I thought I knew Batman, from years of writing him. I thought I understood how Batman and the real world related to each other. What I didn’t know was how much Batman and his code had affected me, until I read this book. A fascinating read, and a real eye-opener.
“Wisdom from the Batcave – How to Live a Super, Heroic Life” is a collection of moral and spiritual essays on Batman by Rabbi Cary A. Friedman. I found the book on Amazon while looking up other good books about Batman. I assumed it would be an average book with perhaps some thought provoking essays, but I was pleasantly surprised to find “Wisdom” an absolutely enthralling read, that I could not put down.
Cary’s introduction kicks off with him professing his love for Batman, and he also mentions his book “Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement”; his involvement as a consultant to the FBI (at their request) as a spiritual advisor with a unit that conducted behavioral science research; and his experience as a prison chaplain.
A high ranking official from the FBI heard one of Cary’s talks about the pursuit of spirituality and was impressed. “He was intrigued by my remarks, which, he told me later, were spiritual in nature without being too heavily religious”.
Long story short, Cary’s love of Batman lead his to writing his “Wisdom from the Batcave” book, which was like an unintentional resume that helped him get head hunted by the FBI. His well organised ideas on life lessons themed around Batman demanded to be expressed in one form or another. It’s the kind of story you don’t hear too often in every day life.
A Jewish Rabbi writes a manuscript about the spiritual and moral qualities of a fictional character, is later invited by the FBI to work with them. After sending the “Wisdom” manuscript to the FBI official, who is impressed with it, and asks him to teach these spiritual values (sans Batman and comic book references).
The eventual evolution of the book and his experiences lead that manuscript to becoming the book we know and love today. Each chapter of Wisdom is a short essay on a specific topic. Some of my favourites include: “The Value of Willpower”, “The Value of Hard Work”, “The Value of Inspiring Others”, “The Value of Idealism” and “The Value of Anticipating Consequences”. The essays are short and punchy, and like Batman, highly effective and efficient at communicating their intended message.
Batman is a constant daily inspiration to me, and I was repeatedly reminded of that reading Cary’s book, in much the same way I get inspired every time I watch Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, because they both treat the character with the respect the 75 year veteran superhero is due.
I cry tears of joy whenever I watch Batman Begins.. Somebody cared enough about the character to do him justice. To see that little kid who went through living hell and overcame it, who chose not to drown his miseries in bottles and pills and self-pity and self-loathing. But instead CHOSE to be a good man, the best kind of man, who lives a life of unending devotional service to his fellow human beings, and became a living inspiration to others, simply by being who he is, and following his heart.
A man who heeds his calling in life – rather than refusing it or running away – and dives head first into any challenges that comes his way, finding the seed of victory in every obstacle, to Batman the obstacle is the way, his is a life without compromise, a life of meeting challenges without regret, second-guessing or doubt and total confidence in his highly trained abilities.
I see that kid in me and in every one of us, that innocent kid is our own potential to be a hero, to live a good life of high moral character and discipline, to embrace the person we were born to be and never look back. To make peace with struggle and difficulty and challenge in life, and to embrace it, knowing that it makes us stronger and uniquely human.
To live with integrity and truth and service to humanity as our highest values. To give of ourselves until there is nothing left. That’s what Batman means to me, that’s what makes me cry yet again as I type these words. I’m proud of Batman, and I’m proud of everyone who calls themselves a fan of the Dark Knight Detective. I don’t yet have kids, but when I inevitably do, I’ll be using this the lessons in this book to teach them the values that I hold so dear.
“This lesson about the endless capability of every human being is the single most important theme of Batman. It is this greatest of all truths that defines the essence of the Batman and accounts for his enduring appeal. The Batman, more than any other literary character, reminds us that every person has an infinite capacity for achievement.” – Cary Friedman
Batman’s life is a life of vigilance, presence and total attention to the task at hand. If for example he wavers and doubts himself for even a moment when he is chained to a rock underwater with no oxygen, then he is as good as dead. If he doubts his ability to make a difference in the world, then he would have never got out of bed in the morning.
“Willpower means sacrificing some ease and comfort right now for a greater goal sometime later. Willpower is stubbornness: It is refusing to give up when you encounter difficulty.” – Cary Friedman
Reading Cary’s book, the only conclusion any Bat-Fan can come to is that Cary KNOWS Batman, Cary gets Batman, he might even BE Batman as far as we know, given his virtuous deeds and strong moral character. If there is a quality that Cary imbues of the Dark Knight more than any other, I would have to say it is the Value of Inspiring Others. This blog started the day after I first read Wisdom from the Batcave earlier this year. It was a direct influence and for that I am grateful, this blog is my way of metaphorically giving back to Batman himself, if that were possible.
In my view the phrase “Carl Jung’s Batman” comes into play, when I read Cary’s book, as he has dived into the depths of the Batman’s psyche, and he’s showing us places we didn’t even know existed, let alone explored. Batman is that shadow in the night who punches crime in the face, that dark Bat-God from the hidden recesses of the collective world mind who is called forth time and again to render service to those in need, the man in black who takes all that is unknown and terrifying and flips that on its head, an urban predator using darkness for good instead of evil.
