-hero persona. As Spider-Man, he can approach the difficult emotions of Peter Parker with greater perspective.
- Walking your why: Clearly establish your “north star values”. When we have a guide for how we want to move through our lives, our capacity for resilience increases. Difficult emotions become meaningful steps towards fulfillment. Spider-Man experiences devastating hardships in and out of the costume. Even when he considers leaving the tights beside, his mission to live responsibly and improve the lives of others propels him to move forward.
- Moving On: After defining our guiding principles, we must take action. Spider-Man manifested his goals with his work as a vigilante but moving on can also be the small habits that improve our relationship with emotion. Regardless of the size, action motivated by meaningful goals facilitates happiness and self-improvement
Does whatever a leader can?
In the first comic book I ever read, Spider-Man recovers a woman’s purse only for her to accuse him of theft and threaten to call the police. He chalks it up to the “Parker Luck” and promptly swings away to save another civilian. My mother, reading over my shoulder, said,
“That’s why he’s my favourite.”
In that moment, it truly sunk in that as many times as Spider-Man gets the girl or redeems the bad guy, he is also just as anxious, depressed and terminally unlucky. He is as fallible and human as me. A radioactive spider made him Spider-Man. Emotional agility made him a hero.
Emotional agility gives us an opportunity to be better than we were yesterday. To be like Spider-man, we only need to embrace our emotions and allow them to reveal the best parts of ourselves.
Though, web swinging would certainly help.