Ever wish you had a superpower? Ever imagine what you’d do, how you’d change the world, if you had a superpower?

This month we asked the Chefs: What is your desired superpower?

drawing of superheroes

Joe Esposito: I dream of awakening with the power to project mindfulness.To project mindfulness would be to point to someone, online or IRL, and have that person suddenly become fully conscious of self, ego, emotions, and the various roles we play, often under the intoxication of anger. Someone who is caught up in a rant would suddenly say, “But why am I so angry?” Another person might instantly have an insight into someone else’s point of view and deescalate a disagreement. Projected mindfulness is particularly effective on sanctimony, which spreads like COVID-19.

To project mindfulness would be to point to someone, online or IRL, and have that person suddenly become fully conscious of self, ego, emotions, and the various roles we play, often under the intoxication of anger.

There is a catch to this superpower, comparable to Achilles’ vulnerable heel or the kryptonite that disables Superman, and that is in order to project mindfulness, one must be mindful oneself. Personal mindfulness prevents us from targeting enemies and slaying them with the shock of their own self-awareness. Mindfulness cannot be weaponized. On the other hand, when mindful oneself, adversaries and obstacles may seem less adversarial and adamantine; the angry possessors of a legitimate grievance and the self-righteous anchored in what is right and good. We can work it out.

Alice Meadows: I suspect I won’t be alone among the Chefs in choosing omniligualism – the ability to understand and speak every language, including non-verbal ones — as my desired superpower. I didn’t actually know it had its own word so I’m one teeny tiny step closer to being an omnilinguist than I was!

As a teenager I was passionate about language learning, studying French, German, Spanish, Latin, and even Ancient Greek. Although they’ve all mostly fallen by the wayside (a huge downside of being a native English speaker is that much of the world knows your language and would rather practice their own skills than endure you attempting to speak theirs!), I remember how empowered I felt when traveling to a country where I spoke enough of the local language to get by. I love the way that knowing a language brings you closer to its culture(s) — film and literature, food and drink, politics and society, and more; the way it enables you to fully participate in those cultures, engage with people from all backgrounds, and feel like one of the locals. Imagine how amazing it would be to experience this wherever you go and whatever you do — and how many challenges and problems we could solve, how many new ideas and opportunities we could share, if we all understood each other’s languages. But then again, if we were all omnilingual it wouldn’t be a superpower, would it!?

I suspect I won’t be alone among the Chefs in choosing omniligualism – the ability to understand and speak every language, including non-verbal ones — as my desired superpower.

Rick Anderson: I’ve spent more time thinking about this response than I expected I would. There are so many obvious and really good answers, but I’m going to stick with the first one that came to mind. In recent years I’ve become more and more aware of (and more and more discouraged by) the growing number of people who seem willing to treat others abusively in the name of some specific version of the Greater Good. The Greater Good in question is almost always, to my mind, genuinely good, and something that is worth working and maybe even fighting for. But I’ve never been able to convince myself that being abusive of individual people is really justifiable in the name of trying to bring about something good on behalf of the collective. So anyway, here’s the superpower that I would choose if I could: I would increase the oxytocin level of every person in the world by 35%.

I would increase the oxytocin level of every person in the world by 35%.

Tim Vines: My superpower would be psychic: the ability to know why someone holds a particular opinion or belief. In the movie version it would be like a holodeck where a montage of the events and conversations that led to that opinion forming would play out, and you’d know exactly what to say to either change their minds or compel them to a particular action. You’d have to be careful to use it for good and not for evil…

My superpower would be psychic: the ability to know why someone holds a particular opinion or belief.

Judy Luther: To my surprise, I loved the movie Wonder Woman, although the genre is not my favorite. While she had many superpowers, including deflecting bullets, I’m most intrigued with her ability to defy gravity. While this is the American version, there are other examples in Asian films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where they are fighting as they dance in the tree tops.  Disney’s new movie Mulan (to be released later this year) depicts a young woman who poses as a man to serve in the Imperial Army to defend their land. The trailers show her making jumps and flips across distances through space. For a brief period, I took aikido which is a Japanese martial art of self-defense that users the attacker’s energy to redirect their motion. To watch the experts do forward rolls through the air was an incredible and amazing experience. So, mastering the energy of space to move through it – what we might call flying — would be my choice of a superpower.

…mastering the energy of space to move through it – what we might call flying — would be my choice of a superpower.

Lettie Conrad: This is a question I’ve considered off and on in my life, at times I’ve actually given it a great deal of thought! As a kid I always wanted to fly. In college, I became enamored with Star Trek and, with it, wishes for Vulcan powers of mind melding and logical thought. Up until recently, if you’d asked me this question, I would likely have said I admire the magical capabilities of Time Lords a-la Doctor Who, transcending what can feel like arbitrary constructions of time and space. But, today, I would wish for a superpower might enable the body / mind swapping of two people, e.g., Freaky Friday (the original 1976 version, of course).

I would wish for a superpower might enable the body / mind swapping of two people

I would wish for the ability to give someone the experience of another person, to “walk in their shoes” even for just a matter of minutes. In the last few weeks, it seems we’re at risk of deepening the contrived divisions that have driven a growing polarization over the last few years, evidenced by nationalistic political tendencies of governments around the world. It seems we have let our compassion muscles go weak, we are lacking a sense of human connection and kinship with humanity — we want to blame others and defend our turf instead. Despite language, religion, culture, appearance, we are all equally vulnerable and struggling against the coronavirus. I would give a Jeannie-style wink or maybe wield a Wonder Woman lasso to body-swap two people in conflict or maybe our world leaders or even the everyday decisions that mean we’re helping or hurting the fight against infection, in hopes of building up our capacity for love and instilling our decisions with the super-human power of compassion.

