I recently read an article in The Guardian about people who have a superpower I had never heard of. They are “empaths” — people who are “capable of feeling someone else’s feeling in their own body.”
Here is a sample experience from the article:
[An empath named Noah Berman and his friend] were sharing a joint when [the friend’s] sister came in looking distressed; Berman told his friend that her sister had been sexually assaulted by a person they both knew, and that she would disclose this in three weeks’ time. His premonition was correct.
Sometimes being an empath is a burden, as when one young empath was “bullied by his classmates, who were freaked out when he intuited information about them.”
This got me thinking about unconventional superpowers. If you could be granted one superpower other than the ones you’ve seen in movies (so no flying, combat skills, invisibility, or shape-shifting), what would it be? Here are some choices to get you started.
The ability to sing or play music that would evoke any desired emotion in those who hear it. The sirens of Greek myth had this ability, but only for the purpose of luring sailors to shipwreck on their island. Imagine if they had used their power to produce love, humility, patience, magnanimity, or other virtues!
A touch that could heal mental and emotional illness. If you could instantly set straight a troubled mind, imagine how much good you could do! On the other hand, you might never get any rest.
Superhuman ability to be a wise leader. In a biblical passage that still gets me choked up, God tells the young King Solomon in a dream that he may have whatever he asks for. Solomon replies, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties…. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” God is so pleased with this request that he says, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked….Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”
Immunity from prejudice and cognitive bias. This is only a subset of King Solomon’s superpower, but I would settle for it. So often, I catch myself assuming that a beautiful person is also unusually smart or good, or stereotyping a person who is unlike me. I try not to be prejudiced, but I catch myself at it more often than I’d like to admit.
The ability to cause someone to speak the truth. There are plenty of characters in movies who cannot help but speak the truth, always with hilariously disastrous results, so compulsive truth-telling may not be a virtue one should wish on onself, but what if you could cause other people to speak the unvarnished truth whenever you wished? This would be a scary superpower to have, but at least you could win a lot of money at the poker table.
Knowledge of the exact right thing to say and the courage to say it. Define “right thing” however you want, and this would still be a great superpower, whether you’re asking someone for a date (where courage can be in short supply) or comforting a friend (when many of us don’t know what to say).
Knowledge of how to find the truth about anything. This would be better than mere knowledge of the truth because if you had to go through the work of finding it, you would be able to explain to others why it’s true.
My highest wishes are the first and last ones on this list. What are yours?