The pulp-roots of the Batman character are ever-present, but the Batman we know and enjoy has transcended those roots. Like the Kung-Fu student who has excelled and become the master to a new generation of students, Batman has been in the trenches of the comics book gutters. He has seen and done practically everything a human being or a timeless pulp proto-typical superhero can experience in one lifetime, leaving all pretenders and imitators to fall in his wake.
Where Superman is the effortless sun god of perfection from Smallville who inherited infinite strength and power, Batman is the deeply flawed hero who rises up every time he is knocked down, who works his way through one problem after another, who relentlessly tortures his body and demands perfection of it, and when he’s broken and nearly dead he makes himself keep going, because he can, because he is that damned determined. If Clark is about effortlessness and spectacular powers, then Bruce is about plain un-glamorous efficiency, effort and hard work.
Batman’s super-power could be called the Indomitable Iron Will of The Bat. He’s the guy who is held together with spit, bandages, ripped clothing and sheer will power. He seems crazy, but he is the most together person you could meet.
He is the Yogi-Zen-Martial Arts Master, genius, detective, Harry Houdini, Sherlock Holmes, Zorro, The Shadow, and Bruce Lee all rolled into one. He’s the coolest fictional character ever created, cooler than James Dean, Steve McQueen and Elvis cranked up to ’11’. A living monolith of a man, a being of immense will, self-determination and courage. Who doesn’t admit ideas like “can’t” “too hard” “too tired” or “why bother” into his mind… EVER.
Batman doesn’t wait for permission to do anything he does, he lives life on his own terms, and as service to humanity, with total devotion. He is the constant Guardian of Gotham City, who is beyond corruptible.
He is the epitome of the self-made man, who overcomes circumstances, and every trial that comes his way. His innate capacity to overcome and persevere is no greater than you or I. What is the difference between us and Batman? He exercises his will power and makes hard decisions every day. He trains his mind and body beyond perceived limits. He is an Olympic level athlete and world class detective, forensic expert, scientist, champion sword fighter, master military tactician and strategist and of course an escape artist. He applies ruthless cold-hearted efficiency to every task he applies himself to in any twenty-four period. All real world skills that are possible to develop with training, persistence and determination.
“A self-willed man obeys a different law, the one law I, too, hold absolutely sacred — the human law in himself, his own individual will.”
The real difference between mythical figures like Batman and you and I, is not that he dresses up like a Bat, that he lives in a comic-book, or that he is rich or successful in worldly terms. The difference is that his moral character does not waver, and his effectiveness as a crime fighter, super-hero or business man is a consciously developed habit.
An intentional habit of excellence developed and refined over a life time, from experimenting and more importantly, learning from those who have already done whatever he wanted to achieve. All qualities that are possible for any person, if they choose to develop themselves. But most of us settle for “good enough” or “I’ll get it done tomorrow”. In the world of Batman, there is no tomorrow for anything that can be done today. These are the themes and values I am reminded of when reading Wisdom from the Batcave. The essays are a reminder of why Batman is a great character, and how we too can be great in our own unique way, not by dominating others, but by serving them and our community, applying lessons of The Batman to our own lives.
“In his relentless struggle against evil, the Batman never asks himself if he can do it; he asks only if it needs to be done.” – Cary Friedman
“In a light manner, comic book stories teach complex moral values. In addition, kids start reading comic books at a young age, which is the best time to start learning about morality and values.” – Cary Friedman
In addition to being a calling card for the FBI, Cary’s Batman book is also used as the basis of a free from teaching module “Batwisdom Course” at http://www.batwisdom.com/ to be used by Sunday School Teachers, Martial Arts Instructors, Child Psychologists, Camp Counselors and more. It’s one thing to like Batman, another to feel a burning passion for living a life in alignment with the Values of the Bat. And yet another thing to inspire others to live lives of value and meaning, and to contribute to wider society in whatever way we can.
Deciding to start a Batman themed Blog was a direct result of two main inspirations: Kevin’s Smith’s passionate “Fatman on Batman” podcast and Cary Friedman’s “Wisdom from the Batcave” inspirational and practical essays.
I knew that after reading the book I wanted to do something to give back to Batman, my favourite hero and my favourite fictional character of all time. I’ve been reading his stories for the last twenty years, and I figure I got at least fifty more years of reading Batman ahead of me. Batman will outlive us all. The power and resonance of the character is so strong and timeless, that people will be reading Batman one-hundred years from now, but in what form, I don’t know.
I’ll leave you with this heart warming quote from the introductory notes to Cary’s book by “best Batman artist ever” Neal Adams:
“The world around us has lessons about what we can aspire to achieve, and you don’t have to look very far to find those lessons. These values can be found in the best comic books, and the very best comic book character is a character who has no super-powers at all and whose achievements are a direct result of his values! At their best, comic books are about our highest aspirations, about sacrifice, love, trust, kindness, brotherhood, and, above all, being prepared. And, as it turns out [and we always knew], in comics, Batman is the spokesperson for these values.” – Neal Adams