We are overwhelmed with gratitude and admiration towards India’s health care and other frontline workers. We often think to ourselves, I would never be able to do what they are doing. In our gratitude-filled enthusiasm, we swiftly put them on a pedestal with the use of words such as “miracle workers” and “superheroes, because their acts are no less than heroic no doubt. They persevere with limited resources and do not give up.
However, in labelling someone as superhero, we don’t allow space for their human-ness in the same way that we do ours. Their limits with exhaustion, helplessness, fallibility, anger or sadness. Their superhuman-ness then does not just become a tag of appreciation, but an aspiration that imprisons them in our idea of a certain type of never tired, always available, never complaining, helpful person. We don’t stop to think of the times that Super Man or Captain America reach a burn out or requiring a break in the middle of the business of saving the World.
It also draws the narrative away from the severely ill-equipped systems that are essential for front-liners to be able to carry out their work. The responsibility then rests on the shoulders of these ‘superheroes’ to make up for the lack in any way possible. A huge ask and one that puts individuals in charge of taking on systemic responsibility .
The question arises, can we be grateful to them while allowing their human-ness?