Uncle Ben Posts

Uncle Ben’s Wisdom isn’t just for Superheroes

Toby McGuire in Spider-Man 2 holding up spider suit

“With great power comes great responsibility”

Since I was a girl, my favorite superhero has always been Spider-Man. I think the reason for this lies in how his story is less escapist fantasy and more of a direct allegory for the struggle we all experience navigating our own sense of morality while juggling the (often conflicting) expectations thrust upon us, which can feel like more of a superhuman feat than we’re allowed to acknowledge. So Peter Parker may be a doofus at times—he’s a teenager, after all—but he and his situation are very relatable and compelling.

Before I get into this, let me first say that I’m well aware the famous Spider-Man line about power and responsibility did not originate with Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. But that was retconned three decades ago, and I think it makes the narrative and the characters stronger and more profound coming from Uncle Ben, which is probably why the retcon became so widely accepted. I also know that Voltaire said something similar.

Now that that’s over with, I want to discuss Uncle Ben’s famous advice to Peter:

With great power comes great responsibility.

–Ben Parker

This advice has a lasting and life-altering effect on Peter, as it is undoubtedly applicable to the wielding of super-human powers. It is a, if not the, central theme of Spider-Man. More often than not I see this quote paired exclusively with discussions around superhero-like abilities or access to unlimited resources. But relegating the correlation of power and responsibility to the realm of fantasy or of the one percent is a cognitive dissonance that I just can’t abide. So I’d like to talk about that a little.

The thing is, when Uncle Ben says these iconic words, he has no idea Peter has super powers; he thinks he is just giving advice to a teenager struggling to figure out what kind of person to be. Ben would probably have shared the same wisdom with you or with me or any other person in any walk of life. Super powers have, in fact, nothing at all to do with his advice. He is instead speaking to the great power we all have inherently to affect the world and the people around us, and how it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to use that power in a moral and ethical way. Certainly, the idea of using super-human powers responsibly is a direct allegory to this idea, but it’s far and away not the main point.

Uncle Ben tells Peter, "Don't try to be something else. Don't try to be less. Great things are going to happen to you in your life, peter. Great things. And with that will come great responsibility. Do you understand?" in Ultimate Spider-Man #4

Ultimate Spider-Man #4 (2000)

With great power comes great responsibility. This is not about how others wield power. It is about us. It is about you. It is about me. It is about how we all wield our own great power.

Do you think of yourself as someone with great power? You should.

  • You have the power to act.
  • You have the power of skills.
  • You have the power to influence.
  • You have the power to choose.

THE POWER OF ACTION

You have the power to take action that affects the world and the people around you.

Often we resign ourselves to complacency without even realizing it. We may be aware of unpleasant situations in the world or the hardships of people around us, but it is our actions, not our awareness, that actually affects these situations. If 80% of success is showing up, 100% of having an effect is taking action. That action could be as simple as stepping in when you witness someone being wronged, reaching out to a charity or nonprofit to offer your skills, or just lending any kind of assistance to someone you know is having a difficult time. These are the actions of a hero to those whose lives you affect. You wield great power in your action.

With great power comes great responsibility.

THE POWER OF SKILLS

You have the power to use your skills—whatever they may be—to affect the world and the people around you.

Any given person, yourself included, possesses skills that not everyone has. These skills could be anything: writing, creating art, performing, costuming, sewing, cooking, organizing, planning, accounting, designing, building, teaching, researching, empathy, patience, diligence, or you-name-it. The great power of these skills is truly mighty to anyone who lacks them. This really cannot be understated. And the great power of any one of these skills can be employed to improve the world and the lives of people around you in any number of ways—from lending support to a charity or nonprofit to simply assisting a person or people who need it, to being an instigator of such efforts. You wield great power in your skills.

Nova Corps members talk about Spider-Man's mantra in Annihilation: Nova #3

Annihilation: Nova #3 (2006)

With great power comes great responsibility.

THE POWER OF INFLUENCE

You have the power to influence others into affecting the world and the people around them.

Friends, family, and your community care about what you think and say. If you show them that doing something is important to you and why, often they will do what they can to support you in your efforts or join you outright. You can wield this great power as a force multiplier for any given cause or initiative, quickly and easily turning the efforts of one person into the efforts of many. You wield great power in your influence.

With great power comes great responsibility.

THE POWER OF CHOICE

You have the power to make choices that affect the world and the people around you.

You have the choice to reject complacency and act. You have the choice to utilize your skills. You have the choice to influence your peers. Your choices can be the difference between improving the world and the lives of people around you or . . . not. That pendulum swings both ways; your choices can also result in hurting people and making situations worse. You wield great power in the choices you make.

Close-up on Peter Parker's eyes, with captions explaining" with great power comes great responsibility" from Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1

Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (1987)

WE ARE ALL PETER PARKER

Peter Parker reminds himself every day that great power demands great responsibility. I try to do that, too, in everything I do and every interaction I have. I know—like Spider-Man—that it’s not always possible to help everyone or improve every situation. Like Spider-Man, we must balance the responsible use of our great power with other factors of life, including what is expected of us and our own self-care. Sometimes he fails or makes the wrong choice and pays for it, and sometimes I do too, and so will you. It’s okay.

This balance is a constant struggle for Peter and a central theme to most good Spider-Man stories. But that is what is compelling about him as a character; if we do our best to be responsible with the wielding of our own great power, it’s a constant struggle for us, too. Ultimately, though, it’s a struggle that is worth it. Ben Parker knew that and we can’t say he didn’t tell us.

Spider-Man is being interviewed by a reporter, and says, "Because a guy a whole lot smarter than any of us, once told me that with great power comes a great deal of responsibility. And that's not just for people with powers, like me. I think it goes for everybody, So, i'm just -- going to live my life that way and everything else is noise." in Ultimate Spider-Man #21

Ultimate Spider-Man #21 (2002)

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