LESSONS FROM FICTION: THE WILL TO ACT

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Why do so many people lack the will to do what is necessary?

The Truth War – JonChristopher “Jayman” Alan Collins – AUGUST 6, 2018


For years, superheroes have captured the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. To some, they are mere entertainment vehicles, but to others, they stand for much more.

For many serious fans, superheros are an avenue from which inspiration is drawn and determination and willpower are gained. The latter show themselves to be lacking in many citizens who instead display an ungodly amount of apathy regarding the issues of the day. This is true to a greater degree when confronted with corruption or injustice. Batman and his debonair billionaire alter ego Bruce Wayne first entered the imaginations of fans through comic books in the year 1939. Since the Caped Crusader’s conception, his story has shown people that it only takes one person to stand against evil in order to make a difference. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy captured the essence of the character with the debut of Batman Begins. In that film, viewers watched the troubled vigilante explore the idea of the will to act. In order for all apathy stricken citizens to gain or regain determination and willpower, it is necessary to understand what the will to act is and how it is used versus how it should be used.

Before studying this concept as depicted in Nolan’s trilogy and in particular the depiction of it found in Batman Begins, real life examples are a good starting point. My high school years contain enough material to write a book on, but I want to focus on my freshman and sophomore years as a university student. For good reason it is thought that students become more aware the older they get, but for many, this is not true. The reason I am focusing on college students is to illustrate this point.

While having lunch with a colleague during my freshman year, we cordially strolled down the road of political conversation. After stating the importance of Christians and citizens overall being informed and involved when it comes to government and history, I observed that apathy’s stronghold on people can remain powerful no matter their age. I was told, “God does not care about politics and he’s not waving the Republican, Democrat, or even the American flag in heaven.” This person missed the point I articulated. I did not even remotely imply that God favors those things. The view I was expressing was merely one of caution and warning against apathy, that whether or not one believes in God does not exclude them from the responsibility of being informed and involved.

Another prominent interaction took place during my sophomore year. This exchange of words was one of the inspirations for this article. While waiting to go to a meeting, I was approached by a fellow student. They began discussing travel plans with me to which I enthusiastically responded about the enrichment travel brings to one’s life. “Traveling is a passion of mine because I get to experience things for myself; it helps you see that there is more to the world than where you reside and what people tell you,” I said. I then talked about the adventurous experience of being at President Donald Trump’s inauguration and how being there paints a completely different reality than the one the establishment government officials and the mainstream media create. My message was simply one that advocated experiencing and learning for oneself rather than being told what to believe about something.

“This is especially needed when reading, listening to or watching the news. People already know that numerous politicians can, will and do lie and engage in deception when they see fit. They do it even at the expense of us, the people. Those who already know that now see that the mainstream media does the same thing. Regardless of anyone’s feelings towards President Trump, he has helped expose that truth and bring it to light,” I said.

My fellow student’s reply was short but was one of apathy and hopelessness. They agreed and told me how it is bad and they see that, but that they really do not watch the news or anything because they just do not know who to believe; in short, it is too hard to try.

Because people feel helpless and hopeless, they give way to apathy, which manifests as laziness. In any event, these examples serve the purpose to aid in the examination of the will to act teaching in Batman Begins.

As a young boy, Bruce Wayne’s parents are taken from him by a coldblooded murderer in a dark Gotham City alley. When Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents, is seen next, he is making a court appearance at which he offers testimony against organized crime boss Carmine Falcone. Wayne plans to exact his revenge and kill Chill. Chill, however, is killed by a Falcone hit man. There are three displays of the will to act before the concept is directly mentioned, and they are ill, misguided and morally corrupt.

Viewers will remember the scene where Wayne confronts Falcone; Wayne is already practicing the will to act at this point. He waltzes through the entrance of Falcone’s club, a bold move given the situation. In the middle of their conversation, Falcone points a gun at Wayne showing he would have zero doubts about his ability to kill and get away with it. Both scenarios exemplify the will to act with contrast. Wayne exhibits good will with the intent to bring change, but Falcone shows his willingness to murder in the face of law officials and figuratively spits in the face of not only Wayne, but in the faces of his friends and the law too. While Falcone’s will appears to have won, he inadvertently taught Wayne a valuable lesson that motivated him even further on his journey.

In his time navigating and learning about the criminal world and mind, Wayne is sentenced to prison in Bhutan due to theft. He later explains that this theft was to keep from starving, but it also shows his will to act or survive albeit by illegal means. With that said, he was strong enough to not become a criminal or “one of them” even though he lost many assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong, as he puts it. A mysterious figure named Henry Ducard, later revealed to be eco-terrorist Ra’s al Ghul, then reveals himself in Wayne’s prison cell and converses with him about corruption, injustice, and vigilantism. Before leaving, he informs Wayne about the League of Shadows, a secret society of assassins, and presents him with a defining challenge. His completion of the challenge proves him to be strong and allows for his training with the League of Shadows to begin. It is here that the concept of the will to act is first openly mentioned.

As his training progresses, Wayne is told “The training is nothing! Will is everything!” It is Wayne’s will that helps him complete the challenge, conquer his fear, finish his training and obtain the means to fight injustice and to turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. Prior to this, however, he had already demonstrated the will to act. Coupled with his lessons, his will allows him to become Batman. When Wayne is confronted with the truth about the League of Shadows’ corrupt view of justice, he concludes his affiliation with them. Ra’s al Ghul and his disciples possess a strong will like Wayne, but it is a corrupted one leading to malicious intent. Ultimately, by the film’s conclusion, Wayne’s will overpowers that of his former mentor and his followers.

An appropriate follow-up question is, what is the lesson from this fiction? In Nolan’s Batman Begins, the will to act is everything a citizen needs to be informed and involved. The personal examples recalled above compliment the concept in the film; they highlight and magnify each other. While government and history are hard for some to study and understand, that does not mean they cannot learn, they simply need the will to do so. While current events can be confusing and overwhelmingly tedious to follow and decipher, that does not make the task impossible. All people need is the will to do so. This is important because those with the will to do good and those with the will to do evil are not only found in fiction. People and organizations that serve the purposes of good, justice and peace must not stoop to the ways of those who knowingly or unknowingly, violently or nonviolently serve the purposes of corruption, chaos, deceit, deception and injustice. Good can prevail only by good people obtaining and exercising their will via being informed and involved in the arenas of government and history and standing against such evils.

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