There is a classic and timeless scene in both the original Spider-man comics and the Tobey Maguire Spider-man movies that has shaped and dictated the greatness of superheroes and the love that the 21st century has for them. In this scene, uncle Ben tries to relate to Peter Parker and address the fight that occurred between him and another student. He explains to Peter that although Peter had the strength and ability to overcome the other student, it was not necessary for him to act on his power. He then utters this famous line, ” with great power comes great responsibility! ” This line is “one of the greatest single moral injunctions” (Greg Pak) in all of American pop culture and it highlights the complicated relationship between human desire and the love of power.
Power comes in all forms, it appears as wealth, influence, reputation, physical strength, beauty, and intelligence. We have all thought to ourselves, ” if only I had more money, the things I would do to change the world!” or ” if I could just form connections with people in high places, then I can achieve this or that”. We as a society recognize that in order to bring about change or to reach a certain level in life, one must acquire power. We recognize that there are responsibilities that are placed on our shoulders when we gain this power and that our power should generally bring positive change to those around us and our environment.
We often see the use of this power in humanitarianism. Whether it’s through mission trips, medical outreaches, foreign aid, or global volunteering, some level of power is needed to effect change in these lines of work. We need power and influence to help people in poverty, to supply water to communities, to send kids to school, and to help those who are abused. The need to make a difference is something that has been instilled in all of us and this desire is what makes us human Caduceus‘s, it’s what makes us humanitarians. But alas there is a good and a bad in everything. Our desire to help can quickly escalate and manifest as a “savior complex”.
The savior complex is the state of mind where one subconsciously begins to view one’ self as the answer or saving grace to those living in poverty. This complex is often at the root of Jaded Aid. This complex can manifest itself in individuals on mission trips and various forms of global outreach. The goal of these lines of work is to serve others and to bring comfort those who need it but with the savior complex the goal of the outreach quickly turns into a self-gratifying power trip. We suddenly put on capes and masks, and hero becomes our middle name. Feelings of superiority trickle in and we feel that without us nothing can be achieved or changed in the communities we are serving in.
We end up taking away the dignity of others and demean impoverished communities instead of empowering them. We see this in Instagram posts that show people digging wells in Africa with a caption stating, ” so grateful to have brought water to this village, I had an incredible time bringing change to these poor people.” We hear it in people’s post outreach recaps, with statements like, ” they had never seen a phone before and me taking a picture with them created the memory of a lifetime!”
We end up creating dependency. The savior complex allows us to tell these communities that we are going to “save” them from their situations, whereas our goal as humanitarians is to find a balance between serving others and working with these communities to create long term systems that allow them to function and thrive without our help. When our focus is just to “save” these communities by ourselves, our serving becomes useless the moment we leave. But if we are able to empower them and work alongside with them, we set them up for success even after our outreaches are complete.
To combat a savior complex, one must embrace a team mentality. Team mentalities weaken our desire to elevate ourselves above others and it discourages the need for dependency. It allows us to bring about effective and long term change to struggling communities. It creates healthy relationships among humanitarian workers and the communities that are being served.
So the next time you want to go make a difference make sure you are not doing it to get your name in lights but that you are doing it to light up a community that has been in darkness.
Together we can make an impact on the health of the nations and the generations to come.
The mission of HLH is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala. If you are interested in hearing more about the work we are doing, or in connecting with us, you can visit our website, check out our instagram or facebook, or sign up to receive our newletters. If you would like to support us in our work, please donate here.