What Color Is Your Cape?

Dog with superhero mask

Imagine for a moment that you had the power to transform into a superhero. Just like Superman, Wonder Woman, or Black Panther, putting on your superhero outfit immediately transforms you into one of the most powerful beings on the planet. You even get to choose your superpowers.

But there is a catch… you have to decide which superpowers you want first. Once you’ve chosen, you’re stuck with them. You cannot change them later.

You are offered two choices – the red cape, or the green cape.

The red cape gives you the power to fight injustice, catch the bad guys, and hold back oppression, poverty, and sickness. You are a warrior against all that is bad in the world.

The green cape gives you the power to bring more good into the world, build communities, feed the hungry, and bring hope, health, and happiness to the masses. You are a warrior of light bringing all that is good and just.

Which do you choose?

Do you fight to rid the world of all of the awful and evil things happening, or do you work to bring love, hope, and joy to the world instead? Do you fight the causes of hunger and poverty, or do you build farms and food banks and feed the hungry? Do you fight injustice and oppression by rounding up and getting rid of the bad guys or by educating and building community, compassion, and equality among the people? Do you fight against disease or do you build health and wellness?

Which do you choose? Do you fight the bad or build the good?

Different capes for different situations

I’m sure by now you are frustrated with this choice. “Why can’t I wear both capes? Sometimes you need to fight the bad guys and other times you need to help the good guys. You really need both capes.” I hear this objection every time I pose this scenario to participants at a workshop or training session. They always want both capes. But when pushed, most participants will choose one over the other.

We each have an unconscious preference in the way we handle challenges in our lives. Some of us don the red cape and focus on fighting back against the issue. We point out all of the challenges, unfairness, and problems and seek to get them stopped or removed. Others put on the green cape and look for positive solutions instead, picking out the strengths, possibilities, and elements that are good and look for ways to build on those.

For a long time the field of psychology took a very red cape approach, focusing on mental illness and psychopathology. It tried to find cures, treatment and therapies for all manner of mental and behavioral dysfunction, so that sufferers could return to ‘normal’. It wasn’t until the positive psychologists, such as Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Mihayl Csikszentmihayli came along that psychology started to shift its focus from ‘functioning’ to ‘flourishing’. Instead of trying to fight the bad, the positive psychologists asked “what makes life good? What is happiness and fulfilment? How can we help people move up from functioning into truly flourishing and thriving in life?” In 1996, when Dr. Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association, he set a mandate for his presidential term to build the positive psychology and shift focus to greater green cape thinking. In his words, he advocated for “a reoriented science that emphasizes the understanding and building of the most positive qualities of an individual: optimism, courage, work ethic, future-mindedness, interpersonal skill, the capacity for pleasure and insight, and social responsibility. It’s my belief that since the end of World War II, psychology has moved too far away from its original roots, which were to make the lives of all people more fulfilling and productive, and too much toward the important, but not all-important, area of curing mental illness.” (Seligman’s APA President Address, 1998).

What color is your cape?

Mother Theresa said “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” She wore a green cape.

Winston Churchill said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” As a Prime Minster during wartime, he wore a red cape.

Both were great leaders, called upon to serve others in times of desperate need and both making their mark on history. So, next time you are challenged will you put on your red or green cape? What impact will each approach have and how best can you make a difference to benefit both yourself and the lives of others around you.

Will you fight the bad, or build the good?

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