What superpower would you rather have, flying or invisibility?

I’ve been told that this question reveals a lot about a person (not to mention is a great conversation starter at parties. I might know this if I went to parties.) Yet when asked this question myself, I have never been able to give an answer.

It sounds like a silly thing to fret over, but for more years than I’d like to admit I’ve tried to think of an answer to that very question. “What superpower would you want to have?” — it sounds like such an easy question. A question that one could answer on a gut feeling. And yet, my gut feeling said “Wait, Kristin, think this one over some more.”

Think this one over some more. Buying a car is something you should think over some more. Moving in with someone is something you should think over some more. Adopting a cat. Demolishing a wall. Cutting your hair drastically. Things I would not put in the “think it over some more” camp? A hypothetical question about inhuman abilities that do not exist in this world. So why was it eating away at me?

When you think about it, hypothetical questions are a sort of window into the soul. What would you do if you could do the impossible, if you could strip away the rules — moral, social, or otherwise?

This American Life brought me my epiphany when they aired an old episode, titled “Superpowers 2013” this past week, in which John Hodgman conducts an informal survey about this very topic. It’s interesting to postulate the reasons why certain people choose one superpower over the other, not to mention (usually) change their mind about their decision. What would they do with said superpower? The answers range from the heroic to the everyday, and are as amusing as they are enlightening. But Hodgman and others in the episode make a point: what we choose reflects a part of who we are and what we aspire to be.

It makes sense to look at risk-takers, the adventurous, extroverted souls and see flying as the obvious choice. To look at cautious and quiet people and see invisibility. The podcast touches on ideas of shame; those with nothing to hide choose the superpower that puts them out in the open — flying. “Wanting to be invisible means that you’re a more guileful person”, one interviewee remarked; it’s the sneakier power, more akin to the villain than the hero. Is there something to that? Maybe. Maybe not.

Is that the only reading of our desired superpowers? I’m no psychologist, but surely not. For as much as I can see that symbolism, I don’t agree. Do we have a repressed side? I’m sure we do. I know that I — the introverted wallflower that I am — would love to throw all caution to the wind and, I don’t know, walk across a tightrope above Niagara Falls or something (really and truly, biking down a decently steep hill is probably more my speed.) It’s so unlike me. And I think we all crave that, a taste of the thing that we are not. For the bubbly, constant goer to be more intuitive and present. For the introvert to bust out moves on the dance floor like the life of the party. For the maid to become the princess, the prince to blend in with the “regular” folk. Myself? I am good at being invisible, and I don’t mean that in a negative or dismissive way. Quiet growing up, I am used to and perfectly comfortable fading into the background, a wallflower. I’m good at quietly listening and observing, making my presence known largely when I choose it to be. Does it let me sneak into movies? No. Truth be told, if I had the power of invisibility, I’d probably be at the theater right now instead of writing this.

I don’t, however, want to shoplift sweaters until I have one in every color of the rainbow. I don’t want to eavesdrop on coworkers’ conversations, nor spy on exes. Who would? Who would want that negativity to dwell on and soak in? And isn’t that what Facebook is for? I don’t long to unleash my inner villain, to embrace any kind of “unacceptable” desires that aren’t socially acceptable to express.

I choose flying. And not because I want to be, as the NPR episode puts it, “mythic and heroic”.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw the ways flying would be preferable, from a logistical standpoint. But flying — oh! To soar through the breeze, through the clouds, not out of adventure but out of peace and pleasant solitude. To be alone in my thoughts. To have a bit of adventure, sure. To fly to Paris. Or just up to that nice tree branch up there. Yeah, maybe to fly over rush hour traffic at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels too. But largely, to just feel untethered. To not be bogged down with the negativity of listening in to conversations. Not because I want to sound “mythic and heroic”.

(Admittedly, I did go through the Five Stages of Choosing Your Superpower. Here’s what ran through my brain when I drove home from work with this on my mind:

1. Gut reaction: Invisibility! Cool!
2. Practical consideration – I could listen in on what people have to say about things! Me! True opinions!
3. Philosophical reconsideration – Well, I’m already good at fading into the background. And then I guess you would get pretty down on yourself from listening in to all of that gossip, etc.
4. Self-recrimination: Ummm, no. That’s a dark path.
5. Acceptance: Flight.)

What superpower would I want? In true Kristin fashion, I want a balance. I want powers that are complimentary, or at least to be part of a team that balances one another with her abilities. Superman isn’t Superman just because he can fly; he has super-strength too. Even just mildly normal strength would be nice (because let’s be honest, I may be able to fly, but can I save a falling plane from the sky, let alone carry someone on my back? Heck no.)

Really though?

I feel like I can now say that my answer is this: flying.
(Out of just those two options, at least.)

Tweet me your superpower! Do you agree with the ‘psychology’ behind invisibility vs. flying?