Not All Heroes Wear Capes

They say not all heroes wear capes. And they’re right. Heroes come in all forms. Some flashier than others. Some who look like you or me. Each unique in their own way. But the one thing all heroes have in common is their ability to stand up and speak out.

Many people think speaking up has to be a grand gesture heard across the land. It has to be loud. You have to say the right thing. It has to be at the right time. And of course, it must be perfect. But here’s a secret: it doesn’t have to be! Speaking up can show up in different ways while still making a necessary impact.

What if I told you that when you speak up it helps people feel safe? Or makes people feel seen and heard? Because whether it’s a gesture, a few words, or voicing a concern in front of others, these exact things happen when allies speak up.

Last year, after speaking with a group of college freshmen about allyship, a young man came up to me to share a story. He said, “I’m happy you talked about speaking up as an ally. I want to share with you how it showed up for me.” I was all ears. He began to tell me about an experience he had one time at a restaurant. As he was sitting at his table, he noticed a group of men harassing one of the waitresses. He was very concerned with what he was witnessing but didn’t say anything at first. In my experience, when we see instances like this one happen in front of us, there is a sense of shock. It’s that, “Wait, am I seeing (or hearing) what I think I am?” type of moment.

As the student continued his story, he tells me how being an ally to women is important to him. He “recognized the privileges he has a cis man and wanted to do better as an ally and human being.” He continued to tell me that at some point he got up to use the restroom but was still mindful of the situation unfolding with the table of men and the waitress. He told himself if he came back out and the men were still there, he would say something. Well, when he came out to see the men still making the waitress uncomfortable, he walked right over to them and said, “You all need to stop. What you’re doing is wrong. You need to leave.” That’s it. That’s all he said. But guess what? It was enough. The three men left. He told me he even surprised himself. “It worked!” he exclaimed.

After they got up to leave, he checked in on the waitress who eventually told him that the three men had visited the restaurant two previous times that week just to harass and verbally abuse her. Which means not one person spoke up or acted on her behalf the entire week when this was happening. Where were the allies? Where were the heroes?

In this case, the hero was an 18-year-old young man. A student who used the power of his voice to get three grown men to leave an establishment and make someone feel safe, protected, and seen. He didn’t do it for the glory or to get her phone number or to look good in front of his friends. He simply did it because it was the right thing to do. For him, it was one thing to say he was an ally to women, but it was another for him to show up as one.

So, as we embark on a new year, this is a great time to evaluate how you show up in the world. Because you don’t need a cape to make a difference. All you need is the power of your voice. How you choose to use it is up to you.