"We have a saying, my people. 'Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't subdue if you can pacify, and don't raise your hand until you've first extended it."'
- Diana of Themyscira, a.k.a. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman #25 (2008), script by Gail Simone.
Hours before events turned so tragic at demonstrations that had been peaceful and powerful, I spoke at a conference on the empirical study of media. There, I enjoyed conversations on the value in using fiction to examine the real world. Fiction feels safer. Fiction can help us step away from our biases and preconceptions to take a hard look at life's most difficult issues. When I teach forensic or abnormal psychology, we cover topics sometimes too unpleasant for some students to process the points I need to make, and yet when I use fictional examples to talk about the same horrible things, that filter of fiction helps them keep listening and learning.
In a 2008 comic book, Wonder Woman #25 written by Gail Simone and illustrated by Bernard Chang, the world's most famous superheroine shared a bit of Amazon philosophy, some of the wisdom that guided her people to help first rather than hurt.
This superhero's direction has taken many changes in her three-quarters of a century, and writers have varied widely in how they treat her views toward violence. In these words of wisdom which Simone shared through Wonder Woman, she provides a fine balance and a set of priorities everyone might benefit by keeping in mind.
When psychologist William Moulton Marston created the character of Wonder Woman at the suggestion of his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston who also held a psychology degree, he wanted to use this character and her stories to help create a better world. Seeing a world at war, he believed the human race could and would become better by following an ethic of love: Don't hurt if you can help.World War II was not followed by the new age of peace Marston expected, and perhaps that is one of the reasons his superheroic creation remains so popular, one of only three superheroes to remain in fairly continuous publication since the Golden Age of Comic Books. The darker things get, the more we need light. The more hopeless the world seems, the more we need hope. The six human virtues explored by positive psychology (wisdom, courage, justice, moderation, transcendence, and humanity) may be embodied by Wonder Woman better than any other superhero.
I see so many people in blogs and social media struggling to find words right now. More than a few mention that they're repeatedly started trying to write a simple tweet but find that they cannot. Thursday evening, as I listened to the news about Dallas on my way home from the conference, the world we live in mainly made me sad. And the next day, it mainly made me mad. We need anger. We need better emotions too, though, and we need to keep our priorities straight as we struggle to make sense and to make things better. Conflicts that may have been caused by biases will not be solved by their escalation. I couldn't find my own profound words, so I share those that Gail Simone gave Wonder Woman.
Don't hurt if you can help.
I thank Mandel Cheeks for reminding me of that bit of Wonder Woman's philosophy. I thank Gail Simone herself both for confirming my recollection that she was the one who once wrote it and for having written it in the first place.