I want a superpower that will allow me to infect humans, slow them down, and make them think what really matters in our lives.

Haseeb Irfanullah: As it appears, human beings — despite their individualism and selfishness — have collectively developed a superpower, which can be called “self-destruction”.

It may sound too cliché, but our rampant hunger for economic growth — from individuals to countries — is destroying our neighbors, our nature, our future. It is destroying us. All this madness and greedy competition or having more; we are defining luxury as necessity.

Indeed there are less poor, hungry, or ill people in the world now than centuries ago, but the gap between the poor and the rich is so wide now.

The whole world is now more connected than the blood vessels in our body, but still we are so lonely as individuals.

At global level, we are preparing mega-plans, funding it to make our development “sustainable”. But at the same time, we are ignoring science, ignoring urgency to act — whether stopping the destruction of the nature or climate crisis.

To justify our stands and self-interests, we now give logic to invest in deadly wars, call corrupted people and regimes our friends, and ignore explicit human right violations.

So, inspired by the Novel coronavirus, I want a superpower that will allow me to infect humans, slow them down, and make them think what really matters in our lives.

Eating, reproducing and being alive is the life of an animal; it cannot be a human life. Then, what is the purpose of our lives in this world that we have created? Please tell me, seriously.

Ann Michael: Like Lettie, when I was younger I spent some time wishing I could fly. I’d imagine seeing the world from that big picture view. Seeing how it all fits together and getting a different perspective on how it works. Then I focused on mindreading for a bit. Wouldn’t it be great to understand more about why folks do what they do and building bridges to help us all work more collaboratively?

But reading many of the responses above and reflecting on my own desires, something occurred to me. Thinking about which superpower you want and what you might do with it is a lot like the lottery question: What would you do if you won the lottery? Because the next question to ask yourself when pondering the lottery question is: Why can’t I do that now? or What part of that can I do now?

If my purpose in flying is to see the bigger picture and the mechanisms at work, I can seek that view even without a cape! If my purpose in reading minds is to understand people’s drives, concerns, and motives to build strong, respectful, collaborative teams, I can also do some of that now. I can choose to listen, to consider the context and challenges of the person in front of me, to try and visualize walking in their shoes.

So now it’s your turn (and I’m adding in a bonus question).

What is your desired superpower? AND

What can you do to experience some of its benefit right now, without it?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Digital Officer at PLOS charged with driving the development and execution of the organization’s overall digital and supporting data strategy. Working collaboratively across PLOS, and through industry collaboration, her team will facilitate the strategic evaluation and evolution of PLOS platforms and processes. Prior to joining PLOS, Ann was CEO of Delta Think. There she gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. She focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Ann is an ardent believer in data informed decision-making and was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, a comprehensive, interactive, regularly updated data set with diverse visualizations and extensive analysis, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Ann is a Past President of SSP, a Board Director at Joule (a Canadian Medical Association company), Board Chair of Delta Think, and a member of the Learned Publishing Editorial Board. She has a MS from SUNY Stony Brook in Policy Analysis and Public Management and an MS in Business Analytics from the NYU Stern School.

View All Posts by Ann Michael

Discussion

5 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: Picking A Superpower!"

So, maybe this is me being a little less introspective than some of the above answers, but my go-to answer (and yes the comic book nerd in me is fighting to rise here) has been for quite some time, and probably will continue to be, being a shapeshifter. As an animal lover, this typically took the form of being able to change into any animal a la Beast Boy when I was younger, rather than Mystique’s ability to change into people, but I guess when you’re a shapeshifter, it wouldn’t really matter, right (though turning into a falcon would still be so, so fun)? The reason I always liked it was because it was so versatile. Want to fly? Be a bird. Super speed? Cheetah or sailfish. There really aren’t that many limits.

Seeing as I’m not likely to get bitten by any radioactive polymorphs (D&D nerd also fighting to rise, it seems) any time soon though, I guess what I could apply now would really just be that versatility, something which, to some extent, I already have and am proud of (though I can always continue to grow!). Given that my leisure, work, and living spaces have now started to meld, predominantly into even one room, being able to set healthy boundaries for when I am in each “shape” or form, as well as what marks the change between one or another (and marking it by more than just the time on a clock) has been extremely helpful. Being able to adapt to new roles within my community, be it socially, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually or otherwise has been useful too. Recognizing the roles we play, and when they change, is a nice exercise in self-reflection, and being able to call out the pros and cons of each (the strength of a gorilla does little if you’re sinking like a stone in a water environment) with an analogy such of this adds a nice layer of fun and clarity to boot. (Okay, maybe this did get a little more introspective than I anticipated…maybe some of Joe’s mindfulness took after all!)

Anyway, great post and a lot of fun to answer!

Sorry I didn’t get back here again yesterday. Abby, I love your response. It is very insightful and I appreciate that you took the time to post it!

Shapeshifter! What a clever way to tap into so many capabilities. And I love your thought process that this is so similar to learning to be effective in different roles.

Thanks again for contributing!

I would like to be able to see things as they are, as they really Are, without the veneer of my own personal experience and judgment laid upon them.

Leave a Comment